Diwali through Russian eyes

Diwali decorations at the Shiva and Parvathi temple in Pune. Source: RIR

Diwali decorations at the Shiva and Parvathi temple in Pune. Source: RIR

It’s a wonderful experience for Russians to be in India as the country celebrates the Festival of Light.

This time of the year is very special in India. It is the time when every corner seems lit up as India celebrates the Festival of Light - Diwali. It is a very unique experience for foreigners to be a part of Diwali celebrations. This is my 7th Diwali in Bangalore and it has always been one of my favourite festivals to celebrate.

It is holiday season and everything around reminds you about that. What do Russians who settled in India think about this festival? How do they take a part in it? Does it remind them about home or it is absolutely a unique experience? I took the initiative to speak to my fellow Russians to understand their views and feelings about Diwali. 

If you are lucky to be with a Hindu family and share with them all the beautiful traditions of Diwali, you will enjoy this holiday even more. My friend A. from the southern part of Russia, whose husband is from Tamil Nadu, has been in India for many years and every year her husband and she travel to their native place to be with the family. Her mother-in-law is always waiting for them with fresh homemade sweets and a ginger-based paste to avoid stomach ache from eating too many sweets. Every year Diwali festivities begin early morning with a pooja to Goddess Lakshmi to provide the family with abundance for the next year. 

Diwali is a very social festival shared with a lot of people: friends and family. People are visiting each other, exchanging the sweets, giving the presents. One couple from St. Petersburg, who happened to spend Diwali last year in Bangalore, was fascinated by the unity that this cultural celebration brings among people. The warmth that is in the air is attracting and involves everyone around. Whether you want it or not, you will be a part of this massive positive energy blast. They loved the feeling brought by this holiday; by the beautifully decorated houses and commercial buildings, by multicolored garlands that are lit the moment darkness comes to the streets; by happy people around wishing everybody Happy Diwali. 

As is the case for all the other Russians, Diwali reminds the St Petersburg couple of New Year celebrations back home. There are so many similarities (except for the religious tone and snow on the streets) - the decorations, presents, family, friends, new clothes and the beginning of the New Year. It is said that Diwali symbolizes the beginning of New Year; the day when people start fresh. People clean their houses to enter the new chapter of life in clean surroundings. These festivals/holidays are different but the ideas are very close.

My in-laws always light diyas inviting Goddess Lakshmi to enter the house. It is the tradition and belief that Lakshmi will bring the prosperity and wealth to the household. Being Christian, I don’t believe in this but always participate in the ritual because I feel good and positive about it. I must say that Diwali gives a lot of positive energy; no wonder it celebrates the victory of light over the darkness.

But like another friend of my, S. from suburbs of Moscow, said that in spite of having a kind and beautiful idea behind this holiday, it tends to cross all the limits in the amount of noise and pollution created. Unfortunately, thanks to human nature, something that starts on a small scale gets hyped due to commercialization and human desire to show off and to spend. My friend is a practicing Buddhist and as all kind-hearted Buddhists, she is concerned about domestic and wild animals around. We don't think about them while blasting fire crackers to supposedly drive away the evil spirits. We also drive away every living creature around. It is hard to imagine what they are going through. Thousands of dogs are scared of the noise created by explosions of fireworks and bombs. Birds, snakes and squirrels are probably experiencing war-like conditions. Of course, over the last five years I see the general concern of public and government to reduce the pollution and noisy explosions and I really appreciate it. But the fact remains the same: colourful crackers will be set off because they look nice, bombs will be blasted because it is “fun” and rockets will be launched as they symbolize the celebration of light.

Many Russians don't know the meaning of Diwali. Certainly, most of them know it is a Festival of Light, but few of them have even heard about Goddess Lakshmi. Even fewer have learnt about Lord Rama’s return from a 14-year exile, which is the main reason we celebrate. But almost nobody realizes the true meaning of this festival: ultimately we celebrate the power of light that shows us the way in our journey through life. Light that dispels the darkness of our ignorance.

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