‘What is that’ my daughter wanted to know, when I messaged her how non-tyohari I felt, after grappling with the relatively thin early (before noon) marketing rush yesterday morning! Buying metal for Dhanteras, has never been part of the deal for me, as it is not a feature in the South Indian Diwali version I grew up with. But, circumstances, such as availability of car and driver drove me to the shops, for a variety of small nick nacks, and I ended up buying metal – so I suppose this year Lakshmi will be happy with me!
The abundance of festivals (tyohars) in the Indian calender is staggering. There are celebrated-all-over-India ones like Diwali, Dussera, Janmashtami, Shivaratri and a few others – but the significance of these and the stories behind them varies from region to region. Take Diwali for instance, when Lakshmi, the Goddess of Wealth is worshiped in the North and lights are lit to celebrate the return of Rama from Vanvaas while in Western India, Narakasur is burnt to celebrate victory of good over evil. Similarly, Navratri has a different story in each part of the country.
Festivals also tend to be religion specific, such as the birthdays of the Sikh Gurus, the Ids and Muharram, Parsi Nowroz and Easter and Christmas. Also, there are region specific festivals such as Onam in Kerala, Pongal in Tamilnadu, Ugadi in Karnataka, Ganesh in West India and so on… The relative importance of festivals vary with region, Poojo being the most important one in Bengal, Pongal in Tamilnadu, Onam in Kerala and so on, while others like Ramnavami which is big in North India is very low key in the South. Some localized festivals are expanding boundaries, like Holi which is finding fans outside the Northern belt. This last trend is partly due to the large movement of people to diferent parts of the country carrying their local traditions and of the Bollywood effect. Of course, the spread of these festivals is often only of the celebrations sans the rituals, be it the Garba at Dussera or even the Janamashtami Dahi Haandi, which used to be so Mumbai specific.
All this leads to a lot of confusion in a set up like mine – my parents are TamBrahm Pattars and so my mother always celebrated Onam and Thiruvatharai which are from her Kerala tradition and Pongal and Navaratri from her Tamil tradition beside the host of religious ones such as Janmashtami, Shivaratri etc… Since I never stayed in Goa, I did not gather much of the Goan festival traditions (like the burning of Naraksur, which is done in public places much like Raavan in the North). My daughter is married into a Rajput family, and a whole lot of tyohars are celebrated in close to traditional style.
Diwali is the time for sprucing up the house as it is believed that Lakshmi will inspect it thoroughly. While there is hectic cleaning activity, this is also the occasion for new purchases for the house. Over the last 2 decades, with the rise of consumerism, this buying is reaching some crazy proportions. And every kind of product is pushing its sales with intensive advertising, special offers, discounts, attractive EMIs etc. on everything from houses to cars to electronic goods to the most useless items imaginable!!
And then there is another new trend, which is certainly not part of any earlier traditions, that of ‘gifting’. Tradition demanded that a married girl always received sweets and maybe gifts from her parental house, and this was for life!! Of course, this was at different festivals in different parts of the country, at Diwali in the North, at Ganesh in the West and so on. At festivals, sweets and savouries were made at home and distributed to neighbors and friends. But today friends give gifts to each other – today I heard a person ordering 16 dinner sets to be gift wrapped!! And in a country <5% Christians – Christmas is only second to Diwali for the consumer madness!!
Of course, irrespective of religion or region, every festival is an excuse for food. I am not sure how it pans out here, but in my mother’s traditions each God had his favorite food – the steamed modak for Ganesh, Chikidai and milk based sweets for Janmashtami, boondi ladoo and ukkarai for Diwali, Kazhi for Thiruvatharai etc, while in my husband’s house it was modak for Ganesh, nevri for Diwali, poha preparations for Janmashtami etc. See how Krishna changes his taste as he travels!
With all this I am only touching the tip of the iceberg, the part to which I have had some personal exposure. The whole galaxy of festivals would fill an encyclopedia. In my own home for many years, Diwali was the only festival we made a low key attempt at celebrating with some simple sweets and new clothes. Since moving to Gurgaon, with family around me, the gifting and celebrations have crept in. Since my mother has been staying with me, most of the tyohars get remembered, but she is happy with a simple kheer for prasad! The fuss and the bother is something I do not get, even now – so, I hope Mukta will understand what I mean by not being ‘tyohari’!!
PS: All this Diwali fuss does spell a few days of good times for the sweet shops and the best 48-72 hrs of business for the pottery folks!