Festivals Via Feminist Lens: Diwali Should Be About Celebrations Not Stereotypes
On November 14, India will be celebrating one of the most famous festivals of the Hindu religion, Diwali or Deepavali. Usually, Diwali falls on the Amavasya (new moon day) of Kartik month which varies every year. On this day, all the houses are decorated with diyas (small lighted earthen pots), rangolis, flowers and electronic lights. Diwali marks the victory of good over evil, as devotees worship and supplicate Goddess Laxmi, Lord Ganesha and Goddess Kali among others and wish for a happy, healthy and wealthy life for the family.
How it is celebrated?
Diwali marks an auspicious time in the year when everyone looks forward to a new beginning, forgetting the ailments and problems of the past days. The excitement and preparation of the festival start a week before when all the houses are cleaned while some are renovated and painted. The markets are flooded with diyas, flowers, crackers, and other decorating stuff for the houses. On the day of the Diwali, family members decorate their houses since morning by putting up lights, making rangolis and hanging garlands of flowers at the doors. Women on the other hand prepare a delicious meal for the night, and sometimes even invite guests over for a feast at night.
Moreover, at night, families worship Goddess Laxmi and Lord Ganesha to wish for prosperity and happiness. In east India, Goddess Kali is worshipped as a symbol of strength on Diwali.
In Bihar, the custom of Gharonda is a significant part of Diwali. In this custom the daughters of the house, not married yet, make a miniature house with mud, cardboard or clay, decorate it with colours, lights, toys and diyas and worship it as the symbol of happiness, prosperity of the family. Why daughters because they are considered as the incarnations of Goddess Laxmi in the house.
The history behind the festival
According to Hindu Mythology, Diwali marks the celebration of Rama, Sita and Lakshmana’s arrival to Ayodhya after completing the exile of 14 years. It is believed that Ayodhya was lit up with diyas as people welcomed Rama and Sita who were going to be their king and queen. Moreover, the end of their exile also marked Rama’s win over Ravana, symbolising the victory of good over evil.
Another story that also backs the significance of Diwali is that on the day of Diwali, Goddess Laxmi was born. And so to celebrate her birthday, she is worshipped elegantly on this day. Moreover, it is also believed that Diwali marks the celebration of the time when Goddess Laxmi married Lord Vishnu.
Watching from a Feminist Lens
Undoubtedly, Diwali is the most favourite festival in India. Known as a festival of light, it never fails to bring a heartwarming moment of togetherness, a sparkle in the eyes and soul as the diyas and lanterns flicker and a strong feeling of peace and a new beginning. However, the sexist intonations of the rituals of Diwali cannot be ignored.
Firstly, as far as the cleaning of the house is concerned, on the surface, it might seem a fresh idea but in reality, it becomes a heavy burden imposed on the women in the house. They have to sit down and chart a strategy of how they can clean “every corner” of the house. It becomes worse because rarely do other members in the house care to contribute. Since ages, the patriarchal stereotypes have termed cleaning as a feminine job, no matter if it is a regular course or the ones that happen on occasions. Don’t women deserve to sit back and enjoy the festivities like others? Is it even a celebration when women are expected to labour more than ever without even getting any credits for it?
Secondly, the custom of Gharonda is deeply patriarchal. It reinforces the idea that women are the honour of the house which indicates more towards the patriarchal expectations of being moral and chaste and less towards the importance of daughters in the house. The ritual is based on the idea that paternal houses wouldn’t be the daughter’s own house once she gets married. Feeding girls with such ideas about marriage and alienation since the time they are born is nothing to be appreciated.
Diwali marks the end of dark and evil. But even in that victory, women are abducted, molested and raped.
Indeed, Diwali is a beautiful celebration and none of us would like it to be eroded with sexism and patriarchy. It shouldn’t play a role in reinforcing gender stereotypes that we are fighting off since ages. It should only be about a wholesome celebration in which people help and love each other unconditionally and wake up the next day in an equal and safe society. [Image Credit: Unsplash]