India

Crass, loud, meaningless: Why have we ruined Diwali like this?

Diwali lamps Image copyright AFP
Image caption Diwali has been traditionally the festival of lights

Diwali is perhaps the most important Hindu festival celebrated in north India, but over the past decade or so, it has degenerated into a crass commercial fiesta, writes the BBC's Geeta Pandey in Delhi.

In my family, Diwali was traditionally the festival of lights - when we decorated our homes with diyas (little clay lamps), prayed to Lakshmi, the "goddess of wealth", to make us rich, and Ganesha, the cute elephant-headed god who removed obstacles in our path, helped us pass our exams when we were young, and made us generally happy.

We would wear new clothes and gorge on traditional sweets - some bought from the market and some made at home by my extremely talented mother.

We never had firecrackers - as a child whenever I asked my dad for money to buy crackers, he would say "you might as well burn the money".

Image copyright AFP
Image caption Diwali has now become a mega shopping festival
Image copyright EPA
Image caption People are encouraged to buy gold and diamonds

The first time I spent some money on crackers was when I became a mother and bought some for my son when he was a year old. He was so frightened by the noise that I had to hide in the house with him and so, that also became the last time.

But Diwali in Delhi no longer resembles the happy festival of my childhood days.

In recent years, it's degenerated into a mega shopping festival, with endless traffic snarls and noisy firecrackers adding to the thick blanket of grey smog already choking the city's lungs, making the mere act of breathing here a dangerous exercise.

The sorry state of affairs has been worrying many Delhi'ites. In the past few years, there have been campaigns to make people shun fireworks, but clearly they have failed.

Image copyright AP
Image caption Delhi is among the world's most polluted cities

The Delhi high court recently said crackers were "as bad as explosives" and the parents of three infants also appealed to the Supreme Court to ban them.

The court turned down the plea but the judges told the government to launch campaigns to "sensitise the public on the ill effects and pollution of bursting of crackers" and said they would be prohibited between 10pm and 6am.

But will that really happen? I doubt that - and I say that because in my neighbourhood in south Delhi, the crackers have already been bursting for days now. And they have been going on well past the 10pm deadline.

In an angry Facebook post, a friend who lives in east Delhi said he was woken up at 12:56am by neighbours bursting loud crackers.

Image copyright AFP
Image caption On Diwali, Hindus pray to Lakshmi, the "goddess of wealth"

But the things that have most come to symbolise Diwali in Delhi - and which I hate the most - are the shopping frenzies that take over the city in the weeks preceding the festival, coupled with some truly ludicrous gift-giving.

From several weeks before Diwali, daily newspapers grow noticeably thicker thanks to multiple pages containing just advertisements for all the shiny new things you can buy.

You are encouraged to buy a newer and bigger television set, replace that old washing machine even though it works perfectly well, get gadgets and home appliances that you neither have use - nor space - for.

Image copyright AFP
Image caption During Diwali, Delhi is often stuck in monster traffic jams

And while you are at it, go out and buy some gold and diamonds too. And that swanky new car. Oh, and since you're buying around Diwali, you'd probably get a free gold coin, or a free music system to go with that new set of wheels.

And since Diwali is also a time to be generous towards your fellow beings, don't forget that unnecessarily large basket of dry fruits, chocolates or gifts to give away to friends, relatives and business contacts.

And of course the millions of boxes of unhealthy sugary Indian sweets. It doesn't matter that India is certified as the "diabetes and hyper-tension capital" of the world.

And then of course load them into millions of cars to deliver them to their intended recipients.

Image copyright AFP
Image caption The Delhi high court recently said that crackers were "as bad as explosives"

And then sit for hours in endless traffic jams, getting cranky, honking horns.

During Diwali, my mother would always end the prayer ceremony by drawing a path on the floor so that when the goddess of wealth came to our house - just like Santa at Christmas - she would know where to go.

But today, I doubt Goddess Lakshmi would come to Delhi, repulsed by its noise and pollution. And even if she did, she would probably just be stuck in the traffic jam.