Billions of households across the world are abuzz with activity and excitement. Diwali, the Hindu festival of lights, is just around the corner. And so are the elaborate preparations: shopping for new clothes, preparing sweets and savouries for family and friends, spring cleaning the house, and planning for all the fun and frolic this festival entails.
Diwali is not only religiously significant but is also close to everyone’s heart for the goodwill and cheer associated with it. After all, who doesn’t love a night lit up with a million lamps, good food, music and merry-making with loved ones.
However, as we immerse ourselves in the festivities, it is important not to forget the essence of this beautiful festival: the triumph of good over evil. While on the surface this evil is signified with mythological demons, the deeper meaning it holds is to get rid of our inner demons, attempt to light up our life with knowledge, and do whatever is good for collective humanity.
And in the present day world, where we consume a little too much and care a little too less, what bigger evil is there to shun than our lifestyle of mindless consumption and neglect for this planet we live on? So, this Diwali, instead of celebrating the demise of imaginary demons, let’s turn our attention to the very real demon of environmental destruction in front of us and pledge to fight it by starting to lead a sustainable lifestyle of less consumerism, more conservation.
Let this mantra from the Upanishadas be the spiritual inspiration to get you going:
Om asato mā sad gamaya, tamaso mā jyotir gamaya, mṛtyor mā amṛtaṃ gamaya
(Om, from falsehood lead me to truth, from darkness lead me to the light, from death lead me to immortality).
1) Light it right: Lamps, lanterns, and lights! The idea of Diwali is to fill the night up with bright lights so that no corner of the house remains dark. Today the dainty earthen lamps of yesteryears have been replaced by electric lights that are more attractive and durable but consume a lot of electricity and just add to the plastic junk once done with. Try to use less of these electric lights and go the old-fashioned way: use diyas (mud lamps) filled with mustard oil, buy bees-wax or soy candles instead of petroleum-based wax candles that give off toxic fumes, or make your own bees-wax candles and lamps at home if you are creatively-inclined. There are several free and paid workshops to learn soy and bees wax candle-making every weekend or you could just find an online tutorial just in time for the festivities. You can even make little lamps out of random items in your house. Hollow out that huge citrus that you haven’t eaten for a week, fill it with some cooking oil, put a wick in, and light it up for some orange glow with a sweet, and citrusy smell.
2) Go easy on fireworks: While in India it is nowadays a trend to buy the loudest, brightest crackers available in the market, the truth is that they were not even a part of Diwali celebrations traditionally. A fairly recent invention, fireworks can be a lot of fun if enjoyed sensibly but are also a huge nuisance, causing plenty of environmental and noise pollution. The best way is to ditch them entirely but if you are one of those people who cannot imagine a Diwali without fireworks, it’s a good idea to do it as a community activity where many people enjoy them collectively. That would mean at least some less pollution than every household buying and bursting them individually.
3) Green clean: In Indian and Hindu households, a key aspect of Diwali is spring-cleaning the house to welcome Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth. People dust, mop, sweep, and clean the whole house and many even get it freshly painted. But this doesn’t have to mean loads of toxic cleaning products. You can find several natural, organic cleaning products that are free of harsh chemicals and do not leave a toxic trail in the environment. And what’s more, they are easily available online, and in supermarkets, are as good as chemical-based products, and are cheaper than toxic products in most cases. You can check out for brands like, Earth’s Choice, Ecogreen, Organic Choice, etc.
4) Refuse, reuse, recycle: A big celebration doesn’t necessarily need to mean a big mound of plastic waste of decoration items. There are hundreds of environmentally-friendly options available for decorative stuff these days. They can be easily ordered over the internet. And better still, they don’t burn a hole in your pocket. So, why not? Apart from that, there is always an option to reuse sturdy decoration stuff. Try to remove decorations like lanterns, streamers, banners, and buntings carefully once the celebrations are over and store them to use them next Diwali instead of sending perfectly good, reusable plastic items down the garbage chute. You could end up saving some money as well as the environment.
1) Local is better: Diwali is synonymous with good, scrumptious food. And lots of it. Right from curries, breads, and rice dishes to sweets and savouries of a hundred different kinds. So, when food is such a huge part of celebrations, a good way to make this festival an Earth-happy affair is to shop locally for ingredients. Go to the local grocery store in your area or find a nearby farmer’s market instead of a supermarket chain to buy veggies, spices and fruits. Not only would you get to have fresh, straight from the farm stuff but would also invest in your local economy and ensure your food has a lower carbon foot-print, that is, it hasn’t travelled thousands of miles using hundreds of gallons of fuel before reaching your plate. Win-win in every way!
Also try to keep your food organic. Lesser chemicals in food are not just good for the environment but also for human health. Check out www.localharvest.org.au to find good food close to you.
2) Donate leftover food: If you can’t finish it all why not share it with someone in need? Donating left-over food is a great way of contributing to the community and can mean not going empty-stomach for an individual or family. There are charities that rescues excess food, which would otherwise be discarded, and distribute it to people in need.
3) Compostable cutlery: While using dinner sets year after year is the best thing to do for the environment, not everyone is happy with all the dishwashing that follows. So, if you must use disposable dishware make sure you avoid Styrofoam or plastic, single-use cups, plates, and cutlery. There are a lot of eco-friendly options available now made from bio-degradable materials, like palm leaves, bamboo pulp, poly-lactic acid (PLA), sugarcane pulp etc. They are cheap, biodegradable, and non-toxic.
Gift it right
1) Fair and sweet: It is customary to visit family and friends during Diwali, and no visit during this festival is considered complete without sweets being gifted and offered. And lately, traditional sweets have been replaced by the omnipresent chocolates. So as you set about to meet and greet loved ones this Diwali, buy Fairtrade chocolate with NO palm oil: most chocolate in super-market aisles abound in sneaky palm oil and cocoa grown under environmentally unsustainable conditions, exploitative practices and forced labour. So by buying fair-trade chocolate we are not only choosing a good quality product but also taking a stand against deforestation, human trafficking, and child labour. Many stores in Australia, like, Aldi, Coles, Chocolatier Australia, Haigh’s Chocolates, etc. sell fair-trade chocolate. Look for chocolates with Fairtrade, UTZ, or Rainforest Alliance certification on the packets.
2) Wise gift: As with most festivals, exchanging gifts is a big part of Diwali celebrations. This time around, try to get creative with your gift and keep it green. Instead of store-bought packaged stuff give someone a live-gift they can nurture and cherish: a planter with flower seedlings, a mini-herb garden, a colourful succulent garden in a pot, or maybe small, hand-made pouches of organic wildflower seeds to scatter around the house and garden.
You can also look at online stores, websites, and even small local stores to find the perfect gifts that do not put a stress on the environment. The options are limitless: hand-made jewellery made of recycled materials, dresses and accessories made from eco-friendly materials and processes, organic cosmetics, handicrafts and artisan made gifts sourced from fair-trade organisations across the globe. Websites like Etsy, Ethical Superstore, EcoBella, Oz Fair Trade, Biome, Organic Earth Shop or Ethical Gifts are a good place to look at for such gifts. Many such things are also available in local farmers and artisan markets across the city. Or you can buy a gift-card to businesses selling eco-friendly products in your area. This way you help that business thrive while your loved one gets to pick a green gift of their choice.
3) Unwrap it: Lots of gifts means lots of unnecessary waste: chocolate wrappings, gift wraps, cardboard boxes. To prevent this, try to find gifts with less or bio-degradable packaging. Look for chocolates packed in more tin-foil, less plastic and cardboard. Also, foil that enters the recycling in little scraps doesn’t get picked up. So, keep a bowl on the kitchen counter and ask everyone to put their empty wrappers there. Then scrunch it up in a big ball to go in the recycling bin. You can also up-cycle any non-recyclable waste– take to Pinterest for interesting ideas!
Mindless consumerism has slowly killed the true spirit of most of our celebrations and replaced it with practices that have not just eroded the traditional values of our festivals but also triggered a cascade of environmental destruction on a global scale. Let’s try to slowly revive that spirit of our festivals, the spirit that was in unison with Nature, not against it. Let this be a Happy Diwali for our planet!