Celebrating a green Diwali

Diwali or Deepavali as it’s also called, is the festival of lights and is one of the most important festivals in the Hindu calendar. It is celebrated in India and the world over with great pomp and fervour. People spring clean their homes, decorate them with beautiful rangoli (patterns made of coloured powder or rice), wear new clothes, offer prayers at home and at temples and greet each other with gifts and sweets. And of course, children and grown ups alike, burst firecrackers in what has become a quintessential feature of the festival. It’s a vibrant, joyous occasion for one and all.

Diwali is the spread of light to remove our “inner darkness” or ignorance. This is usually symbolised by lighting of diyas (earthern lamps) in the house and outside. It’s a beautiful tradition.

While customs and traditions must be maintained, we must also relook at some of things we do and the way we celebrate important festivals, and weigh the kind of effects it has on the environment.

Here are some ways to celebrate an environmentally friendly Diwali or Deepavali:

1. Use less fireworks, or avoid them if possible (unless someone invents non-toxic ones). Fireworks like crackers, sparklers and pots spew out a wide range of toxic chemicals, like sulphur dioxide, and heavy metals such as copper, cadmium, lead etc. 
For a more detailed look at the kind of chemicals present in fireworks, and the health effects, here’s a website worth visiting: http://www.indiatogether.org/environment/articles/diwali.htm

Firecrackers create a lot of noise pollution and cause a lot of distress to animals and birds. Avoid them if possible or localise their use in a community to an open field. Do help to clear up the mess in your neighbourhood once the festivities are over. Luckily in Singapore, there are restrictions on noise pollution, so we are spared the noise of firecrackers.

Fireworks are non-biodegradable, and in places like India end up clogging up drains or end up in rivers. The residues of toxic chemicals enter streams and rivers.

Most of the fireworks in India are made using child labour. Children exposed to such heavy metals and chemicals often suffer in health. Here is a video showing young children working at a factory which makes matchsticks and fireworks:


2. Distribute sugary sweets in moderation. Fresh and dry fruits make excellent alternatives for processed sugars, which are not good for health. Sugar plantations extensively use chemicals and there is heavy pollution in the wastewater discharged in the production process.

3. Avoid chemically coloured powder for making rangoli designs. Instead, try to use rice flour, plain sand, turmeric powder, coloured pulses, cereals and henna. 

4. Refrain from excessive shopping and consumption. Many retailers discount items for Diwali and actively promote shoppers. Buy only what you need. Ultimately whatever you buy requires the use of precious natural resources.

5. Avoid giving gifts with excessive packaging, be it paper or plastic, as this leads to a waste of resources. If this packaging is not recycled, it will end up in landfills or as carbon emissions if incinerated.

6. Moderate or do away with your purchase of gold, which is a common custom during Diwali. I risk taking off the shine during the festive season by saying that production of gold is one of the most polluting of mining activities, ruining rivers, threatening wildlife and natural areas and in several cases, fuelling human conflict.  For more information, look at http://www.nodirtygold.org/dirty_golds_impacts.cfm As of now, I don’t know of any certifications in Asia that guarantee that retailers source their gold manufactured in an environmentally friendly way. So, when in doubt, restraint is a good idea.

It does take a tough mindset, sometimes to go against tradition. I grew up looking forward to the fireworks during Diwali. It’s usually the most fun and enjoyable part of the festival. To many, including me, Diwali without fireworks would be unthinkable. Similarly, it is easy to get carried away with the festivities, when it comes to shopping and the purchase of gifts.

Lakshmi, the Goddess of Wealth is worshipped very devoutly during this festival. Does real Lakshmi come from all the goodies, gold and diamond jewellery that we bestow on our children, or does She come from the pure air, water and soils that we leave as lasting legacies for the future generations?

Between a few hours of enjoyment, a few years of vanity and preventing lasting damage to the environment, I’d choose the last. That’s the light of awareness we need to spread around us. 

Wishing you a green Diwali, bringing you, your family and our Earth, abundance and prosperity!


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Posted by on Oct 26 2008. Filed under Chemicals, Green Festivals/Events. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

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