The dimming festival of lights

2012-11-12 21:50

This is my favourite time of the year. I remember when I was little; all the kids were so excited about buying fireworks so that they were adequately prepared to celebrate Diwali. We’d light a few fireworks like the little Tom Thumbs in the days leading up to Diwali but we’d make sure we saved some for the big day.

Diwali is popularly known as the festival of lights. It commemorates the return of Lord Rama from a 14 year exile where he killed a demon king. On that moonless night, the people of Ayodhya lit clay lamps throughout the city to help Lord Rama find his way home. There isn’t much evidence to state whether fireworks were burnt during this time but over the years the use of fireworks during Diwali has become synonymous with celebrating the triumph of good over evil. Today, Diwali is still celebrated with a beautiful array of clay lamps decorated in and around every Hindu home and a magical fireworks display lights up the sky at night.

Growing up in an Indian area, everyone loved fireworks whether they were Hindu or not. Even the Christian and Muslim kids would buy fireworks and their parents would let them indulge in the neighbourhood’s Diwali festivities.

On Diwali everyone had their turn to light up the night whether they lit fireworks outside their own houses or with neighbours. If you didn’t have money to buy your own fireworks, your neighbours would welcome you into their celebrations. For the years when I was unable to celebrate, taking in the sights and sounds of the revelry while sitting at home was good enough for me.

There were hardly any dogs in my neighbourhood – just two; both braved the loud sounds and never seemed scared. Their owners were the loudest bunch too. I realise now that these two dogs were possibly the exception. Dogs can hear five times more acutely than humans and are thus more scared of the loud bangs. Some dog owners give their dogs calming drugs or sedatives and keep them in a safe, quiet and well lit room before going off to lighting their own fireworks.

In the days leading up to the Diwali, the SPCA has been campaigning to create awareness of the effects fireworks have on pets. The timing of one such poster was not well received by the president of the SA Hindu Maha Sabha. The poster contains a picture of a scared puppy and a tagline that says, “Your box of tricks…is our worst nightmare. Are fireworks necessary?” Many animals become scared of the sudden flashes of lights. Some fireworks, like the Indian King, serve no purpose other than to be ridiculously loud bangs. It’s deafening for most humans. The poor animals run away terrified of the noises and sometimes become disoriented or, even worse, end up lost or injured. Loud noises can also cause aggressive behaviour in animals. It is for these reason that I fully understand the SPCA’s concerns during this time of the year.

On the other hand, I also understand the SA Hindu Maha Sabha’s concerns around the SPCA poster. Being a minority, it’s easy to feel misunderstood. And when told that their age-old tradition of lighting fireworks can only occur in designated areas and not at home, it’s understandable that many feel like their religion is under attack. With much consideration for all parties affected, Diwali can still be celebrated for everyone to enjoy. All we need is some compromise and tolerance from everyone.

In Indian populated areas, like the one I grew up in, most residents are Hindu, don’t have pets and light their fireworks without complaints from their neighbours. It’s easy to enjoy Diwali when everyone around you is celebrating too.

There are Indian suburbs where most residents own pets. There are naturally fewer individuals who would want to light fireworks. For the minority who do want to celebrate with a bang, it seems only fair to limit their use of fireworks or to use them in designated areas in order to spare the animals from harm.

It’s important for Hindus to be considerate of their neighbours in suburbs where they are the minority It isn’t fair for one Hindu household to be loudly celebrating whilst disturbing the other households on their street. Loud fireworks don’t have their place there. To be considerate towards their neighbours, many Hindus living in the Northern suburbs of Johannesburg trek to Lenasia to celebrate Diwali.

Although, it is tradition to burn fireworks up to a week before Diwali, Hindus should really consider whether there is a need for it. There is an immense amount of harm that can be caused to animals by lighting up every day and it is selfish to expect pet owners to sedate their dogs for a week. Perhaps the use of the fireworks should be kept to the day of Diwali only as a further compromise.

Compromise is a two way street and it is not only Hindus that need to be considerate of their neighbours. The onus is on pet owners to ensure that their animals are kept safe during Diwali. If dog owners don’t consult with their neighbours before getting dogs whose loud barks disturb others, then it’s hardly considerate to expect your neighbours to keep their noise levels down for the sake of your dog.  As a pet owner, it is your responsibility to factor in all elements of the environment that may impact your pets. One of these factors may include a neighbourhood where loud fireworks are the norm on Diwali.

Whilst Hindus need to be considerate of their neighbours, they should not be accommodating religious and social intolerance. We live in a country with a multitude of diverse cultures with various celebratory events. As with all religions, Hindus have a right to celebrate their religious festivals. Diwali is celebrated on one night in South Africa. Embrace the celebrations and you can resume normality the next day.

We just need to be tolerant of each other. If you’re celebrating Diwali with fireworks, do it responsibly without harming animals. If you’re a pet owner, calm your pets down on the day. If we spare a thought on our effects on others, we’ll be able to celebrate Diwali much more smoothly.

I’m spending Diwali in Johannesburg this year. Since I won’t be able to celebrate at home, I will be going to a friend’s place where I’ll be sure to take along my colourful fireworks and not the loud ones.

For more of my thoughts, visit my blog:


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