The smell of sulphur wafting through the air, the night-sky filled with beautiful firework displays, constant sounds of bombs being blown – crackers are an integral part of the hindu festival Diwali, or Deepavali as it is termed in some parts of south India. The Late A Chelladurai, General Director of the Sivakasi-headquartered Standard Fireworks Ltd., once wrote, “At no time was there or is there a product that has contributed more to relaxation, merriment and enjoyment – both for young and old alike. Let us enjoy fireworks!”
But unlike a decade ago, when this was a sight only during Diwali, the scene today has changed drastically. Crackers are no longer unique to Diwali. They are in use for a variety of other celebrations and occasions. Furthermore, the amount of money being spent on crackers has also increased.
The Goddess Lakshmi, a symbol of prosperity, is also worshipped on Diwali. The lighting of lamps signifies welcoming prosperity in the form of Lakshmi, and the fireworks are supposed to scare away evil spirits.
As you walk through the narrow lanes of Mamulpet, Sultanpet and Chikpet areas of Bengaluru’s city market area, the streets are lined with shops selling crackers all through the year. These shops are stocked up with the latest types of fireworks and supply them for all occasions, both through wholesale and retail.
Mahesh C Kori, who has been running Sri Sivananda Stores in Mamulpet for the past two decades, says people come to him to buy crackers for funerals, functions, elections, temples and so on. The most expensive cracker in his store, the 1000 shots, which costs Rs.7500, sells rarely and he expects it to be sold this November for Rajyothsava Day celebrations.
Ask Swapan K Chakraborti, General Secretary, Bengali Association, about crackers being used for festivals other than Diwali, he says, “During immersion time (during Navrathri), during visarjan, we burst crackers. Youngsters do it. It’s an expression of joy, confined to youngsters”. He adds that “people burst crackers now to make their presence felt. Loud speakers, lights and shouting are one thing. People have gone a step ahead now by bursting crackers”.
M Venkatesh, BJP President, Malleswaram constituency, echoes a similar opinion. “We burst crackers during rallies and election time. We want to gain people’s attention. During rallies, if we go silently, no use. When we burst crackers, people who are walking on the road will want to know what’s happening here”, he says.
So whether it’s Ganesh Chaturthi or the recently concluded Navrathri celebrations, election rallies or Kannada actor Upendra’s birthday, the use of crackers has become an all-year round phenomena in Bengaluru.
Art Historian and Designer Annapurna Garimella, a Jayanagar resident, says this trend of bursting firecrackers for other occasions began around five to ten years ago with cricket matches. Annapurna is Managing Trustee at Art Resources and Teaching, a city-based NGO that works at the interface between art and architectural history, archaeology, craft, design and related disciplines. “Earlier, we didn’t even see those shops except during Diwali. People didn’t blow up so many crackers because it was expensive. It’s tied to consumerism and spending”, Annapurna says.
Prashanth B S, owner of Sree Jyothi Stores in Mamulpet, says, “Before, people would buy (crackers) for around Rs.200. But now a family will spend around Rs.1000. There is also a variety of crackers available. Also, the prices have gone up”. Kori of Sri Sivananda Stores agrees that people are willing to spend more on crackers today than earlier.
Gift boxes, flower pots, sky shots, bombs, today people are indulging in all types of crackers.
Ramaswamy palya resident Revathi R, a cook by profession, says her family buys a lot of crackers during Diwali compared to a few years ago. “Earlier my son was small, so we wouldn’t burst so many crackers. But now he is 19, so he bursts more. We put chit and we buy. My son buys how much ever he wants to”, she says.
But even as the sound of crackers resonates through the year, there are some who feel that it should be restricted to Diwali. Jayanagar and JP Nagar BJP MLA B N Vijaykumar takes a different line from his party counterpart Venkatesh. “These days people burst crackers anytime- for cricket matches, political rallies, almost all events, even small processions. This should not be encouraged”, he says.
Vijaykumar has his reasons and his views are not new. He says it is hazardous to burst crackers in small lanes during crowded rallies or such events, and that it is bad for the environment to burst crackers so often. He also says, “The purpose of big celebrations is diluted if we use crackers like this”. Utkarsha Nandapurkar, an RT Nagar resident, concurs with that thought. “We see people bursting crackers throughout the year, sometimes I do not know if it is for some festival or generally people are bursting crackers”, she says.
Shifts in attitude to festivity and tradition
Diwali is also about lighting of lamps, making colourful rangolis and buying new clothes. But Annapurna feels that the festival has been edited for urban life. “With the coming of electricity, the meaning of lighting lamps is different. People light diyas. But the meaning has changed. It is no longer tied with the physical celebration of light”, she explains, adding that “no one gets up at 4 in the morning to take a bath and do pooja during Karthika month. People are adopting more to their lifestyle. Now they put up electrical lights”.
Vagishpath, Head Priest at the Ganapathi temple in Koramangala, feels that Diwali has lost its flavour in the cities. “Real Diwali can still be seen in villages and small towns but in cities people don’t even know the relevance of this festival. How many people celebrate with Narakchaturdashi or Bali pooja in mind? Or do they know that lighting diyas throughout Karthika Masa is important and its not just Diwali?”, he asks.
Narayan Bhat, Head Priest of JP Nagar’s famous Raggigudda temple echoes this. “Karthik masa is an auspicious month when Krutika Nakshatra is worshipped. This Nakshatra is sybolised by Agni or fire. Therefore we celebrate it by lighting diyas so its Deepavali”, he says. There are a lot of other deeepotsava (festivals of lights) celebrated in this month for Shiva and Vishnu too, he adds.
Public Relations Executive Geetu Mansinghani, 23, who loves lighting diyas for the festival, has her reasons for following the tradition. “Earlier there was no electricity. So in villages people wanted to light up the entire town or village during the festival. So they lit lamps. I just think it looks pretty. If you are not going to burst crackers, I think lighting lamps is a nice way to celebrate the festival”, says this Infantry Road resident.
Annapurna says that earlier, for many people it used to be a huge deal to spend money on sesame seed oil or ghee to light lamps. “People are doing it with the idea…it’s a kind of display of festivity and tradition. It’s a shift”, she says. Today, many people have even shifted from clay lamps to candles and electric lights.
Diwali shopping or year-round shopping?
Shopping and deals are synonymous with the Diwali season. Here too change seems to be the trend, with the emergence of consumerism. The meaning of buying new clothes for the festival has changed, says Annapurna. “These are times people buy clothes. But that meaning has changed. Now we buy clothes all the time. There are larger attitudinal shifts. Everyone is doing this in the urban areas”.
Software Engineer Saagarika Jagadeesh, residing in Lingarajapuram in East Bangalore, disagrees. “We buy traditional clothes for Diwali. The whole family goes shopping together. And we keep the new clothes in front of God. So it’s still definitely different. And we buy lots of clothes during Diwali”, says the 23-year-old.
Prakash Mandoth, founder and president of the Jayanagar Traders Association, part of the famous Jayanagar IV block shopping district, takes Annapurna’s line. He points out that with credit cards, shopping has become an impulse. “People shop throughout the year”, he says.
“Consumer spending is the crux of Diwali. Diwali is a time for acquisition of new things”, says Annapurna.
Freelance marketing professional Chitra Hariharan, a resident of Vidyaranyapura, says, “Everyone’s giving discounts (during Diwali). Even when we go to shops, we ask the shopkeepers if there is a discount or if there’s anything free when we buy something”. However, she adds that she misses the month-long Diwali sale at MG Road and Brigade Road, which aroused consumer interest. “But now everywhere there is a sale. It’s not attractive”, she feels.
Mandoth says people normally spend a lot during Diwali because it’s a special festival. “People in the labour class generally get a bonus during Diwali”, he says, adding that shop owners also want to give back something to the loyal customer, thereby offering discounts.
Gifting during Diwali is also taking root among the well-heeled sections of city society. Sumit Sharma, store manager at the JP Nagar-based The Home Store, says, “People come to buy for two reasons. One is gifting and the other is to do up their houses because they clean and white wash their houses during this time. The kind of gifting has also caught on like candles, vases, tea sets. Earlier it was just sweets. Gifting has become a big part of Diwali”. He says that sales go up by about 70 to 80 per cent a few days before the festival.
Even as the festival has been modified to suit the modern day lifestyle, including crackers being used year-round, Diwali continues to be celebrated with much fervour. The smell of fresh adirasa, homes lined with lamps, white washed houses, new clothes and fireworks – the festival does bring joy and happiness, to both the young and old. As Geetu says, “It still feels nice to buy new clothes”.