Have a Blast

Deepavalai 3

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                          Krishnadevaraya

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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, during the 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.
  2. 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

    3. Abdar Razzak, an Ambassador from the court of Emperor Shah Rukh of Turkeythe 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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Deepavali Season, Day 2 – Naraka Chaturdasi

Naraka Chaturdasi

The 14th phase of the dark moon, is celebrated as Naraka Chaturdasi in commemoration of the slaying of Narakasura who was causing menace to the people, by Krishna and His wife Satyabhama.

narakasura

In South India, Deepavali is celebrated as Naraka Chathurdasi. Naraka was an Asura who lived about 5100 years ago. Narakasura ruled from his kingdom of Pradyoshapuram. His rule was a misery to the people of his land.

Krishna and his wife Satyabhama slayed Narakasura and freed people from his tyranny. This event of vanquishing Narakasura is celebrated as Naraka Chathurdasi. Chaturdasi is the 14th phase of the moon and is the night before Karthika Amavasya, the day of Deepavali.

It is for this reason that Deepavali is celebrated as a festival of victory of good over evil.

Foodprint to Footprint

Water And Food

June to September are the months when South and South East Asia get their monsoon rains.

The word “monsoon” comes from the Arabic word, “Mawsin”, meaning weather, which is why we have the word “Mausam” in Hindi for weather.  Here, the weather turns to rainy season.

It is the rain that gives us Pushkaram, fertility which is why every temple tank is called as Pushkarni, that land which gives us fertility.

The purpose of this rain, the harnessing of these waters and creating fertility is to make food for humans, for animals, for plants and for the earth as a whole. For food, is the basic platform, annamaya kosha, on which life is built for all living beings. Different beings take to different foods based on availability, biological needs, suitability, taste and other such factors. Producing this food also needs water. Foods cannot be grown without enormous quantity of water. When we think of our needs of water, we think of only our daily ablutions and our drinking water needs.

We normally think of the few litres of water that we drink in a day. Have we ever thought how much water is required to make the fruit that is served in our plate?

Water Consumption

We hardly think of the quantum of water that is needed which goes behind food production. Infact over 80% of the water that is used on the surface of this earth is for agriculture and other type of food production. Only about 10% is needed for industry and the balance 10% is for domestic and other uses. Infact domestic usage is a very small quantity.

Water consumption

The average consumption of direct water per person, per day is 3 litres.

Food Consumption

To grow the amount of food that an average person consumes for lunch or dinner, 700 litres is required per meal. The chart here gives us the water needed to grow our food.

Water for food1

Here we see that the real consumption of water is in food production, agriculture. We see that for agriculture itself it is so much.

In the case of livestock, meat production, the need of water is manifolds times more because these animals also have to consume water, air, food for all their lives. At, the end of it, they offer only few kilos of meat.

Water for food2

Water needed to produce Food

Beverages

1 litre of beer 300 litres of water
1 ltrs wine 872 litres of water
1 cup of coffee 140 litres of water
1 litre of milk 800 litres of water

Vegetarian

1 kilo of rice 3600 litres of water
1 kilo of wheat 1375 litres
1 kilo toor dal 1400 litres of water

Non Vegetarian

1 kilo of chicken 4325 litres
1 kilo Mutton 5520 litres
1 kilo Beef meat 13000 litres

Veg vs Non Veg

Daily average consumption of water by a vegetarian eater is 2500 litres where as for a non vegetarian eater is 8000 litres per day.

This insight into how much water is needed for a vegetarian meal as opposed to a non vegetarian meal clearly highlights to us as to which is more eco friendly.

With the world facing increasing water shortage that has come about due to the unsustainable practices of man rather than reduced rainfall, the only sustainable way of sharing the available limited quantum of water, the prudent option and a scientific one, is to be a vegetarian by choice.

That is the only way we can reduce our ecological footprint and leave the planet more sustainable for generations to come.

Consumerism to Conservation

Ecological footprint is what we use up, consume from our environment around us during our brief stay on this earth. It is the strain that we put forth on the resources of mother earth.

Ecological footprint

The generation next is talking about ecological footprint as the new buzz word but do their eating habits show their concern for the ecology?

For eating is what we do 3-4 times a day and that is by far the  largest foot print that we leave or rather erase from this earth.

If we and our generation next have to survive, then the planet has to survive this phase of consumerism. This can happen only with a mind shift from consumerism to conservation. Conservation of Foodprints, Conservation of Footprints; it is saving water, conserving water, minimal usage of water. Moving from non- vegetarianism to vegetarianism is one of the key ways that we can contribute to this effort, four times a day, every day of our lives.

Taxing Time – The Way forward?

Smoking

In the last couple of decades we have come to realize that smoking is injurious to health not just to the smoker’s health but as well as to friends colleagues and family around who have been termed as passive smokers. So, to reduce the habit of smoking, governments now levy additional tax on cigarettes and tobacco product to dissuade people from smoking, to make the environment cleaner and healthier.

Liquor

Consumption of liquor is also a problem the world over. Excess liquor not only damages the liver of a person but also their lives. It affects the family as a whole and causes other collateral damages like road accidents, improper behavior towards woman, being uncouth. Recognizing this, the governments the world over have started levying additional taxes on liquor to put liquor out of reach for many. There are states where there is prohibition on liquor consumption.

Non Vegetarian Food

Through this article and by a series of others by other writers, it is becoming more apparent that consumption of non vegetarian food is making our environment unsustainable. It is evident that non vegetarian food eaters consume more of the ecological resources and leave behind a larger footprint than their vegetarian fellow beings.

Recognizing the extra strain that non vegetarianism is placing on the environment, the next step that the government should do is to impose additional tax on non vegetarian food so that vegetarians don’t have to bear the folly of others.

The additional tax could well be used to rejuvenate the environment and restore it to a sustainable state. Also, it would educate and motivate people to migrate from non vegetarianism to vegetarianism to make this world , our home, a sustainable one in the long run.

Eat Right & Be Merry

After taxing times come celebrations. Celebrations invoke the image of Carnivals.

Carnivals

A Carnival is a festival where all enjoy with merriment. The very word “carnival” conjures up images of rides, pageants, colorful decorations, unending food and flowing liquor.

merry go round carousel carnival ride

Let us step back and look at the context in which this word “carnival” came to be. Its origins could be “Carne Vale” or “Carne Levare” which means “the act of abstaining from consumption of meat”. The word “Carne” is the root for words such as “carnal” denoting flesh and “carnivorous” for meat eating animals.

Such a practice does exist in many societies of Europe during the annual Lent period, a period when meat is strictly abstained from.

The Merry Goes Round

From then, to now, Carnival has become a festival where meat consumption is very high. What an interesting turnaround? A 180 degree turn from “Carne Vale”, “abstaining from meat” to becoming “Carnivorous”!

This shift has occurred between the medieval period to present times.

Is it not time now for another 180 degrees shift from the present to the future? From Non Vegetarianism to Vegetarianism?

A shift to celebrating, living without meat, for, life is a celebration – a sustained celebration if we know how to celebrate it responsibly.