Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Diwali - Eid - 'Hyderabadiyat'

Been a while since I have posted something here. I still am not able to do justice to this completely, but, as of now, I have this writeup I have made for some other purpose a couple of years back, when both Diwali and Eid fell on the same day. That was the time, I wrote about the significance of both these festivals, and how similar all the religions are, though we keep fighting on petty issues. Also, through this essay, I tried to show how Hyderabad celebrates both these festivals, and tried giving it a local flavor.

So, here it is...

If India is known for its rich cultural heritage and religious tolerance, welcome to the Melting pot, Hyderabad! What best time to know about the cultural and religious heritage than this month, November, for, this is the most happening month on the festive calendar, after all this is the month when Deepavali and Eid-Ul-Fitr are celebrated! This is not about knowing how these festivals are celebrated, but to throw light on the much finer aspect that is going missing in the modern day world and how close we both are, two brothers after all!

This is the most revered, the most pious month according to both the Islamic calendar and also the Hindu calendar. Eid marks the end of Ramadan, the month long fasting. Eid-Ul-Fitr literally means “Festival of Breaking the Fast” in Arabic. Ramadan, the holy ninth month of Islamic calendar is the month of sacrifice and to look inwards and become a better human. It is marked by prayer, fasting, and charity. It is primarily a way of seeking proximity to God.

Ramadan and its significance is marked by the fact that it is mentioned as Siyam (singular: Saum) in Arabic which is the fourth pillar of Islam and places a number of rules for self restraint on the activities of Muslims during Ramadan. This month is significant as this was the month when the holy Qur’an was revealed to the humans through the Prophet Muhammad by the holy angel Gabriel. Muslims consider the Qur’an to be God's speech recorded in the Arabic language, and transmitted to humanity through Prophet Muhammad, who is considered the last of the prophets.

On the other hand, Diwali falls on the last day of the seventh month of the Hindu calendar, Ashwin. There are many tales about the festival based on which part of the country you hail from. On this very day the sun enters its second course and passes Libra, which is represented, by the balance or scale. Hence, this design of Libra is believed to have suggested the balancing of account books and their closing. Despite the fact that this day falls on an amavasya (new-moon) day it is regarded as the most auspicious. Diwali is the day when King Ram’s coronation was celebrated in Ayodhya after his epic war with Ravana, the demon king of Lanka.

By order of the royal families of Ayodhya and Mithila, the kingdom of which Sita was princess, the cities and far-flung boundaries of these kingdoms were lit up with rows of lamps, glittering on dark nights to welcome home the divine king Ram and his queen Sita after 14 years of exile, ending with an across-the-seas war in which the whole of the kingdom of Lanka was destroyed. In Kerala it is celebrated as the day of the return of their beloved king, Bali. The story is that Vaman, an avatar of Vishnu while sending Bali to the nether world, gave him a blessing that he can return to his people once a year to light millions of lamps from the one lamp that was gifted by Vaman himself, so that on the dark new moon light of Diwali, the blinding darkness of ignorance, greed, jealousy, lust, anger

It is also the day when the world celebrates the end of the demon king Narakasur ruler of Pragjyotishpur (a province to the South of Nepal) in the hands of Lord Krishna.

Prophet Muhammad said, “Ramadan burns the sins and faults, just as the fire burns the wood.” The importance of this divine month was reiterated by the Prophet when he said, “The Month of Ramadan is the month of Allah (God), bringing His Mercy and Forgiveness.” And the Hindus light the diyas on Diwali to denote that innumerable rays of light and knowledge pierce the impenetrable darkness and ignorance. A sublime light of knowledge dawns upon humanity and devotion of man finally conquers ignorance. This self-enlightenment is expressed through the twinkling lamps, the diyas that illuminate the palaces of the wealthy as well as the lowly abodes of the poor.

It is believed that on this day Lakshmi walks through the green fields and loiters through the bye-lanes and showers her blessings on man for plenty and prosperity. Both Ramadan and Diwali speak of correcting oneself and becoming a better human. According to Islam, Ramadan fasting leads one to become a better human by way of conquering oneself, their desires and wants to attain knowledge while the diyas of Deepavali signify the attainment of knowledge.

In Islam, fasting is worship, a time of reflection to refresh our long-forgotten pledge with God, the pledge of being perfect witnesses of the Prophets’ lifestyle. It is the time to look at ourselves critically, see where we have departed from the ways of the Prophets. On the other hand, the Hindus, on the day of Diwali, worship the goddess of Wealth, Lakshmi. Muslims, as mentioned before, believe that the month on the whole is blessed as the holy Qur’an was bestowed to the humanity and that the humans can reach the closest to Him this whole month. There is a belief in the Hindus that Lakshmi walks on the earth during Diwali and to welcome her, the pujas are done.

So, no matter you are a Hindu or a Muslim, this is the time you can get the closest to God. On the day of Eid, there are special prayers that are held at the Idgahs, where people congregate in large groups and offer prayers to God. Diwali is also marked by a visit to the nearest temples in the day and pujas done along with the families at night. And how can Diwali and the festivities be complete without the mention of firecrackers? After all, this is the festival of lights, sweets, rangolis and crackers and fireworks, not necessarily in that order! There generally are marathon rounds of cracker bursting that at times continue till the wee hours of the next day!

Now let’s look at the similarities in the way we celebrate these festivals. One buys new clothes, and lights and decorations mark the festivities. Children are seen as the busiest lot with gifts galore. There is shopping frenzy all around as it is the biggest festival. Families and friends visit each other and exchange sweets and dry fruits. They also have special meals together. They greet and hug each other and seek blessings from the elders. This is a typical festive atmosphere, and one cannot make out whether this was a mention about the Eid or Diwali as such, as this is how both of them are celebrated.

Almost similar! In fact, one of the main features that mark Eid is the charity that is associated with it. There are business communities, mostly from the “Old” parts of Lukhnow, Delhi or Hyderabad where both Muslims as well as Hindus equally take part in giving a percentage of their earnings to charity, either to the poor or to the nearest masjid. Ask any old timer from these cities as to what festival it would be when people wear new clothes, exchange sweets and especially dry fruits, he would have two answers… Eid or Diwali!

There is a very good reason behind Hyderabad being referred as the “Melting Pot” and that reason is a delicacy that is special to this place! At the time of Eid, visit any Muslim family and there is a “Must Have” dish, which is called “Sheer Korma”. Also, if you visit any Hindu family, not just in Hyderabad, but to any typical Telugu household of the Telangana, you would for sure be served with a dish called “Penilu”. So what? What is the similarity, one might ask! Sugar, dry fruits fried in clarified butter and vermicelli in milk, that is how it is made no matter you call it “Sheer Korma” or “Penilu”!

Well, if you are still thinking about the similarities, then here is more food for thought. Diwali is the day when Bhagvan Mahaveer, one of the holiest prophets of Jainism attained “Nirvana” this day and this is the reason that makes this day auspicious for Jains. So, time for prayers, celebrations, feasts, Indian style, whether you are a Hindu, a Muslim or a Jain!

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