10 Reasons Why Diwali Is Not Celebrated in Kerala
Why Diwali is not celebrated in Kerala? There are a bunch of reasons why Diwali is a low key affair in most of the Southern State of Kerala, some of them ancient, some of them more recent. Today, The Indian Rose will list the top 10 reasons why Diwali is not celebrated in Kerala.
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Before We Start..
Saying that Diwali is not celebrated in Kerala is an over-simplification. In fact, Diwali, called Deepavali in Kerala, is a public holiday in kerala and is celebrated by many people. However, in many parts of Kerala, it is not as big a celebration as in the rest of India.
Some Keralites celebrate Diwali big time. In Thiruvananthapuram, for example, Diwali is celebrated with grandeur, including firecrackers. Also, people whose ancestors came from other regions of India celebrate Diwali according to their ancestors’ traditions.
It is however true that, apart from Thiruvananthapuram, Diwali is not huge in Kerala, and that some regions of Kerala traditionally do not celebrate it at all. So, let’s see why Diwali is not celebrated in Kerala…
Top 10 Reasons Why Diwali Is Not Celebrated in Kerala
Many Indian (and non Indian for that matter) festivities are somehow linked to harvest and agricultural life, and so is diwali. Diwali marks the end of a crop season and the beginning of a new one.
However in Kerala crop seasons are different from most regions of India due to the tropical climate and the northeast monsoon. Also, spices and coconut, which are major crops in Kerala, have different seasons than wheat, popular in North India and celebrated with Diwali. Many harvests were completed at the time of Onam celebrations, not Diwali, while rice crop was celebrated in April – May with the Vishnu festival. In short, Diwali was not an agricultural landmark in Kerala as it was in other regions of India.
Because Diwali also marks the end of the monsoon in most of India, that was a perfect time for getting rid of the insects that abounded after the rains, and that was done through light traps and firecrackers. However, Kerala does not experience the end of rains at that time of the year, it rather witnesses the beginning of the northeast monsoon. It did not really make sense to get clear of all insects for Diwali…
Lastly, because after Onam Kerala farmers planted the new crop, they did not have money and time to celebrate another major festival like Diwali.
As you can see, agriculture and harvest is an ancient and important reason why Diwali is not celebrated in Kerala, which brings us to the third reason why Diwali is not celebrated in Kerala…
A very important reason why Diwali is not celebrated in Kerala, and one of the most ancient ones, is Kerala’s climate versus the Northern climate.
The celebration of Diwali marks the beginning of winter and the end of the monsoon in most of India. Indians used to clean their house in preparation for the colder months to come. In Kerala there are no colder months to come, and there is no end of the monsoon at that time of the year. In fact, while temperatures in Kerala are high year-round, in October the region gets hit by the northeast monsoon. Diwali weather in Kerala does not encourage lighting lamps and setting off firecrackers outdoors.
It is interesting to note that in the period when Onam is celebrated (end of August, beginning of September), Kerala often has a short break from rainfalls.
Kerala is characterised by a natural geographical barrier: the Western Ghats. That barrier did not make it easy for outside cultures to enter. Foreign cultures entered more often from the sea that from the land; thus Vedic traditions either arrived later, less strong, or were mixed with Malayalees cultures. That might be one of the reasons why Diwali is not as strong in Kerala as it is in other regions.
In Kerala, as well as in other parts of South India, asuras are seen as having more positive connotations than in the North. For example Onam celebrates the asura king Mahabali. Because Diwali is associated with the victory of Rama over Ravana, the dynamic is quite different, and it seems logical that such victory is not celebrated with much fervour where asuras do not have such strong negative connotations.
Hinduism is not a monolithic religion and there are lots of differences when it comes to how people practice it. Many differences are regional. For example, most Hindu Malayalam do not worship Ram as much as their North Indian counterparts. We can say that Hindu Malayalees are more devoted to Krishna than Ram. In fact, Diwali in Kerala is associated with the defeat of demon Narakasura by Lord Krishna and not with the coming back of Lord Rama. As such, people often visit Krishna temple and pray, but do not see it as an occasion for grand celebrations as the homecoming of Rama would be. This regional difference in the practice of Hinduism is another of the reasons why Diwali is not celebrated in Kerala.
See also how to celebrate Guru Purnima
6. Dravidian culture
The dravidian culture is associated with the South of India. Vedic culture was originally brought from the North of India. Diwali is associated by many with Vedic culture, not because it is part of the Vedas but because it was a product of that particular culture. When brahmins from the North introduced Vedic culture to Kerala, people did not just absorb it, they integrated it in a original way, mixing it with the pre-vedic traditions, for example Onam. Some traditions were filtered or even ignored.
So, one interpretation of why Diwali is not celebrated in Kerala is the link between Diwali and the Vedic tradition: Diwali got filtered and adapted, not just copied and adopted faithfully in Kerala, so it came out as not such a strong festivity.
If you know Kerala, you know that Onam, Vishu and Shiva Rathri are major festivals there, together with Bakrid (see how Eid al Adha is celebrated) and Christmas. Now, why Diwali is not celebrated in Kerala? Think about all the things Keralites do for Onam: having a public holiday and break from school, lighting lamps, worshipping, processions, buying new clothes… basically, when Diwali starts, Keralites have just finished their grand Onam celebrations, and it makes sense that Diwali is not celebrated as big.
Because Onam is celebrated with such fervour, people spend lots of money, and they will need to spend more money for upcoming Christmas celebrations. So why Diwali is not celebrated in Kerala? Many Keralites are not in the best of times money-wise when Diwali hits, so they keep it low key.
As many of you might know, the culture of Kerala is quite complex. It is a mix of Hindu Dravidian, Christian, Muslim, and Jewish components. Moreover, because of the spice trade, Kerala has always been exposed to other cultures including Roman, Chinese and Central Asian. That explains not only why Diwali is not celebrated in Kerala, but also why Kerala has such a unique cultural tradition. Kerala is a mix and match of many components, so not all of the traditional Hindu festivities are celebrated in the same way as in the rest of India.
This is a more recent reason why Diwali is not celebrated in Kerala. Because Kerala is such a religious and cultural mix, and because of the overall socialist inclination, Hindus in Kerala opted for the celebration of more secular festivities. For example Onam is considered as having geographical and agricultural connotations more than Hindu ones (although it also has Hindu roots), it is thus accepted and shared by all people of Kerala. The secular inclinations of the government account for its promotion of secular holidays instead of more sectarian ones.
Things are changing
With the advent of television, with the increased mobility and exchange among Indians, the tradition of celebrating Diwali like the rest of India is gaining popularity in Kerala. We can expect more and more Diwali celebrations in Kerala for the years to come!
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