Diwali: Festivals and the Lies they Foster

50 MILLION MISSING.2

What makes people voluntarily deaf, dumb and blind to the workings of their culture and tradition? 

Take the festival of Diwali in  India — also sometimes called “the festival of lamps” because once a year, everyone lights their houses with lamps.

The symbolism here is that of lighting a lamp in the dark — good over evil, etc. — which is what makes it so appealing to people visiting India at this time.  That in addition to the fact, that everything looks so pretty with hundreds of lamps lit everywhere.

The story behind Diwali, that millions of us in India have grown up with, is that of the victory of the Indian king Ram.  Ram’s wife, Sita, is said to have been kidnapped by the Sri Lankan king Ravana.  After a massive, bloody battle, Ram rescues Sita and brings her home.  And to welcome him home and celebrate his victory over evil, the people of India lit lamps.  Thus today essentially marks Ram’s victory in battle over Ravana — who in India is considered a force of evil.

Across the strait, in neighboring Sri Lanka, however, there is another version of this story that claims that Sita actually eloped with Ravana.  He just seemed like a more exciting prospect to her! And Ram — whose ego couldn’t take it, came down with his huge army and dragged her back.

Well, as used as we are in India — to swallow traditions, customs, myths and stories without thought, reflection and introspection, I have to say that there is an aspect of Rama’s story, that with or without the Sri Lankan twist to it, never appealed to me!  When Rama returned to India — and Sita had settled back in, the story goes that people in India started talking about how unfit a wife and queen she was having lived in a strange man’s house for so long.  As the debate on her condition of sexual “impurity” escalated, Ram, probably felt his masculinity challenged again, and decided to throw her out of his house.  Poor Sita, now pregnant, spent the remainder of her life, in exile, in a forest. A certain sage and poet, Valmiki, took her into his cottage and helped her and her children.

Rethinking this story, and the whole point of the festival — which is contending with certain basic moral principles of good and evil — the question I have wondered about, which I wish millions of Indians would too, is: Does a man who rescues his wife only to establish the supremacy of his virility, who kicks her out, pregnant and helpless, to avenge his smarting ego, deserve to be the symbolic hero of this day? In 3 generations we’ve killed more than 50 million women — unblinkingly in India!  Is this what the problem is? That somewhere, what we hold as sacred, what we hold as a moral meter, is what is fundamentally screwed up?

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15 Comments

  1. Fazal Abbas

     /  October 26, 2011

    The business aspect of Diwali will make it go on and on , no matter how much one thinks or rethinks. Cadbury chocolette and not laddu in Diwali gift struck this idea to my mind. It will not remain Indian and (Sri) Lankan story for ever. The woman aspect in this story is also very interesting. Every one likes Laxmi to be Meherban today, not bothering what happened to Sita after the DEEPAK festival then. For an woman to be respected it takes a respectable man.

    Reply
    • Rita Banerji

       /  October 26, 2011

      True — like everything this one too is ultimately about money. But then so is female feticide, infanticide and dowry murders. The killing of girls in India is about greed of money! So maybe it all still boils down to the same thing!

      Reply
  2. >>only to establish the supremacy of his virility<>to avenge his smarting ego<<

    Not knowing you personally, I won't say you are a liar. Most likely, you have never read Valmiki's work. And yet you dishonestly pontificate. I truly pity you.

    Reply
    • Rita Banerji

       /  October 26, 2011

      No don’t pity me — just pity poor Sita for first surviving almost being buried in the ground as a baby (like many in India still do with baby girls) — and pity all the Indian women who try to be a goody-goody wife like Sita. If Sita was alive today I’d hope she’d have the sense to sue Ram’s pants off for a nice big alimony :-))

      Reply
  3. Saps

     /  October 26, 2011

    The fundamental flaw in the human thought process, esp. in our country is the belief that somehow this mythology is true and those characters really existed. This belief brings along with it, its own brand of paraphernalia – lethal superstitions and ignorance. So lethal that could could kill as you say ’50 female children million in a few decades’! Even as a young medical intern I have experienced the worship of relatives if I delivered a boy and their scorn if it were to be a girl child. A mother with MSc, writhing in labour pain asks me repeatedly as soon as its out, if it was a boy as if it was her marks card! So in my opinion, as long as we believe in our mythology and worship the characters as gods and goddesses and then let their actions dictate ours, we will remain savages. Yes savages who send out space missions, write blogs, comments on them and then go back and kill in cold blood.

    Reply
    • Rita Banerji

       /  October 26, 2011

      Even if we think in India those characters were real — the responsibility is still ours to account for who we choose to worship, follow, emulate. What customs we uphold and what customs we discard. If the culture is ours then the responsibility and the right is ours to correct what is wrong.

      Reply
  4. Saps

     /  October 26, 2011

    Your idea is rational but these belief systems are not. Once you are into it, it kills off the rational mind. Therefore, rational choices wont work. There is no such thing as the cafeteria approach to customs and religious superstitions. One cannot pick and choose which fiction to believe as true and which to discard as wrong. It will not stand up in the court of the masses. They will say that if you believe that the victory of Rama over Ravana is the truth and is correct then the Agnipariksha part also is correct and should hold true in our society. My theory is to root out all these from the mind over a period of time so that it remains only in fictional novels not as public holidays and worship orgies in temples. It works perfectly in say the viking societies of Scandinavia whose mytho and norse gods concept is as strong as ours but they have done away with the ‘belief’ system. They might not have days of worship in the temples but they do have the best quality of life. Yes, discarding customs altogether might make our lives a bit duller (no delicious food etc.) but we will see a lot more respect for life.

    Reply
    • Rita Banerji

       /  October 26, 2011

      When customs are power based — like based on unequal power of races, religions and gender — people do not like to change because they do not like to give up power. People change only when it suits them. So they may have used cycle and it suits them to use a car, so they will use a car. But if they are used to occupying a position in society of power — like take anti-semitism in Europe, and the Jewish genocide, or racism in the U.S. and S.Africa and the lynching of black people or misogyny in India and the female genocide, people never are willing to give up the power they have over another group. The customs and beliefs are no cute — they are used ruthlessly to justify the power. In all situations where customs and ideas have been changed that are power based, they have had to be forced and challenged. Racism, apartheid, jewish genocide — none of these changed slowly. They changed abruptly and the change had to be forced. It’s the only way to deal with female genocide in India.

      Reply
    • >>It works perfectly in say the viking societies of Scandinavia whose mytho and norse gods concept is as strong as ours but they have done away with the ‘belief’ system.<<

      And have had their native ‘belief’ system conveniently supplanted with one that unlike the previous espouses monotheistic religious supremacy. Given your suggestion for India is on similar lines, one can see where you are coming from.

      Reply
  5. Saps

     /  October 26, 2011

    Yes abrupt change is a great idea. But I recall the first few pages of Alvin Toffler’s Future Shock where he says that any change in society, however infinitesimal, will be met with resistance. Slow changes are met with less resistance but abrupt changes are met with blindingly intense resistance from the society. But if it is a change for the better- stopping female genocide for example, I’m all for for an abrupt change. The question is how to bring that about in such a heterogeneous society such as ours. We have started now with making corrupt people accountable to the masses, if that brings about some change, it could provide clues for a similar movement on a massive scale to change the psyche of our prejudiced society en masse.

    Reply
  6. Very informative… Happy holidays!

    Reply
  7. Rita-I don’t celebrate Diwali. I just have too many issues with it really. It all sounds very nice and simple if you are explaining it to a young child…but , as you point out, the mythology is flawed.

    Reply
  8. emery

     /  April 30, 2012

    you are right it reminds me of how the Pakistanis dance in the streets and shoot guns in the air (or sometimes at the US embassy) every 9/11 since the attacks and then they wonder why they have become the suicide bombing capital of the world. by celebrating war criminals they are sending the message that its OK to be one. one things for shore you won’t catch me celebrating Diwali.

    Reply
  9. mystiq

     /  September 27, 2013

    Keep it up Rita…

    Reply

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