Lights, sweets and gold: India warms up to Diwali spirit

Lights, sweets and gold: India warms up to Diwali spirit

It may have had Hindu origins, but is now an Indian festival celebrated by all -- regardless of religion, caste or class. As the winter sets in, India is again warming up for  Diwali on Saturday with a burst of gaiety, bright lights and shopping sprees that have rejuvenated markets after a dull year.

Many homes across the country have already been illuminated with strings of multi-coloured bulbs and the traditional earthenware "diyas" - oil lamps - that were said to have lit up the town of Ayodhya when Hindu god Ram returned home after defeating the demon king Ravan.

To mark Ram's triumph, Diwali is celebrated with prayers, fireworks, feasting and even ritualistic gambling in some parts of India. Across northern India, Diwali marks the beginning of a new trading year, with businesspersons worshipping the  goddess of prosperity Lakshmi and  Lord Ganesh.

In eastern and northeastern India, people invoke the Goddess Kali in a midnight ritual.
In southern India, Diwali is celebrated as the defeat of the demon Narakaasura by Lord Krishna. It is marked by prayers and feasting with local delicacies murukku and lehiyan.
Many Sikhs, Jains, Muslims and Christians traditionally join the celebration, lighting up their homes and celebrating with fireworks.

"We may not perform the traditional Lakshmi puja but Diwali is a special day where we light up our homes, meet friends and burst crackers. This is the time for feasting and fun. How does it matter what religion you belong to," said Arun Philip.

In recent years, Diwali has gone global. This year, the House of Commons and the House of Lords in Britain hosted Diwali galas and US president Barack Obama greeted Indians across the world by celebrating Diwali at the White House.

The run-up to the festival is usually the time when Indians, whichever corner of the globe they happen to live in, shop for jewellery, metalware and new clothes.
On Thursday, shoppers thronged jewellery, brassware and metalware shops to buy gold, silver and metalware as part of the Dhanteras ritual observed to welcome Goddess Lakshmi home.

"Gold and white gold are in demand this Dhanteras. People are buying almost everything - earrings, jewellery, necklaces and finger rings. The price of gold - both white and yellow - are Rs.16,000 per 10 gm, which I think is not beyond reach. The market is on a resurgent mod," former supermodel-turned-jewellery designer Queenie Dhody, who owns a niche jewellery store in Mumbai, told IANS over the phone. In Gujarat and in other states too, the markets are virtually glittering with gold, jewellers said, with women queuing up to buy gold jewellery.

"I always buy diyas, small earthen icons of Lakshmi and Ganesh, lots of white paint, white powder and candies. I always draw the rangoli (traditional floor and wall design) myself. I buy a new set of clothes for my husband and a sari for myself, but no jewellery.
"But this time, something seems to be missing. I can't put my finger on it, but the shops have not been lit up this year. I think it is a hangover of 26/11 (the Mumbai blasts) and the capital's unruly traffic, which is making shopping difficult," Shobha Deepak Singh, director of the capital-based Shriram Bharatiya Kala Kendra said.

Though sale of crackers is at a slightly lower key, clothes, jewellery and sweets are making up for it. "Unlike the previous years, this year people are more conscious about environment and fire safety. So, we have been seeing fewer sales of crackers this year," an organiser of a Kali Puja in New Delhi's Chittaranjan Park locality said.

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