Saturday, October 17, 2009

Deepavali in Madras

Sadly, as evidenced this deepavali, the concept of fireworks has reduced considerably in Madras. This is a a great disservice to the magnificent minds at Sivakasi who conjure up so many varieties of firecrackers. There was a time when you could hear crackers at 2 AM. This was a time when I lived in Mylai and deepavali crackers were 50% over at the break of dawn. That was a time when Red Fort 56 Deluxe was a huge thing and you only bought 15 or so of those for the entire day. Red Fort by Standard Fireworks is my favorite cracker. I can burst that variety alone for the entire day. There is something about a 'sara vedi' that is very sexy. There is a thrill associated with lighting it, backing away and watching it zip through. My watchman would shout - as I reached out and wafted the air like a blind man trying to somehow connect the 'killi vitta thiree' and the 'oodhuvathi'. "Pottai pulla madhiri thiriya killittu.. appadiye ethu da..." he would say. 'killi vitta thiree' is now a thing of the past.

Atom Bombs generated a fear that 10,000 walas did not. Sivakasi introduced the hydrogen bomb, the bullet bomb and many other bombs that were designed to scare you before the bomb was lighted. The beauty of the design was that these atom bombs carried a large fuse. It would be coiled around the bomb and when you removed it - it was a good 30 second worth of fuse. The wait was more terrifying than the blast. Rockets are evergreen like 'sara vedis'. They are famous because of their unpredictability. The charm increased because people used innovative methods to launch them. Plastic bottles, used flower pot, holes dug in the mud were the great launch pads. Of course "Colour rockets were for the wusses. Real men fired bomb rockets". Afternoons were mainly for atom bombs, lakshmi vedis and bijilis. As a child these were fascinating things that held enormous opportunity to have fun.

Yesterday, I got used to the latest deepavali trend in Madras. More of aerial shows and less of bombs and lakshmi vedis. This time my purchases had a distinct Kaliswari bias and very less Standard fireworks. As is well known now, Deepavali begins very late these days and it was almost 5 by the time I heard the first sound of something bursting. By 8 AM things were brought to a close and I did not hear another cracker sound until 5PM. Gone are the days were you could continuously hear something from 2AM to 10PM. The fun is getting killed year-by-year. Children prefer to watch TV rather than burst crackers outside. Children today will not know the thrill of lighting up a bijili with a hand and throwing it into the air. The modern world will suck the fun out of life and eventually turn everyone into walking zombies.

Part of that is because fireworks are more expensive than cars. In the 90s my father purchased fireworks for about 4000 - 5000 rupees and those crackers came in 2 big boxes and a plastic bag. On Friday I saw a boy buy crackers for 7000 from Standard fireworks. The entire lot fit into 1 small plastic bag. He wouldn't be able to burst those for more than an hour. Remember the MRP prices that they put on crackers in the 80s. You'd look at them and wonder "The guy who put these prices was smoking something". Well those are the real prices now. 1 Redfort 56 shell Deluxe is 63 Rupees. 1 box of 30 cm Sparklers cost 120 Rs. The trend is moving towards air shows - like the ones we see on July 4th. We bought a few of those and they lit of the sky well but somehow one felt that the thrill was missing. I did the 10,000 wala thing though. I love 10,000 walas. While in Mylai, I had to walk to chokkalingam street to see Crazy Mohan's family burst 10,000 walas like it was nobody's business. People used to discuss what chokkalingam street would burst a few days before deepavali. The whoe street would be covered with paper at the end of the day. Unfortunately, in the case of my 10K wala, one spark from the lit (and bursting) side of 10,000 wala flew all the way to the unlit side of it and the giant 'saram' started bursting from both ends. The show got over quicker than I wanted it to.

There is sadness when deepavali ends. It is a majestic festival. Not many countries in the world celebrate life this way. This I thought was true cavalier Indian style. Full of fun, life and energy. It is an expression of joy that is unique and very demonstrative. Whatever it was, it was certainly not dour. People didn't wear suits, exchange gifts and sat down for dinner. Finally there was a festival that wasn't just about food (and a stupid dance to loud music). Literally a whole country 'bursts' into celebration. It allowed people to let go and vent out the stress of daily life. It was a vacation that allowed people to escape into something that they wouldn't do any other normal day. Such a pressure valve has rarely been designed in the history of civilization. Standing in the terrace and watching the sky getting lit was an amazing sight. Madras night is beautiful on Deepavali.


Anonymous said...

Dei B,

How long are you in Chennai? Give me a call or drop me a note and we should meet.


வெங்கிராஜா | Venkiraja said...

Though the post is not one of your best, it emotionally moved me. I'm in my late-teens, but I remember how lovely loud deepavalis were when I was in high school! All of it is lost. We bought a lump directly from Sivakasi through a guy in our colony. Around 50 odd homes contributed and it was spent in skyshots which lasted for 2 hours. Deepavali is over it seems! :( And they buy sweets from SKS! Duh!

Lone Crusader said...

This is my observation. The enthusiasm to burst crackers from early morning till late at night seems to be alive and well with the lower middle class people. The upper middle class and rich people dont seem to enjoy the thrills of crackers, but rather enjoy Sun TV's "olaga thoali kaatchigalil mudhal muraiyaga" crap.

vigneshjvn said...

True too! Miss those good 'ol days when Deepavali was about bursting crackers. It's all come down to vaanavedikkai and Indiya thulaikkatchigalil mudan murayaaga ...
Wrote a little one myself here.

Jeeves said...

Got here from Desipundit today. I am amazed at how our last two blog posts are on near identical topics! :) Nice writing btw...

Sundara said...

You have not made mention of "vengaya vedi" of yore. We, the poorest of the poor, had to be contended with the "vengaya vedi" which was the cheapest.
The Tamilnadu Police, who are consummate artists, had ascribed the blast at Sholavandan Station to "vengaya vedi".
S. Krishnamoorthy

Gradwolf said...

Well captured and I agree with those points about bursting crackers as opposed to dancing the night away. In Bombay, the five or six IB quarters residents would pool together and buy crackers wholesale. And it was such an awesome feeling to be in the top 3 from some 80-90 flats to have bought crackers for some record amount. They used to give only a 'kinnam' for that(literally) but still, it was awesome.

This was my first Diwali in Madras in three years. And from 2003, I've seen that the whole bursting crackers at the crack of dawn has been on the decline. I remember only in pre-1997(when was the last time I celebrated Diwali in Madras before 2003) that waking up at 3 am and bursting at 4 am was a norm.

Anonymous said...

I was back in india after 5 yrs for Deepavali, and was able to sleep till 6 am undisturbed on diwali morning. sad state of affairs indeed.

vinodh90 said...

Standard 56 Red Fort is Rs.63 today? you must be kidding! I bought a Seval brand 1000 wala for rs.310!
Anyways, point taken. Deepavali in Chennai has changed.The night crackers are good to watch but boring if you are the one lighting it up. Bring on the Saravedis,Bijili's (that MUST be thrown when its 1 sec away from dammal) hand Chakkras,bomb rockets, etc...and there you go..that's the way to have fun on Diwali!

Alan Smithee said...

Deepavali afternoons were filled with torturous ennui - big ticket vedis are done with and it will be a while before sun sets and mathappus can come out. This led to awesome innovations involving lakshmi vedi, seeni vedi, vengaya vedi, pottu cape, thengai moodi and color kola podi.

MLC said...

ippo dhaan unga bloga le yaedho "m'ras le irukkaen" nu post padicha nyabagam, adhukulla innoru india trip-a?:-0

Dilip Muralidaran said...

I completely agree. Its become fashionable not to do fireworks nowadays. :'(

sathyamoorthi said...

I belong to an earlier generation, I remeber blackmailing my mother for crackers in exchange for having "oilbaath"!! The afternoon of the deepavaliday used to be a total exploration of unexploded "seeni vedis" and the Deepavali comes to an end with "Puswaanam" of the "leftovers", like the "AArthi" of our religious functions!! wE WERE LUCKY THAT WE HAD THOSE "No TV and little Rados" days!!!!

Vee Cee said...

keeping the atom/hydrogen bomb inside a thengai shell, empty can etc. and watching it shoot up in the air........
good fun indeed!!!!

ms said...

hey, no mention of the delicious food that is part of diwali! nothing about gorging on the sugary stuff, the deep fried salty stuff and the spicy stuff that destroyed the inner cheek lining (both sets of cheeks, i say!!).

Anonymous said...

we used to keep the rocket horizontally on a empty road, when no one is on the road... but unfortunately once a newly married couple on their thalai deepavali were going to the temple in new pattu veshti and pudavai...

Rocket unfortunately was on target.. i mean in the pudhu mappillai's veshti... i still remember him running around taking of his veshti... in the middle of the road and running around...

Didnt feel bad for him at that time.. it was really funny.. but i feel for him though... running around in new pattu veshti of course not in the place it is supposed to be...(over his head)



fieryblaster said...

i completely agree with with every word of this post. the feeling that one gets out on the road is amazing. seems that everyone around is happy. every cracker and vedi announcing the happiness of humans around. as u rightly said, it is indeed a majestic festival.

Gaurav said...

Brought many memories flooding, or rather bursting back. Nice one.

In Pune, we often also had rivalries with other groups of kids over our cracker stocks. We had a tradition of building small forts with mud and stone for diwali, and the challenge was always to see if you had enough firepower in the form of atom bombs and such to actually blow up the fort on the last day of diwali. None of us ever could, although we came close.

BTW, the reduction in fire cracker use has a lot to do with the PC movement that rallies around 2 causes - pollution and child labor. NGOs and other groups going around schools brainwashing kids and filling them with guilt.

P.S. 4th of July fireworks, at least in our town where they are spectacular, always remind me of diwali night. That's the closest the west ever came to an actual full-blooded expression of joy and happiness.

blackaccord said...

hawkeye, good for you that your spending deepavali in madras.. One of the things that I miss the most is celebrating deepavali in madras and it has been 12 long years for me now.. Your post brought back a lot of memories for me.. It felt like winning the world cup when we got up by 4 am and burst the first sara vedi in our street.. There was also a competition on who burst the most crackers in the street (identified by the paper outside the house).. My fav. cracker was 'double shot'.. It would fire the first shot on the ground and go up and fire the second shot in the air... Also loved the Train where you tie the string (usually between the gate of two houses) and light up the vedi.. nothing beats throwing bijili in bare hand.. I'm pretty bummed out this genaration is hooked up on watching sun tv or playing playstation ...

I said...

kuzhandhai-ku motta adikka dhane poirika India?

Anonymous said...

eppo than u came from india. six months kuda ana mathiri therla...

Sreekrishnan said...

Red Fort - i forgot that name ! Thanks for reminding me that.

I was expecting this post on the day of Deepavali. i too ended up writing a post almost similar.

The other fun is doubles in the Cycle [hercules MTB] and roam around the city to find if someone did anything spectacular. Waiting in the bike for a rocket to Launch or a Bomb to burst was the best wait ! :)

krish said...

I love Deepavali in Madras in Whole of Tamil Nadu actually! nice one! To know how it is celebrated in the rest of our Nation you ma check it out here

Rastafari said...

Arumaiaana pathivu. It was almost like reading my thoughts

Hawkeye said...


will call. assumin your email is


:-). The pooling and contributing is a nice concept. Nowadays people don't cook mixture, laddu and ompodi in kitchen for3 days. that breed is dying.

Lone crsader,

some of the thing i wanted to mention in post but forgot are thankfully mentioned in comments. The lower-middle class enjoy it the most and it is beyoind their reach now.


enjoyed your post




deivame... you pulled the words out of my mouth. I started writing the post with vegaya vedi in mind and totally forgot about it.

that is fantastic invention. Sadly it was banned.


97 was also the last time I spent deepavali in madras before my long breaks began. The decline was abrupt and sudden.


:-). The old lady in my previous flat must be ahpayy person now. She complained that she couldnt sleep until 6 on deepavali.


i realized later that I could have bought at better discounts. 1000 wala in kaliswari was about 650 Rs. and 10K was 3500 rs. Bayangara velai.


yes. the aftrenoons were happies because it was personal 1x1 time with crackers as opposed to group discussion with parents and other oldies.


i didnt visit all last year.. appo yaarum kekka maatanga.


people give fundaes about pollution control and bore the heck out of others.

moorthi chithaps,

i remember you talking about 'bon fire' type celebrations where every pattasu was thrown into the fire at night. 'oilbath' in exchange for crackers is a win-win option.

Vee Cee,

so is putting a saram in alumnium can :-) freaks out the neighbors


the focus here was on non-food celebrations


that was funny :-) horizontal rockets only happened in open playgrounds. roads'la too much.

fiery blaster,

yes it is a day where everyone looks their best. The feeling of driving on the road is very thrilling.


Once in b school, as part of the "diversity' thing I was asked to give aquick introduction to major indian festivals to a large amru audience. I thought I covered nuances of every state. I even covered the forts and blasting of them courtsy a friend. But at the end of it I had apparently missed a bi thing the gambling in the north. I totally missed it. I didnt know people gambled. So in a way it was nice to get those nuances.

agree with the brain washing. I lived close to sivakasi and so laugh everytime people talk about child labor.

black accord,

if you come today to madras you will be sorely dissapointed. however the night sky is lit with aerial shots and is very beutiful to watch. its just that the morning tradition is totally gone.


illaba that part of the "america vazh thamizh stereotype" is scheduled to happen in the future.


ungalukku selavu vechadhukku mannichidunga.