Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Deepavali festival of bygone days

Every October, the time of Festival of Lights, Deepavali, takes me down memory lane.  Let me recount the scenario from the 1960s and early 70s.  We eagerly looked forward to one or two more holidays for Deepavali which followed the Dasara holidays of September end or October.  

We lived at Devaparthiva Road in Chamarajapuram. The first preparation almost a month ahead was stitching of new apparel for all male members of the family.  The female members would have had their new sets a month before for the Gowri Festival.  My father would take us to a cloth store and buy a long measures of cotton cloth. The children [me and brother] would get shorts [ಚಡ್ಡಿ] and same type shirts was common for all, like uniform, excluding my grandfather who did not need.  They were given to Tailor Narayana Rao whose shop was just a furlong away.  We preferred custom-made dresses.  'Comfortable loose-fitting' was our formula, which ready-mades never provided.  Narayana Rao was to deliver the stitched dresses ahead of the festival day, but he doing so was a rarity, which forced us to remind him several times.

Fireworks would flood the market a week prior to the festival. Initially my grandfather would take us to one of the temporarily erected stalls.  We would mostly buy the sparklers, flowerpots and their likes but only a couple of small chains of the smallest crackers which we called 'horse crackers' ಕುದುರೆ ಪಟಾಕಿ.  The items were given in paper covers.  The lot was divided between the two brothers, sometimes unfairly, for which there used to be little fights.

ನೀರು ತುಂಬುವ ಹಬ್ಬ. ನರಕ ಚತುರ್ದಶಿ.  The evening before, the ladies of the house would clean all the water storage vessels [mostly copper and brass, which shone] including the hearth vessel in the bath and fill with fresh water [24-hour supply then], which was customary. They would be decorated with religious markings from rice flour.  Mango leaves were pluck from the tree in the yard and a string of individual leaves neatly arranged side by side [ತೋರಣ] would be tied to the front door frame and the worship room door.

On the previous night, my mother would draw a lovely pattern of rice-flour rangoli in front of the main door, which lasted a week.  My grandmother, mother and aunt would get busy making various preparations, including food and worship for the festival.  It was a very enthusiastic atmosphere.  Recent picture of mother's rangoli.

We slept early, ready to wake up at 4 am.  During exam time, we needed to be shaken up from sleep, but now, we were awake well ahead, all by ourselves!

'Oil bath' [castor oil] for the male members was a very important ritual.  Mother would apply oil to the heads of her sons as soon as we got up. After half an hour, bath, one by one. My grandmother would have got up ahead of all of us and put fire to the hearth [hot water boiler]. New clothes were worn after bath.

Image from facebook depicts a very common joint family scene.  Castor oil on the head gave an awkward feeling, leave alone its smell!

We wanted to be the first in the street to burst a cracker, but always, some friend would be doing it already!  Then later he would boast 'Did you hear at 4 am itself?'

There used to be 'caps' - small red paper buttons with a tiny bit of explosive sandwiched in the centre.  Same was also available for toy pistols called 'caps', in rolls [all cracker images here, from web].  One or two of these buttons were placed between washers of a thick nut-bolt and thrown to the ground - the caps would produce a 'phat' sound.  It echoed in the street! 

When we grew up a a tad bit older and bolder, louder-boomers started to fancy us. The loudest sounding item in our lot was ‘elephant cracker’ with that Red Fort picture [see] on the packet. It exploded with a loud but tolerable sound.  In a bid to stretch the pleasure value and duration to the maximum, we did not mind the extra work of separating the chain of crackers to burst them one by one!  Even the cheap little 'horse crackers' were separated, tips of the wicks peeled and kept ready! The odd one that fizzed delighted us because of the fear shown when the wick caught fire from the incense stick!  Others watching would shout and say if the wick had caught fire or not!  Sometimes they used to fool us by shouting that the wick had caught fire when it had not, but not the other way, so that we could run away in time.  At times, the wick would fizzle in to the cracker so fast and explode before we moved away a couple of feet. 

Dawn would be still an hour away when boys and girls would come out and start fireworks.  There would be a break for breakfast at about 8 O'Clock.  The ladies in the house would have it prepared as the kids enjoyed the morning session.  Our  family priest Puttaramaiah who came daily for the ಷೊಡಶೊಪಚಾರ rituals would do the extra festival related rituals. He also came the following evening, as ಬಲಿ ಪಾಡ್ಯಮಿ Bali Padyami rituals were for the evening.  We enjoyed his sprinkling of holy water chanting 'ಬಲಿ ರಾಜ ಚಕ್ರವರ್ತಿ ಹೊನ್ನೋ ಹೊನ್ನೋ ' [Bali raja chakravarthi honno honno] with a raised voice and stopped with a cresendo.

We never bought either Rockets or Atom bombs.  Only once or twice I went up to the extent of ‘Lakshmi cracker’ and ‘China chuvva’ in very small numbers, only to 'compete' with friends in terms of decibel output!  They were the young brothers of the atom bomb.  The sound of a bomb fired by someone in a distant locality reverberated in the pre-dawn silent skies of Mysore, pleased me more than what was fired by me!   But I felt sorry for the crows that were then aplenty spending the nights on roadside tree branches.  Sparrows [now vanished from here] were found flying funnily, confused by the loud sounds everywhere.  Street dogs were never seen, nor the stray cattle, obviously rattled and confused too.

We were curious to know 'for how much' a friend bought his crackers. It was commonly inquired. If someone crossed the hundred mark, he would be 'looked up as rich'. For us two brothers, the expense would be hardly twenty five or thirty rupees at the most.  A few crackers, some sparklers, coloured match sticks, incense sticks [for igniting], flower pots, threadlike sparklers, ಭೂ ಚಕ್ರ and ವಿಷ್ಣು ಚಕ್ರ - Coiled tape - one for the ground and the latter which was risky, made up most of our list.

There used to be special sweet dishes for lunch.  Everything was prepared at home.  Grandfather stayed at home, watching us and enjoying the rest from his busy but organized routine. So was father. But out on the streets, it was a busy scenario, children running in and out, firing a cracker every now and then. 

I do not recall people exchanging festival greetings in a very showy manner like now!  But there was an exchange.

In those days the festival was not a nuisance. The sky did not choke much, nor did asthmatic people complain of smoke.  Things were in moderation, less people, less fireworks and they stopped by 11pm.  Haze in the normal sky was negligible and hence quite starry, except during winter fog.  Only on the two days of Naraka Chaturdashi and Bali Padyami the night sky would get smoggy.  Pollution was not a word on people's tongues like now!  The municipal sweepers the next morning would sweep all the paper debris left by the fireworks.  We used to look for fizzed out crackers and extract that 'explosive powder' from them and light a match to it to enjoy the little adventure, taking care of safety. This was more fun than bursting crackers!

Once my young brother had burnt his fingers trying to light a bunch of coloured matchsticks together. It was a painful experience for him from that one-time adventure.

In the evening also there used to be a small session of fire crackers.  Pre-dinner time was reserved for sparklers, coiled wheels and flowerpots, enjoyed by all the members of the family.  It used to be a great fun-filled time. Once a flowerpot exploded when I was lighting it. Luckily nothing untoward happened.

In the evenings for the entire duration of ಕಾರ್ತೀಕ ಮಾಸ [4 weeks] oil lamps in small clay diyas would be kept in pairs at the gate, at the front door and on the ತುಳಸಿ ಕಟ್ಟೆ [holy basil pot].  Some people made the decoration of lights more artistically, keeping a long series on the compound wall.
After all, this is a festival of lights, not of sound!

In 1970, we had been to the Dasara Exhibition [old building].  I think it was a day after the Bali Padyami. We were returning home on foot at about 9 pm.  There were a couple of fire engines and a crowd in front of a house in our street.  They owned a couple of cows.  Hay which they had stacked on the terrace had caught fire from some rocket which had landed on the stack.  Luckily only a part of the house was gutted and no one was injured. Damage was minimal.

Around 1977 or so, a lorry carrying a large stock of fireworks had caught fire.  It was passing on Jhansi Lakshmi Bai Road near the junction of Medical College Hostel close to where a lovely little building known as 'Bharat Scout and Guides'.  Only the driver's presence of mind saved lives or caused any damage.  He had swerved the vehicle, stopped it by the side of the road and jumped out to safety.

As we passed the teens, this thrill of firing crackers waned away slowly and many years later, it was time for nextgen to enjoy their teens.  Digital cameras had arrived to capture the moments.
I have to depend on memory and words!

We used to buy and mail Deepavali greeting cards to some relatives and friends, well ahead of the festival, which too stopped with the advent of the e-mail.  But aunt Rathna has enthusiastically kept up this lovely tradition [Picture below].

Diwali Greetings from The Narayans.


Deepavali Song - 1963. [Kannada Movie]


girish nikam said...

Nice recall, Dinu. I wish i cud get some time and mood to write of our experiences. But i will let go this time having savoured yours. BTW, ïs "caps"the right spelling--we all used to pronounce it as "capes"!

Dinakar KR said...

My school classmate Jothindra wrote in the mail:
Completely transported me to those good old days, Dinu! Those days festivals were very special indeed. How.we looked forward to them. You mention about getting stitched new clothes. Those were the days when we used to go for new clothes only during festivals. And I remember the tailors were very much in demand those days. Woe to those who gave their cloths late. They could be refused by the tailor. Or they would have tense time on the previous day of the festival. I remember the tailors would be on their jobs through out the night, why even on the morning of the festival trying to please their regular customers. I remember one family in our street which had four brothers. Their father would choose the same cloth for all of them. Invariably they would turn up in their new clothes on festival days as if in new uniforms! Poor guys! But this habit of getting new clothes only during festivals was good in a way,wasn't it ? Just imagine all the people in new clothes on a particular day! Now we don't give significance to this as we tend to buy new clothes round the year.
We kids also used to love the smells of the burnt crackers. Do you remember all of us collecting the chemical inside of all those crackers which failed to explode? We used tc call them'thus' pattakis. We used to collect them in a big newspaper and set it onfire after exhausting all the good ones. I remember this because one friend got his hand burnt severely one Deepavali. It used to be so dangerous. But we loved doing such things, didn't we?
And I was there on the spot when that truck carrying crackers caught fire. I rushed out of the classes,(I was doing my B.A.,in Maharaja!s then). It was a grand spectacle. The crackers going off. There was a goodly crowd watching the unusual, once -in -a- life time, event.

I can go on and on, Dinu. For you have touched a part of my addled brains with your beautifully written essay on this unique festival. Maybe I will drop in at your place one of these days and let's talk about those good old days . Thanks for reminding me of those begone days which we were lucky to experience. Our kids are losers in a way compatively, for the festivals are being celebrated for namesakes. This Deepavali a friend's family took off to Kerala on their car immediately after the pooja, for example.​

Susan Hirneise Moore said...

I need to try some flour for stenciling our driveway. Our granddaughters would love that. I'll be watching for stencils to use at yard sales from now on. What a wonderful idea!

R.Rajagopal (Gopi) said...

Hi Dinakar. Wow. Thanks for bringing back the memories of those good old days. I got transported back to 1960's while reading your article. I think we really enjoyed during the festival times and rightly said by Jothindra, the festivals are just a formality now.


Dear Dinakar! Very beautifully written. I did not come across 'Mathapu'. Girls who were afraid of the bang bang sound, used to buy more of green and red mathapu and of course capes which were more safer.

In Saraswathipuram, those monkeys would vanish without any trace during this time.