Silent Diwali Bash Traditions in India : For the Sake of Wildlife

Silent Diwali Bash Traditions in India : For the Sake of Wildlife
Meghna 'Phoenix' Ghatak
Diwali is a festival of lights and people believe in lighting up the darkest corners of their cities and towns with as much light as possible. Hence, we have a tradition of bursting crackers from twilight to dawn during the entire festive week with our extended families and friends.
In the midst of these celebrations, we forget an essential detail, that being the welfare of the animals who cannot bear the loud noises of the crackers and fireworks. Not to mention the tormentors who purposely tie crackers to the tails of innocent beasts or promptly burst them on their bodies. I need not morally reprimand them here as this article won't be read by them but the ones who would never torture a fellow animal but give them a piece of their minds or have them punished.
Indian cities are yet to identify with the blanket ban on the sale and burning of crackers by the Supreme Court but our villagers are far ahead with it and have been celebrating green Diwali for years now. This Diwali Eve, let's take a leaf out of the yearbook of these villages and towns, who do not burst crackers to protect wildlife, for any celebrations. 
1. Kollukudipatti - Kollukudipatti is a village in Singampunari block, under the main Melaiyur village in Sivaganga district of Tamil Nadu. This district is home to Vettangudi Bird Sanctuary, the natural habitat of many international winter migratory birds covering a protected area of 40 hectares, off the Madurai-Karaikudi highway. The villagers' hospitality has invited the yearly breeding of 20 migrant varieties, ranging from the common storks, ibis, grebes, egrets, herons and cormorants to comparatively rarer ones such as the yellow wattle lapwing and lesser whistling duck. Three decades ago, the village sarpanch found out that the chicks fell off the trees out of shock whenever the crackers were bursted. Hence a ban was established, after a little revolt from the youngsters, but now  even the children abstain from burning them during not just Diwali but also at any given auspicious celebrations. The villagers also take turns functioning as forest guides to tourists as well as in guarding the hatchlings and eggs from monkeys. The local government is pleased with their efforts to promote eco tourism and for putting the village on the international map for maintaining the nesting point with three rain fed water tanks. The forest department now promotes them as eco guides from September to February to generate income for them so that with their continuous participation, as many as 25,000 birds can forever consider Vettangudi as their safe haven.
2.    Purushwadi - Purushwadi is an Indian village comprising of 109 houses—situated at a height of about 1,000 feet on the Western Ghats in Ghoti along the Mumbai-Nashik Highway. The name is an alteration of 'purn ucch vadi' meaning completely high valley and not at all 'the abode of men' that the name now seems to mean. The people of this village, living 220 kms away from Mumbai, abstain from burning crackers and instead celebrate Diwali in a Halloween like tradition of kids singing door to door and receiving treats. Five days  before Diwali, the children make a travesty of cut grass and sticks, insert earthen lamps (diyas) in it and decorate it with garlands. This is then carried door to door and the people pour oil in the burning lamps to keep them lit and the children preserve the rest along with rice and pulses to cook delicious Khichdi on the day of Diwali. This is a better version of the Halloween treats and is eaten in the flickering lights of the lamps burning all around, as the village suffers from frequent power cuts. 
3.    Nathwada - nestled in the Aravali hills of Rajasthan, on the banks of the River Banas in Rajsamand District, 48 kilometres north-east of Udaipur, this town is devoted to Lord Krishna. The name 'Nathdwara' itself means ‘Gateway to Shrinathji', the Lord who defeated Lord Indra and protected the villagers from his wrath by uprooting a mountain with a single lift of his divine finger. The visitors are thus greeted with traditional Pichwai paintings featuring scenes from Lord Krishna's life, on the freshly whitewashed walls of the buildings. The major fervour of the festival can be seen a day after Diwali, on Annakoot festival (mount of food) where literally mountains of offerings are placed before the exasperatedly decorated idol. 'Khekra' or the cow game is a crowd puller event, where men bedazzle their cows and dress up as cowherds to function as metadors ( bullfighters) to the charging cows. Locals believe that the more they are injured, the more they are blessed. The cows are also served and milk extracted from them is used specifically for the offering, which is ritualistically 'looted' by the Bhils and the devotees without the din of crackers. 
4.    Dang - This tribal village in Gujarat, about 270 kms from Vadodara, is home to tribals who do not burst crackers to celebrate fortnight long Diwali celebrations. Tribals of Netrang, Sagbara, Dadiyapada and those living along the belt from Panchmahal to Dang in South Gujarat begin the festivities by greeting each other after offering their gods, liquor and grains and then burn medicinal wood to ward illnesses. They make impressive Warli art and Rangoli to worship their cattle, their trees, their rivers, wells etc and the Earth and the Sky as their principal deities. Some of them live in Saputara ( the abode of snakes) on the Sahyadri hills bordering Maharashtra, between the southern part of River Tapi and the north-western part of River Godavari, who perform stunning acrobatic dance on auspicious events. Therefore the word 'Dang' may indicate the hilly terrain and/or bamboo forest area. Since their livelihood is sustained by the forests they inhabit, they worship the forest in an eco friendly manner, without harming it in any way.

Many private companies now offer customized tour packages to these villagers as Diwali holiday destinations to imbibe in the culture that the cities seem to have forgotten. There are many such hidden hamlets that have forever reveled in low decibels and perhaps will continue to do so.
If we can't think of the animals while celebrating this Diwali, can we at least follow the guidelines set by the Supreme Court? For if not now, when will the time to break the wrong traditions and embrace the better ones arrive? 


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