Diwali, the festival of light, is the biggest holiday of the year in a country that loves its holidays. Technically, it has Hindu roots — marking the homecoming of Ram after kicking some Sri Lankan booty — and is celebrated by Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, and Jains in variations on a theme of the triumph of good over evil. Practically speaking, it is as secularized as Christmas in America — a disappointing trend in both cases (but that’s another story).
It is not only celebrated widely, but poorly as well.
More experienced India-hands claim that, in the not-so-distant past, the holiday was an aesthete’s dream: hushed and lovely, the dark night of the new moon illuminated by countless small diyas (oil lamps) and candles.
This is but a distant dream in anyplace I’ve spent Diwali. Fireworks, firecrackers, and what can only be described as small bombs have displaced the humble, peaceful diya as the celebration-tool of choice. As a consequence, Diwali evening (the whole day actually) sounds as though all of India is under military attack. It is crude, gaudy, and loud. India’s premier festival has become a metaphor for the perverse decay of its aesthetic, moral, and spiritual traditions at a time of technological and economic ascension.
Naturally, it is the exceptions which help to prove the rule; and no exception is more exceptional than Uma Prajapati’s Upasana Design Studio — in the case of Diwali celebrations as in all things. Last night, the already gorgeous mid-forest campus of Upasana (designed by the infinitely talented Manoj Pavithran) was transformed into a spangly paradise of light. The festivities were enjoyed by hundreds from the Auroville and Pondicherry communities.
And when the party was over, we made a bee-line for home — our make-shift bomb-shelter — as the war games of Diwali played-out through the hard-fought night.