Thursday, November 04, 2010

Diwali- 1836

Carey’s library of choice literature, published in 1836, carries this description of the Diwali festival in Benares:

In no part of Hindostan can one of the most beautiful of the native festivals be seen to so great an advantage as at Benares. The duwullee is celebrated there with the greatest splendour, and its magnificence is heightened by the situation of the city on the bank of the river, and the singular outlines of the buildings. The attraction of this annual festival consists in the illuminations : at the close of evening, small chiraugs (earthen lamps,) fed with oil which produces a bright white light, are placed, as closely together as possible, on every ledge of every building. Palace, temple, and tower seemed formed of stars. The city appears like the creation of the fire-king, the view from the water affording the most superb and romantic spectacle imaginable,—a scene of fairy splendour, far too brilliant for description.

Europeans embark in boats to enjoy the gorgeous pageant from the river; all the vessels are lighted up, and the buildings in the distance, covered with innumerable lamps, shine out in radiant beauty. European illuminations, with their coloured lamps, their transparencies, their crowns, stars, and initial letters, appear paltry when compared to the chaste grandeur of the Indian mode; the outlines of a whole city are marked in streams of fire, and the coruscations of light shoot up into the dark blue sky above, and tremble in long undulations on the rippling waves below. According to the native idea, everything that prospers on the evening of the duwalee will be sure to prosper throughout the year. Gamblers try their luck, and if they should be successful, pursue their fortune with redoubled confidence. Thieves also, anxious to secure an abundant supply of booty, labour diligently on this evening in their vocation : while others eat, drink, and are merry, in order that they may spend the ensuing period joyously.

This festival is instituted in honour of Luchmee, the goddess of wealth, and those who are anxiously desirous to obtain good fortune, seek for two things on the night of its celebration : the flowers of the goolur, a tree which bears fruit but never blossoms; and the soul of a snake, an animal which is supposed to deposit its spirit occasionally under a tree.

The whole of the Moosulman population arc abroad to witness the superb spectacle produced by the blaze of light which flames from every Hindoo building at the duwallee, and the festival being one of a very peaceable description, goes off without broil or bloodshed—and what is still more extraordinary, without occasioning the conflagration of half the houses;

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