Diwali, the Festival of Light, which is celebrated across India and in countries around the world where Indian communities live and work, is traditionally held over a five-day period. Religious rituals are undertaken and social gatherings are held, as families gather together to celebrate the Diwali festival.
The five-day festivities begin two days prior to the main Diwali day, and then continue for two more days after Diwali , with each day having its own religious and mythological significance, with special prayers and worship dedicated to various Hindu deities.
In the lead-up to Diwali, celebrants engage in cleaning, renovating and refurbishing, as well as decorating their homes and workplaces. Stacks of small earthen oil lamps are taken out of year-long storage and cleaned in preparation for lining them in front of houses and on terraces. Rangolis, or colorful designs and patterns are drawn on the floor at entrances to homes. The vibrant artwork is created using natural dyes made from rice flour, lentils, powdered bricks, chalk and flowers.
On Diwali day, in the morning worshippers solemnly visit temples to offer prayers, new clothes are donned and people go visiting neighbors, friends and relatives. Greetings are exchanged, sweets and other delicacies are gifted, and delicious meals specially cooked for the occasion are shared by Diwali celebrants.
The solemn prayers and rituals that marked the days leading up to, and on Diwali morning, takes on a fun and festive mood as the sun goes down on Diwali day. In the evening, homes get brightly lit with the traditional oil lamps lighting the interior and exterior, celebrants engage in songs and dances and the air gets rent with the sound of crackers as the sky lights up in myriad colors from fireworks going off everywhere.
All of the simple rituals of Diwali have a religious or social significance and a mythological tale behind them. Homes are illuminated with lights as a mark of respect and adoration of the gods, and fireworks fill the skies as an expression of thanks to the heavens for all the bounties of health, wealth, knowledge, peace, and prosperity granted to the people. Fireworks are also associated with a more mundane task of driving away insects and pests such as mosquitoes that are plentiful after the rains during the season.
However, fireworks have also been linked to noise and air pollution in many places, with the air quality measurements revealing an increase in particulate matter (PM2.5) during the five-day celebrations in many cities and towns across India. At a time when the world is engaged in combating the existential threat of climate change we all have a part to play in reducing our individual carbon footprint on the planet, and this includes celebrating a greener, more eco-friendly Diwali.
Restrictions imposed during the COVID-19 pandemic last year prevented many of the traditional rituals and social gatherings, including fireworks from taking place. This had a positive impact on air quality measurements recorded last year relative to previous years. Though the curtailments have been eased in many places this year, the creativity in celebrating Diwali displayed amid the pandemic repercussions of last year, can be carried forward this year so as to ensure a softer carbon footprint on the planet. Travel by road to visit and celebrate the occasion with near and dear ones in other places can be reduced by virtual parties and meetings using online video talk apps.
Significance of good over evil and it is with each Deepawali and the lights that illuminate our homes and hearts that this simple truth finds new reason and hope.
Here are a few more ways to go green this Diwali without dimming the brilliance and glitter of the festival in any significant way.
Green alternatives to crackers: Use colored balloons in festive colors of red, yellow, green and orange, and fill them with glitter and small bits of colored paper. Burst the balloons and dance in the glitter rain with your family and friends. It may not have the bang of traditional fireworks but it also leaves no environmental damage.
Reduce use of plastic bags: When exchanging gifts make sure not to pack them in plastic backed gift wrappings or carry them in plastic gift bags, instead use your creativity to come up with natural wrapping and present the gifts in cloth bags.
Make natural rangolis: Instead of the artificial rangoli color powders that are available in the market, make a rangoli out of fresh flowers or make the floor designs with traditional and natural ingredients, such as rice paste or dry rice flour. The ingredients can also make it to the bin the next morning to make compost for your garden.
Make sweets at home: Spend a little extra time in the kitchen before the festivities start and make the sweets and other delicacies at home. Share them with your neighbors and friends in steel and glass plates. It may be more convenient to just buy them from the sweet shop next door, but think about the wasteful packaging that comes with it and the artificial colors and dressings used on them.
Use oil-diyas: Substitute candles and electric diyas with the good old earthen oil-diyas, which are made from eco-friendly materials and can be reused many times over. Candle diyas can be used only once and are petroleum based. They release toxins while burning which affects air quality. Some of the harmful chemicals released include benzene, formaldehyde and lead. Stick to the traditional earthen lamps, since cheaply available colored diyas are also painted with synthetic colors. If you would rather have electric lighting anyway, opt for LED lights and CFL bulbs. They use 30 to 80 percent less energy and are available in a variety of colors in markets.