Diwali: the Traditional and the Modern

Published: 16th October 2014 06:16 AM  |   Last Updated: 16th October 2014 06:16 AM   |  A+A-


CHENNAI: The quintessential Diwali of Chennai, with frenzied shopping at T Nagar, a sea of people going from shop to shop in search of the finest pattu, sweet shops at their briskest, kilograms of ghee, sugar, murukkus and badushas, and the fairgrounds with cracker sales, is still very much a part of the city landscape. On the other side, co-existing peacefully, is a green Diwali, organic vegan black mixture, beetroot halwa, Diwali cupcakes, donuts and Belgian chocolate. The city carries its mix of traditional and contemporary even into Diwali.

The shops in T Nagar have seen soaring sales, with crowds thronging the clothing outlets. “There was no space to walk here this weekend!” exclaimed Ali, a shopkeeper of a clothing store on Ranganathan Street.

The already crowded Usman Road and Ranganathan Street were even more crowded, and the roads were dotted with barricades, police every 10 feet, cameras and public service announcements echoing through the streets.

Business booms for larger outlets like Saravana Stores. “Everyone wants the bigger names, not many come to us” said Ali, as groups of eclectic people walked out of these large shops laden with bags -- families, visiting tourists and college students.

Diwali shopping may not be as big an affair as it was, with people being richer and shopping throughout the year. “I usually get just around 10 to 20 per cent more sales during Diwali. This street is usually packed every weekend. Around five years back, Diwali used to be a special time to buy new clothes and jewellery, but nowadays buying new clothes is not a big deal,” said A Manickarajan, owner of stores selling artificial jewellery and accessories.

But for the more traditional, Diwali has to be about new clothes. “We never miss our Diwali shopping. It is a ritual to come here and buy clothes for the whole family,” said Anupama R, a college student who was shopping with her family.

Online shopping is becoming bigger by the minute, and it is not just about Flipkart’s Big Billion. Offers abound on the Internet, and online Diwali sales are not just for sweets and clothes but for televisions, air conditioners and cars. The online market is highly competitive, with Amazon offering huge discounts on electronics.

Online gift hampers for Diwali is another new trend, and these tastefully packaged gifts can be ordered to save the trouble of wading through crowds and traffic. Lamps, candle holders and even pooja thalis can be bought from special Diwali websites. Dry fruits and sweets don’t come in dull printed boxes any more. Elaborately carved metal holders, and handmade boxes with transparent panels and ribbons are now common, making the presentation of sweets as important as the sweets themselves.

The other new buzzword, ‘organic’, is the next entry in the Diwali market. Places like Terra Earthfood take the organic beyond mere recycled packaging. They sell Vegan Ragi Pepper Thattai, Apricot Mysore Pak and Carrot-Cashew Barfi, made using unpolished brown rice and gluten-free products.

Decorations and celebrations too are turning organic.  “People don’t want loud noise nowadays. It is sort of an upper class thing. There are still people who buy noisy bombs and grand rockets, but there are many who want a quiet Diwali and just buy very few crackers or none at all,” said Om Prakash, a firecrackers dealer.

But these organic and artistic products still remain a niche market, and the tradition of thronging the streets for a tiring shopping session is as much a part of the festivity as the early morning bath and Diwali marundhu, new clothes and family gossip.

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