Four people who have their finger on Chennai’s pulse on what the festival means to the city

M. Murali, Sri Krishna Sweets

The Deepavali I knew as a boy is very different from how it is celebrated these days. For us, it was a dream festival, when everything right from clothes to firecrackers to sweets was kept in suspense. Unlike today, children then hardly had any choice but nevertheless were excited to see what their parents had bought for Deepavali. Being able to get anything and everything easily these days has taken the charm out of the festival — that's the way I see it.

Those days, people hardly bought sweets for Deepavali from shops. Women always made them at home and exchanged them among friends and families. For them, sadly, Deepavali meant being in the kitchen throughout and keeping the children happy.

In those days, before our shop opened sweets were available at a corner stall in restaurants — the culture of having a dedicated shop for sweets did not exist. When we opened shop, our customers during Deepavali back then were daily wage labourers who didn't have the money or space to make sweets. They would have got their his Deepavali bonus just two days before the festival and with that money they would buy some new clothes and sweets for their family.

Today, making sweets at home is passe. There is neither the time nor the expertise. Joint families hardly exist and it has become easier to choose from the wide variety offered by shops these days. It costs much less too.

R Vasudevan, Ramlok Tailors

The festive season that begins with Navaratri goes on till Pongal — with Deepavali, Karthigai Deepam and the wedding season falling in between. Deepavali, however, is a very special festival at Ramlok and we celebrate it by giving bonus, clothes, sweets and crackers to our 300 employees and workers who work additional hours to complete all the Deepavali orders in time. Once, When gold was affordable, my father would give everybody gold rings for Deepavali. We have kept the tradition (started by my father Mr. Raghavachari, who set up the shop in 1947) of giving gifts to our employees alive. which was started by my father Mr. Raghavachari, who set up the shop in 1947.

People may think making clothes to order may be a declining trend what with readymades gaining popularity, but stitching blouses for women is a never-ending business. We also specialise in tailoring for children, but most of our orders come during Navaratri, when parents get pattu pavadais stitched for their girls. Our business is as brisk as it was, say, 25 years ago. Stitching for Deepavali starts from the day of Ayudha Puja, and our tailors work even on Sundays until Deepavali. In its early days, Ramlok did only printing and dyeing of garments for export houses and eventually expanded to restoring and giving a facelift to old silk saris. It has happened many times when families, after buying clothes for the children, would not have any money left to buy a silk sari for the woman. So when they brought their old sari to us, we would polish the zari, dye it in a fresh colour and make it look like a brand new sari, which would stay intact for at least another 15 years. Interestingly, our tailoring orders this season exceeded the orders for dry cleaning, darning and colouring, which we are famous for.

T.S. Srinivasan, Giri Trading Agency

In South India, Deepavali is celebrated to mark the triumph of good over evil, the slaying of the demon Narakasura. We symbolically light diyas to dispel the darkness from our lives. Each family has its own way of celebrating the festival. In Mylapore, once upon a time, the residents would be woken up by the sound of the nadaswaram and tavil as early as 5 a.m.

After Ganga snanam they would head to the Kapaleeswar Temple. If you were to go near the temple even at that time, there would be a rush. While the instruments were played as part of the temple festivities during Deepavali, it became an integral part of the lives of the residents of the area, as years went by. Nowadays, though the music still acts as an alarm clock, the devotees arrive only by 10 a.m.

The Kubera Lakshmi Pooja, the ‘Sixteen' Lakhmi Pooja and nombu are usually performed in a big way on Deepavali day. The ‘Sixteen' Lakshmi Pooja brings the 16 most necessary things in life to the one who performs it — education, health, money, marriage, children and so on. The Kubera Lakshmi Pooja is performed using coins instead of flowers since Lord Kubera, the god of wealth, is said to be deaf and devotees believe that he can hear the jingle of the coins. This is also why we drop coins in the hundi, hoping god can hear us.

I've been in the business for 30 years now, and I've realised that the festivities have only become bigger. People come from all over town to buy the pooja items such as incense sticks, camphor and pooja CDs (we sold cassettes ten years ago). And to our delight, they share the prasadam with us. I guess Deepavali is all about bringing people together and celebrating the festival as a family. Also, another thing that Deepavali brings to Chennai is rain.

There is invariably a small shower on the festival day. I can only hope that the tradition continues.

Nalli Kuppusamy Chetty, Nalli Silks

Those days, the head of the family would visit the shop and select clothes for the entire family. Sometimes the mother too would come along and select clothes for all the children, irrespective of their ages. The concept of readymades did not exist then and only today do we see entire families going out shopping for clothes. Earlier, when clothes were bought for the whole family, there would be no stinting on the children's clothes. And if the budget had been overshot, a cheaper sari would be bought. In the past, only Pongal was a major festival for people in Tamil Nadu; slowly Deepavali grew in importance and buying new clothes for the festival became a popular trend. People would often postpone purchases during the year until Deepavali, which is when they would buy for all other upcoming occasions. Soon our sales during the month of Deepavali doubled our sales in any other month. Today, it is still one-and-a-half times more than usual.

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MetroplusJune 28, 2012