Deepavali in London

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Deepavali Fireworks

Lighting up the skies with a display of fireworks has been the hallmark of the Deepavali celebrations in India. The history of using fireworks can be traced back to millennia.

History of Fireworks in India

 Vijayanagar Fireworks – 600 Years Ago

Vijayanagar was a kingdom that covered the Central Deccan area with its capital at Hampi. Its most famed king was Krishnadevaraya. The Vijayanagar kingdom was famed for its prosperity and well administered society.

History of the Vijayanagar kingdom which was at its peak around 600 years ago speaks of dazzling displays of fireworks during festive occasions.

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Map of Vijayanagar kingdom 

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Krishnadevaraya

Bhoja Fireworks – 1000 Years Ago

Around 1000 CE, the vast region of Malwa in Central India was ruled by Raja Bhoja, who was an accomplished scientist, engineer as well as able administrator. The present day city of Bhopal and the 1000 year old dam there, in good working condition even today, owe their name and fame to his technological and administrative skills.

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Raja Bhoja

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    Malwa kingdom

Bhoja had devised new engineering devices based on mechanics and thermodynamics for protection, defence, comfort as well as for fun.

His work Samarangana Sutradhara describes how fire and certain chemicals could be used in a controlled manner to create objects that could lift off into the sky, create a blast, display lights and sound. Spectators used to gather to watch him set off such displays.

Fireworks in 1st Millennium CE

The early part of the 1st Millennium CE, saw the evolution of various forms of fireworks display ranging from naphtha throwing by the Byzantians and Arabs, the usage of green bamboo to crack and produce loud noise when thrown in fire as used by Chinese to the Indian use of heat and chemicals to send up objects into the sky.

Collectively, these ancient civilizations took fireworks to the stage from which the present day pyrotechnics could evolve.

Bhogar’s Fireworks – 2000 Years Ago

It is worth noting that in literary and history circles, especially in Tamil Nadu, there is mention of how firecrackers can be traced back all the way to one of the Tamil Siddhars, a Siddha saint called Bhogar who lived around 2000 years ago.

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The Siddha Saint Bhogar

A goldsmith by birth and alchemist by practice, Bhogar had put the knowledge of chemistry, botany and physiology to a combined, good use. He is credited with having discovered many medicinal cures as well as many chemical and mechanical applications such as steam boats, flying aircrafts etc.

His work Saptakanda describes the various works and experiments he had carried out including formulae for some of them.

The Tamil records speak of Bhogar having travelled to China to spread knowledge.

Indian Treatises on Fireworks

Zain-ul-Abidin, the Raja of Kashmir between 1421 and 1472 CE, had composed 2 works on the manufacture of fireworks.

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The tomb of the Kashmiri king, Raja Zain-ul-Abidin

The Samskrt text Kautukachintamanai by Gajapati Prataparudradeva of Orissa authored between 1497 and 1539 CE also contains formulae for making different kinds of fireworks.

Foreigners Observe Indian Fireworks

  1. Barbosa, the Italian traveller who came to Vijayanagar, duringthe prosperous reign of Krishnadevaraya, writes in his travelogue about how Deepavali was celebrated in Hampi with fireworks. This clearly shows us that celebration of Deepavali with fireworks has been a tradition of this land for atleast over 500 years.
  1. Varthema, another Italian traveller who visited much of S.E.Asia between 1502 and 1508, writes about the people of Vijayanagar as great masters in the art of making fireworks and how their fireworks had reached the islands of Sumatra.

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Ludovico di Varthema,1470–1517 & his book

  1. Abdar Razzak, an Ambassador from the court of Emperor ShahRukh of Turkey to the court of the Vijayanagar kingdom between April to December 1443, mentions about having seen the use of fireworks in Vijayanagar, during his visit.

The Samskrt dictionary contains age old words such as Sphotak, Visphotak for explosives and words such as agnikreeda meaning sporty display of fires, pointing to ancient Indians’ knowhow and usage of fireworks and explosives.

From Deepavali to other Festivals

 Taking a leaf from Deepavali, today festivals such as New Year, Christmas and many other festivals or even events around the world are celebrated with fireworks.

In England, Guy Fawkes day has been traditionally celebrated with fireworks.

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Guy Fawkes celebration

America celebrates Independence Day on 4th of July every year with characteristic displays of fireworks.

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America’s Independence Day Fireworks

Fireworks of the God – Ad hir Vettu

In every major temple festival, when the Deity is brought out in procession, fireworks have been an essential part of processional fanfare. A single loud sounding burst from a firecracker at important milestones of the procession, was a signal to the people of the village and nearby areas to be ready to receive and pay respects to the Deity, who was approaching.

Such fireworks in the Tamil land have been called Adhir Vettu – resounding blast.

In Tamil Nadu, there are still specialists who make these loud sounding crackers and they are still used in traditional temple processions and temple festivals, the most famous fireworks being that at Trichur Puram festival.

We thus see an usage of fireworks, especially for Deepavali and other festive occasions going for millennia, in our history.

Why These Fireworks?

 More than for merrymaking, bursting of firecracker has been used as way to announce. Announce either the arrival of the Divine or the departure of the Evil. An age old practice has been to burst cracker on the death of someone, especially wicked, vile.

It is a common tradition followed even today, to burst atleast one cracker, even in the poorest of poor houses, on Naraka Chaturdasi to acclaim the death of the Asura, Naraka.

We see this when effigies of Ravana made with fire crackers are set aflame on Vijaya Dasami day during Dassehra, to mark the death of Ravana and victory of Rama, i.e good over evil.

With the blurring of the history behind traditions over time, since the death of the wicked also means joy, bursting of firecrackers took on the connotation of celebrations and joy instead.

An Act of Proclamation

Bursting of loud crackers besides being a wonderful sight and an expression of merriness, has an effect of infusing a sense of bravery, boldness, courage and achievement. It ushers in a feeling of having won over something. It is like an act of proclamation – a proclamation of siding with the right and righteous.

The firecrackers therefore had been put to a fitting use, to evoke such emotions when celebrating occasions that stand for a victory of good over evil.

Discriminate Use

They can emphasize the cause of celebrations, if only we care to know the cause and care to use the crackers discriminately.

A Thriving Industry Today

In many places though, this tradition has given way to indiscriminate use of long string of crackers that go on endlessly for minutes, as a mere sign of celebration of a few, at the cost of discomfort and distress to other pedestrians, animals and vehicular traffic.

Also, all caution is thrown to the winds, by the youth of present day, as they handle fireworks.

The industries too in present times exploit local and seasonal labour, especially child and women workforce.

Making of fireworks is a thriving industry around Sivakasi in Tamil Nadu, in China and other parts of world as well. Manufacture and export of fireworks and the field of pyrotechnics have become an important contributor to the economy of the land.

The pollution that fire crackers give forth is negligible compared to various other sound and air pollutants that we are polluting this earth with, on a daily basis and valuable, considering how they can be effective in emphasizing a good cause.

So, if we can ensure that we can keep under check, the inconsideration and other safety and labour norms that are flouted around the business of firecrackers, then we can make every Deepavali season SOUND FESTIVAL OF LIGHTS. Given this wholistic understanding, let us celebrate Deepavali with care, caution, consideration and cheer – the way Deepavali has been celebrated for hundreds of years in this land. It is the most popular festival of India, celebrated in its own distinctive style.

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Raja Raja Chola

Raja Raja Chola is the tallest name in Chola Dynasty. He ruled from 985 CE to 1014 CE. His capital was Tanjavore.

Within India, his kingdom extended from South India till Andhra Pradesh, Coastal Orissa all the way upto Ganga River.

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Raja Raja Chola

Outside India, his empire extended from Mauritious Island in Indian Ocean to Bengal in the north, Sri Lanka in south and coastal regions of North India.

Astute young Raja Raja Chola

His father died when he was young. His uncle wanted to ascend the throne. The astute youngster then, Raja Raja Chola offered the throne to his uncle as regent with the solemn promise that his time, Raja Raja Chola will ascend the throne. This was to to avoid an intercine battle within the family. A wise ploy by young Raja Raja Chola.

He finally ascended the throne in 1014 and ruled ruled for 30 years till 1044.

Gangaikondan

Rajendra Chola conquered regions around Ganga, from Palas of Bengal. He brought waters of Ganga in ceremonial procession and for this feat, he renamed his capital as Gangaikonda. He was conferred the title Gangaikonda Cholan, meaning, “one who brought the waters of Ganga”. In commemoration of this, in every town where the waters of Ganga were brought and kept, they bilt a private mandap called Gangakonda Mandap. These mandaps stand 1000 years to this day and are used in temple rituals.

Naval Power House

During his reign, Chola Kingdom became a naval power house and the ships were plying over the Bay of Bengal.

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The model of a Chola Dynasty Ship hull, built by the ASI, displayed in a Museum in Tirunelveli.

Brihadishvara Temple

The king also built many temples. Shivaji Ganeshan one of the greatest actors of Tamil essayed an epic role in the film characterizing the glories of Raja Raj Chola.

One of the greatest achievements of Raja Raja Chola was the temple he built for Shiva in Tanjavore known as Brahadishvara Temple. This temple is also known as Rajarajeshwaram Temple.

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Rs 1000 Note issued by RBI in 1954 to honor the Brahadeeswarar Temple

Before his time, the largest temple of his land was the Kailasanatha temple, Kanchipuram.

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Kailasanatha Temple

The Brihadishvara temple that he planned and executed was 40 times in size of the earlier large structure.

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Brihadishvara temple, Tanjavore

How he envisioned such a large structure that was 40 times the earlier structure is truly to be amazed at.

This big temple was a forerunner in thought and design to other big temples of other dynasties, not only in India, but in South East Asia as well. The other temples in India have all followed the grandeur of the Rajarajeshwaram temple. This shows that Raja Raja Chola was a true visionary and was one of the greatest builders.

Because of large size of this temple, it earned the name Dakshina Meru, meaning the Meru of the south.

Contemporary of Muhmad of Ghazni

When Muhmad of Ghazi was visiting the North Western part of India from Saurashtra to Mathura to Punjab, Raja Raja Chola was ruling, administering the land well in South Indian and coastal parts of East India.

Gangaikonda Cholapuram

For having brought the waters of Ganga successfully, he built the new city in Tanjavore and called it Gangaikonda Cholapuram, meaning “The city built by Chola King who brought the waters of the Ganga.”

Not only was a great conqueror, he was a great administrator. His administration skills and how he benevolently administered the land is inscribd in his throne on the walls of the Raja Rajeshwaram Temple and many other temples of Tamil Nadu.

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