It is that time of the year when the glitzy festive season swings from Dussehra to Diwali before sinking into the chill of winter. The celestial drawing-room arrangements of the stars and planets indicate the auspicious days when probably the grandest annual festival bursts forth in a brilliance of fireworks in India.
Diversity in symbolism
However, while Diwali is mostly thought to symbolize Lord Rama’s return to run the ideal raj and the ensuing overflow of public glee, it still has a different connotation in various parts of the country. The whole nation hence does not honour a uniform deity, for he takes on different avatars in every state.
Like other parts of India, the southern region too during this month has an air of brightness and sparkle. It is a bit imitative, a little repetitive and mostly ritualistic. Still, it is more sober in the south of India---perhaps reflective of its geographical distance from Ayodhya and overall personality.
State by state
To take each state----the festival does not light up Kerala, unless there are other people who are here to do it.
In Andhra Pradesh, it follows the pattern of the north Indian celebrations. The festival revolves around Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth, with the razzmatazz beginning in the morning, customary visits to poojas and temples, and an extension of the revelry in the evening.
In Karnataka too, the festival falls in the month of Ashwin, i.e. October and November, making way for Karthik---and on the same day, Amavasya or new moon day. But this state honours the conquest of the overshooting emperor Bali.
Lord Vishnu came down to the earth in the form of the Vamana Avatar, a short Brahmin who asked for “as much land as three footsteps.” When Bali granted his request, Vishnu assumed his original, huge form, and covered the heavens with one foot, the world with another, and then asked for another piece of land, for which Bali offered his head and got crushed under the super foot.
In Tamil Nadu alone, Diwali lights up in the Tamil month of Aipasi, or ‘'Thula’ month, or ‘Naraka Chaturdasi’, just one day before new moon day. Not everyone knows why---even the greatest of revellers! Some explain that Lord Rama visited Tamil Nadu a day before he reached Ayodhya.
However, the real story is that the festival honours the conquest of Lord Krishna over Asura Naraka, the powerful Assamese king who imprisoned thousands. Just before he was killed, Lord Krishna asked him for his final wish. Narakasura said that he wanted to enjoy the last day of his life with a blast----which Tamil Nadu gives him every year.
Keeping it loud but simple
Hence, in the south, the celebration is loud yet simpler than on the other side of the Vindhyas. Even as it is the one annual day when everyone realises the existence of others, the rural practises have morphed into the urban rituals---the oil bath, new clothes, rangoli patterns, sweets, savouries and crackers from the crack of dawn till the close of the day.
Written byRevathi Siva Kumar
Revathi Siva Kumar is a Bangalore-based freelance writer and editor. She explores a variety of issues, dealing with facts, figures as well as fictional matters