Lights, Crackers, and… Revelry!

Diwali Feature

Afestival with no history is indeed one that lacks significance. Solidifying India’s reputation as a nation saturated in cultural riches, Diwali is celebrated for many reasons. Initially originated as a harvest festival among India’s agricultural society, people would seek the divine blessing of the Goddess Lakshmi, as they closed the accounting books and prayed for prosperity at the outset of a new financial year.

Although this practice extends to businesses as well, we celebrate Diwali with family gatherings, festive fireworks, and strings of electric lights, flowers, bonfires, glittering clay lamps, and sharing of sweets. It’s believed that Goddess Lakshmi wanders the Earth looking for homes where she will be welcomed. Hence, people leave their doors and windows open and light lamps to invite Lakshmi in.
The history and traditions of Diwali are interpreted differently in different areas. In northern India, it is celebrated for King Rama’s return to Ayodhya after defeating Ravana by lighting rows of clay lamps. And in southern India, the festival marks the day when Lord Krishna defeated the demon Narakasura. Meanwhile, western India celebrates it as the day that Lord Vishnu sent the demon King Bali to rule the netherworld. In each of these interpretations, one common thread is that the festival marks the victory of good over evil.

In honour of this most celebrated of Indian festivals, You & I shines a spotlight on how different individuals from the city celebrate Diwali in their own distinct way.     -- Sumana

Tejdeep Kaur and Amarnath K. Menon

“My parents named me Tejdeep, which incidentally refers to a bright lamp, akin to what it signifies during Diwali: hope, the triumph of good or evil, clarity, the dispelling of darkness, and the beginning of a new year. The give-and-take of sweets, calling on elders to seek their blessings, meeting up with family and friends, attending get-togethers, lighting lamps for a few days, sprucing up the home, buying gadgets, crockery, and other utilitarian goods for the home, and making mithai and other snacks at home for distribution, is our Diwali in a nutshell,” shares the senior IPS officer, Tejdeep Kaur Menon.

“We established a new tradition of avoiding bursting crackers in deference to the birds that live in our environment, for whom we have exclusive feeders. Another reason is the compelling need to protect and provide a clean environment as much as we possibly can,” she continues with compassion in her tone. “There is something intangible about Diwali that makes it an exciting day to look forward to each year. The romance of the lamps lit in a row, the different hues of marigolds, the garland of mango leaves at the gateways, and a new coat of paint for the house.”

About her plans for this year, she shares, “This year, we look forward to the arrival of our children and granddaughter. We are decking up our home with marigolds. In the morning we will have a gathering of like-minded people to take part in a reading of the Guru Granth Sahib and have the kirtan and ardas on the morning of Diwali. This will be followed by the distribution of prasad. In the evening, we look forward to cooking and serving Punjabi delicacies to the extended family with some great Appam Stew and Paruppu Payasam. As our granddaughter will be here, we plan to distribute notebooks and other stationery to the underprivileged children who study at the government school at Ameenpur. These children will also be given a packet of sweets each.”

Virender, Sheeba, Pallak, and Roshni Razdan

“Diwali to me means happiness. It’s one of my favourite festivals in the year, as our entire family gathers to celebrate it! Our house is illuminated not just with lights but also with laughter, peace, a sense of togetherness and belonging, and, of course, the aroma of some delicious sweets!” describes Sheeba.

Born in a Sikh family and married to Kashmiri pandit Virender Razdan (hotelier), Sheeba Razdan has her hands full playing the different roles of wife, mother, homemaker, and designer. Blessed with two daughters, Pallak and Roshni, the family follows quintessential traditions during this festival – making rangolis, flower carpets, distributing sweets and festive greetings, and wearing new festive clothes, followed by a puja at home in the evening.

Sharing their plans for Diwali this year, Sheeba says, “This year – as has been our custom for the last six years –  we’re celebrating a green Diwali. Both Virender and I believe in less being more, and hence we like to keep it simple. Spending time with the family is our biggest luxury on a grand festival like Diwali.”

Virender, Sheeba, Pallak, and Roshni Razdan

“Diwali to me means happiness. It’s one of my favourite festivals in the year, as our entire family gathers to celebrate it! Our house is illuminated not just with lights but also with laughter, peace, a sense of togetherness and belonging, and, of course, the aroma of some delicious sweets!” describes Sheeba.

Born in a Sikh family and married to Kashmiri pandit Virender Razdan (hotelier), Sheeba Razdan has her hands full playing the different roles of wife, mother, homemaker, and designer. Blessed with two daughters, Pallak and Roshni, the family follows quintessential traditions during this festival – making rangolis, flower carpets, distributing sweets and festive greetings, and wearing new festive clothes, followed by a puja at home in the evening.

Sharing their plans for Diwali this year, Sheeba says, “This year – as has been our custom for the last six years –  we’re celebrating a green Diwali. Both Virender and I believe in less being more, and hence we like to keep it simple. Spending time with the family is our biggest luxury on a grand festival like Diwali.”

Sarita, Kishan, Ayushi, and Kriti Lohiya

“As a family, we spend most of the week preparing the house by cleaning and decorating it before Diwali begins. As it’s also the time for activities that we could do as a family – whether decorating, cooking, shopping or crafting – Diwali gifts us togetherness, happiness, teamwork, an opportunity to go back to our roots and, most importantly, memories that last a lifetime,” communicates Sarita. She loves huddling for hours to adorn her floors with intricate rangoli patterns around the house to symbolically welcome Lakshmi, the Goddess of wealth, during the festival.

“From dozens of bright lights at the house entrance with beautiful flower decor, clay diyas, string lights, to the colourful urlis (earthen pots) distributed in each room around my house, the festive season is visible everywhere. The smell of incense, the acrid smell of burning crackers, and the aromas coming from the kitchen add to the spirit.” She continues, “In the evening, Lakshmi puja begins with everyone traditionally dressed up, and after the puja, fireworks follow – first at our factory and then at home. We continue the revelry through the night with a family dinner comprising lots of sweets
and delicacies prepared with ardour.”

Kondaveeti Pooja and Vinay Reddy

“Diwali is a very special day for me. All our family members and friends come together to celebrate it with religious fervour,” says Pooja, an interior designer who moved to Hyderabad after tying the knot to Vinay Reddy last year. Pooja looks forward to distributing sweets, exchanging gifts, and lighting diyas every year, and celebrates the festival with great enthusiasm and joy. “This is my first Diwali with my in-laws as we celebrated the very first Diwali after our marriage with my parents in Jammu and Kashmir. Hence I am very excited!” she gushes.

With a conviction that the festival of lights represents happiness, prosperity, and the victory of good over evil, she shares, “On the day of Diwali, we decorate our house with flowers and diyas. We also make rangoli with flower petals and perform Lakshmi puja in the evening. While the hymns are being chanted, all the doors and windows of our house are left open for the spiritual significance that Goddess Lakshmi enters the house and showers her blessings on the family.”

During the auspicious days of Diwali, an important observance is buying precious metals like gold and silver. Following the culture of making this purchase assuredly every year, Pooja continues sharing, “On the day of Dhanteras, we buy a small amount of gold, as this is a tradition that runs in our family.” The couple has a gala time together with friends and family, and consciously avoids bursting crackers due to the noise pollution it creates.

Sreedhar and Vidya Rao with Raina, and Laghima Chennamaneni

“Diwali is the time to be aware of one’s inner light and spread warmth all around. This year, Diwali is very special for us, as our little princess has just turned one. Generally, we begin preparation for the festival in advance and ensure the house is thoroughly cleaned. There is nothing more welcoming than a sparkling clean home. It energises the place and gives a positive vibe!” says the actor and model, Sreedhar Rao.

He continues, “My wife Vidya decorates the temple area with fresh lotus, rose, mogra flowers, beautiful lights and traditional oil diyas. She diffuses camphor in the temple area, which smells divine. My daughter Raina helps her mom in making rangoli for the entrance of the house. As the festival of lights is also synonymous with sweets throughout the day, we keep hogging on sweetmeats that are prepared much in advance – not really bothered about counting calories.”

For the Chennamanenis, exchanging gifts with their family members is a must on Diwali. They also partly refurbish their home with the new items they buy during this time, in addition to the age-old custom of making purchases at gold showrooms. A unique factor of decorating their abode is illuminating the house with colourful L.E.D stripe lights, for the magical sense they impart.
“In the evening we perform puja at the office as well as at home, and at night we make it a point to visit the Bhagya Laxmi Temple in Charminar. As we believe in a noise-free Diwali, we
indulge in sky lanterns and firecrackers that cause less noise and air pollution.”

Bhakti and Rohit Reddy

“Diwali is everyone’s favourite for a reason: it’s the spirit that fills the air at homes which are decorated with lamps that accentuate spaces. Dressing up in traditional attire, the enthusiasm of meeting family and friends, and indulging in scrumptious food are what make it exciting,” exclaims Bhakthi Reddy, a fashion designer and stylist who has graduated from NIFT and London College of Fashion.
Bhakthi has worked on many interesting projects, right from designing uniforms for coffee shops, hotels, and schools, to styling Tollywood actors. Having started her own label in 2012, she now retails from exhibitions in both Bengaluru and Hyderabad. At the Reddy’s home, a tradition they follow is performing Lakshmi puja in the evening, with the house decorated using marigold flowers and diyas.
“We’re looking forward to celebrating Diwali with our three-year-old this year because last year she was too scared of all the noise. She’s also excited about decorating her room with fairy lights this Diwali!” share the couple, talking about their daughter Nethra.

Bhakthi hasn’t burst fireworks for the last 15 years. She explains, “I really don’t think we need to add to the noise and pollution levels around us. It’s sad to see the smoke and toxic gases fill the air! Hence we only light a few sparklers just for tradition.”

To her, it’s all about the festive spirit, the joy of spending quality time with loved ones, and the delight of giving and sharing. “Here’s wishing all the You & I readers a very happy and
safe Diwali!” she concludes.

Shloka, Abhinav, and Deepika Reddy

“Deepawali, the festival of lights that I am named after, is one of the festivals that I look forward to every year. Deepanjali, the name of my dance institute, means a salutation or greeting with diyas. Through Deepanjali I strive to ignite a passion for Indian culture, traditions, and the beautiful art form of Kuchipudi in the youth today,” shares Deepika Reddy, a famed classical dancer in the city. She has made a niche for herself as a brilliant performer, creative choreographer, dedicated guru, and cultural ambassador.

For her, if dressing up in traditional wear and ushering in the festival is one part of the fun, then the other compelling part is indulging in delicious food and sweets without guilt. It is also a tradition at their house for the senior-most member of the domestic help to light diyas and offer aarti first thing on the Diwali morning, and to receive a gift for doing so.

“My daughter Shloka and I like lighting up the diyas and making rangoli. I still cherish my childhood when my parents used to take me to Secunderabad Club to revel in the Diwali fireworks display. My parents used to repeatedly caution my brother and I about the safety measures to be taken while bursting firecrackers. I am doing the same with my kids now,” shares the recipient of state awards from the governments of Telangana and Andhra Pradesh, setting a decidedly nostalgic tone.

Deepika’s daughter Shloka is a budding Kuchipudi dancer, while her son Abhinav is a committed tennis player who is currently playing international tennis federation tournaments.

Rina, Tejas, Yukti, and Drish Hindocha

Rina Hindocha, known for her unique approach to yoga, is a certified yoga trainer, columnist and co-founder of Touch a Life Foundation. Her husband Tejas Hindocha is an acclaimed fashion designer in the city. For them, Diwali is the most joyous and auspicious occasion of the year, which they celebrate with their two lovely kids, Yukti and Drish, as well as extended family and friends.

“Diwali is a time to celebrate a number of things, especially good triumphing over evil and the enlightenment of the core self. I love the festive mood in the air, and the fact that it’s a great excuse to spend more time with my family. For me, Diwali signifies righteousness over treachery, truth over falsehood, light over darkness, and knowledge over ignorance,” Rina shares with a spiritual enthusiasm.

As in most homes, the Hindochas also have a few traditions that make Diwali that much more special to them. “We decorate our home with candles light diyas as Diwali symbolises the personal relationship between God and our family. In the joyous mood of the season, I love to pray with my family whether at the temple or in the comfort of our lovely home. My heart is full of love and joy during this time, each year! Apart from a family gathering, we perform a puja at our shop and office. But most importantly, we feed the poor and distribute sweets amongst orphans. We also distribute fireworks to underprivileged children and give our old clothes to the needy.”

Rina observes a noise-free Diwali every year and celebrates the Gujarati New Year – which occurs on the day following Diwali – with equal devotion.

Vyshnavie, Rajeswari, and Sainath

Rajeswari Sainath is a renowned Bharatanatyam dancer and her husband Sainath, a veteran cricketer. It was only natural for their daughter Vyshnavie to follow her mother’s footsteps as she inherited the grace of a fine dancer. A professional dancer herself, Vyshnavie Sainath eagerly looks forward to Diwali every year, as it’s one of her favourite festivals. “It’s when the house looks bright with positivity and happiness spread across!” she exclaims.

Every year on Diwali day, the entire family gathers at her grandmother’s, as early as 4 am. Being the oldest member of the house, her grandma fulfils a certain tradition with special oil and whole heartedly blesses the family members.

They light lamps before sunrise and welcome the sun god with devotional reverence. “This year too, the same ritual will continue. However, we may not continue the tradition of bursting crackers. We ensure a calm evening as we create a noise-free environment for our pets. For the past few years, we as a family have been bonding over conversations and other festive activities rather than bursting crackers,” Vyshnavie reveals. Being conscious of her four-legged counterparts, Vyshnavie also shows compassion on this eve by providing safety and comfort to the street dogs and puppies in her
colony.