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Diwali in South India

by Vikas Kamat
First Online: January 01, 2007
Page Last Updated: January 10, 2018

Diwali or the festival of lights, is perhaps the most prominent of all Indian festivals, and finds significance even outside of Hinduism, and we see that Jains, and Sikhs also observe it. Yet we see that in the Dravidan heartland, in South India, the festival is not observed with the same enthusiasm, and is even shunned. This article explores some of the Diwali traditions of South India in depth, and provides reasons why some Indians do not observe Diwali.

Diwali Festivities of South India

The festival of Diwali is associated with many legends. In the South, the most commonly observed legend is the killing of Narakasura by Krishna. So houses, especially bathrooms are cleaned, decorated, and an elaborate bath is taken by members. Elaborate herbal oils are applied to the body prior to the bathing ritual, and beautiful Rangoli designs are laid outside the doors.

© Vikas Kamat
Shining Water Pots in a Bathroom
Bathroom being readied for Diwali  Bathing Ritual

Diwali is one of the rare festivals in South India, which is not celebrated in temples. It is rather celebrated at home with family members. Gifts are exchanged between in-laws and festive meals are consumed consisting of vegetarian delicacies and sweets.

Reasons for Shunning of Diwali

A  number of Indians do not observe Diwali festival, their reasons varying from personal to philosophical. Here I am listing some of the main reasons why some people do not participate in the festivities of Diwali.

  • Safety Reasons: The firecrackers sold in India are often not quality-controlled and result in serious injuries. It is very common to hear of fire-related accidents during Diwali season.

  • Economical and Social Reasons: A slang for the word diwali also means "bankruptcy", and some people spend too much money with lavish gifts. People who are turned off by ugly show of wealth prefer not to be part of it, and boycott the festival altogether.

  • Traditional Reasons: On one Diwali day, in 19th century,  a large number of Iyengar Brahmins were massacred at Melukote, and people of that town do not observe the festival to mark that tragic day.

  • Philosophical Reasons: Intellectuals who are trying to reform the Indian society from myths and superstitions do not observe Diwali.

  • "Not My Culture" Reasons: Many people from Tamilnadu and Kerala do not observe Diwali for this reason. They feel that Diwali is a festival forced upon them by commercial and brahmanical interests during the course of history. Further, some people, especially in Kerala, feel that banishing of Mahabali from his kingdom (see: Legends of Diwali) was an unfortunate event, something not to be celebrated (they instead observe Onam).

See Also:

  • Hinduism Potpourri -- Hindu mythology, point of views, pictures of deities, sages and stories.
  • The Deccan Plateau -- Known as the Dravida land, the four states of South India offer a marked cultural and literary experience from that of the North.


Golden Oil Lamps (<i>diyas</i>)Fireworks during Deepavali FestivalThe Glow of Hope
Rangoli Design Spread for DiwaliDiwali Festival Scene



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