Mumbai (AsiaNews/Agencies) - From the heavens, India was probably the brightest spot on earth last night as millions of people in the subcontinent celebrated Diwali, the "Festival of Lights,' with countless lamps, candles and fireworks. The most important event on the Hindu calendar, the festival marks the victory of good over evil and the start of the New Year.
Celebrations last five days but the third, which this year fell yesterday, is the most important because it is dedicated to Lakshmi, the goddess of prosperity and good fortune. On this day, families clean their homes and keep clay lamps or 'diyas' lit overnight to welcome the divinity. However this time, things were not as authentic as usual since lights and decorations were 'Made in China' by and large.
According to tradition, Diwali marks the return of Lord Ram to Ayodhya (Uttar Pradesh) after vanquishing the demon king Ravana and rescuing his wife Sita. Together, husband and wife enter the city welcomed by thousands of glowing lamps.
For Hindus, Rama represents the seventh manifestation (avatar) of the god Vishnu, and Sita is the incarnation of his wife Lakshmi. The prince's adventures are told in the Ramayana, one of Hinduism's most important poetic epics.
Despite the lavish extravagance that characterise the celebration, this year the Festival of Lights was not as bright as usual. With gold, symbol of prosperity and good fortune, at record prices of around 31,700 rupees (US$ 575.21) for 10 grams, demand for gold jewellery dropped significantly.
To boost interest, shop owners offered gift options in gold this season, including gold-plated playing cards, at a cost of 835 rupees (.20).
In fact, buying gold and playing cards are a traditional part of the Diwali celebrations, said Sundeep Malhotra, an online retailer.
Although Hindu, Sikh and Jain communities celebrate Diwali around the world, those in India are the most spectacular. This year however, they were less "Indian" and more "Chinese."
In a recent study, the New Delhi-based Associated Chambers of Commerce and Industry estimated the sale of made-in-China Diwali goods had increased at least 45 per cent from last year.
With inflation at around 7 per cent and higher cost for raw materials, from paper to paint, Indian craftsmen have had to raise prices.
A string of 100 made-in-China lights, for instance, could be bought for 40 to 60 rupees (US$ 0.70 to US$ 1.10). A similar product made in India went instead for 80 to 100 rupees (US$ 1.45 to US$ 1.80).