An Objective View on Fireworks, Written by David Catherine

‎"Many people attempt to justify the (clearly un-traditional) use of fireworks during Diwali by highlighting the 5000 year existence of the Hindu religion. However, an informed distinction needs to be made between the origins of the Hindu religion, the origins of the Ramayana Epic in the late Vedic period, the consequent Deepavali festival, and the relatively modern interpolation of fireworks that has usurped the traditional use of clay or oil lamps." ~ David Catherine


A well-researched, informative, objective article about fireworks, man-made traditions, and the commercial greed that fuels this trade.


There comes that dreaded time of the year again when the skies above us erupt into an explosive sonic orgy in celebration of Diwali, Guy Fawkes and New Year. Unfortunately, these devastatingly loud and currently widespread firework events signal the ongoing abuse of domestic animals, nesting birdlife, conservancy wildlife and air-quality, especially in India and in my resident country, South Africa. For the ethically minded citizens of this world it is somewhat disconcerting that the respective city councils are unable to sincerely address this issue, despite the overwhelming evidence that has been submitted to them by the SPCA and despite letters to newspapers by individuals from across the religious, secular and ethnic spectrum. In fact I have personally collected over fifty pages of public media correspondence relevant to the issue of fireworks. I am also confident that the many PTSD sufferers—as victims of gun-crime in South Africa—will empathize with the following outline.


It is with great irony that every year we are able to juxtapose two viewpoints relating to the Hindu observance of Diwali. One pertaining to official religious authorities—outlining authenticDeepavali practice and confirming that the ancient traditional festival is founded on the lighting of oil lamps (Sanskrit deepa-) or clay lamps (deeya-placed in rows (-avali), symbolizing the triumph of light over darkness with respect to spiritual enlightenment, compassion, generosity and a harmonious order of self and society. This also agrees perfectly with the Hindu avatara, Rama, in his aspect as Maryada Purushottama: the 'True-Human of Virtue' who overcomes ignorance, greed and disorder and who represents the model human to be emulated in society.



The second viewpoint belongs to fireworks retailers and explosives enthusiasts who typically distort all sense of sacred symbolism while in pursuit of commercial profit and entertainment on a paradigmatic scale. Sadly—when confronted on the issue of abuse, injury and death of animals—the customary retort from the majority of these retailers is that loud bangs should be tolerated since they occur "only once a year." However, it soon becomes obvious that the stated duration is contextually inaccurate, that the noise is counter to authentic tradition, and that the retail mindset lacks an integral ethics.


In reality, uncontrolled explosive bangs are heard for many nights before, during and after what is universally accepted as Deepavali; surplus stocks are blasted away by the very same irresponsible patrons during Guy Fawkes, which is a culturally irrelevant practice in South Africa; and yet another cacophonous exhibition is inflicted upon audibly-sensitive animals during the drunken revelry at New Year. Moreover, to offer a qualitative analogy: if a woman or child are abused "only once a year" and the recommended solution is that during this ongoing abuse they be suppressed with tranquilizers or locked away in a room—as is ineffectually prescribed for distressed pets (unable to escape the ultimately irrepressible noise that invades every corner of one's household)—does this constitute socially-acceptable behaviour for a rational and compassionate humanity? In the words of Martin Luther King: "An injustice to one is an injustice to all. Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere." In the words of Mahatma Gandhi: "The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated."


Clearly, the fireworks industry is not concerned about tradition-appropriate knowledge, altruism, compassion and harmonious order in society—as is traditionally symbolized by rows of serene lamps (i.e. Deepa-avali by definition and authentic origin!) and as embodied in the virtuous deeds of the Hindu lord Rama—but is instead satisfied to trade in the misinterpretation of theRamayana Epic and the marketing of aural chaos. Quite frankly, the habitual use of firecrackers is a relatively recent borrowing from Chinese superstition as a perceived means by which to chase away 'ghosts'. Within the context of Diwali, it is neither religious freedom nor divine enlightenment that transmogrifies the primordial sanctity of the night sky into a city-wide pulpit banging out the most invasive and arrogant of sermons; instead, it is licentiousness and religious ignorance parading under the banner of consumerism.


Regrettably, there can be no triumph of "light over darkness" or "goodness over evil" when we are willing to purchase disjointed sonic-mayhem at the cost of an authentic divine connectedness and associated sacred interconnectedness with the natural world around us. How can one celebrate the Ramayana's climactic union of Sita and Rama when Sita is—ontologically speaking—still oppressed and imprisoned in the clutches of Ravana (as the cause of suffering, anguish and disorder)? How can we continue to talk about the virtuous qualities of peace, compassion, love, harmony, union and mercy when we defy true spiritual alignment and knowingly terrorize other sentient life-forms—not in the name of a unifying Light or an enlightened human Consciousness, but according to a collective narcissistic obsession withexploding projectiles that signify a violent tearing apart and therefore separation?


It must be remembered that the word religion comes from the Latin religio/religare, which means 'to re-unite/align/bind' (to divine order and truth); this is similar in meaning to the Sanskrit yoga, which carries important connotations of 'union' and 'discipline' (cf. to yoke - to "bind together"). We would do well to consider these principles the next time we appeal for so-called "religious freedom" while unashamedly indulging in dissonant and divisive behaviour under the pretense of 'tradition'.


Further to the Diwali issue (and the often heard argument that those who oppose fireworks are being "cultural intolerant") :


Many people attempt to justify the (clearly un-traditional) use of fireworks during Diwali by highlighting the 5000 year existence of the Hindu religion. However, an informed distinction needs to be made between the origins of the Hindu religion, the origins of the Ramayana Epic in the late Vedic period, the consequent Deepavali festival, and the relatively modern interpolation of fireworks that has usurped the traditional use of clay or oil lamps.


Ironically, the veneration of the dog and its ancestor, the wolf, predates all anthropomorphic religion by tens of thousands of years. It is also by no accident that the brightest and most important guide-stars in the night sky were called 'dog' or 'wolf' stars. The first 'festivals of light' ever conceived and practiced by early humans were dedicated to the dog, wolf, coyote and jackal as totemic 'way-showers', 'messengers' and 'guardian overseers'. It should be noted that the later religious aversion to dogs was itself established upon "cultural intolerance" and a suppression of the dog as important guardian, survival guide and close companion of mankind. If there are those who want to sincerely discuss the unjust suppression of culture and proto-religious ritual, then let us question why the ancient star gazers—those celestial time-keepers and their dogs—were maliciously persecuted by many of the subsequent religions?


Unfortunately, the primordial night sky and 'dog-stars' are now dulled by atmospheric pollution; the dog traumatized by contrived firework displays founded on the worship of consumerism. Let it not be forgotten that the human and companion dog represent a special living connection and it is a travesty that so little honour or respect is given to this most ancient of "traditional" bonds.


More news from the trenches (letter sent to a local newspaper):


In a previous article published by 'X' newspaper (November 3), the fireworks industry was unequivocally shown to be harmful to animals, socially oppressive and counter to religious tradition. D. Wright (November 12) revisited this issue and questioned the continued advertising of fireworks in newspapers. The editor's official response was that fireworks are neither illegal nor indecent and accordingly 'X' does not wish to censor the advertisers.


One cannot help but be reminded of the state of affairs prior to 1994 [in Apartheid South Africa] when it was considered neither "illegal" nor "indecent" to inflict the most shocking of human rights abuses under the shelter of a deficient legal system. Not only did the perpetrators of this oppression similarly defend their ideology on grounds of religion and culture, but the many commercial entities, social institutions and media networks that interacted with them were happy to profit from the exchange according to the very same argument and understanding that there was "nothing illegal" in doing so. In fact, there was a disgraceful silence on behalf of those who held influence and shaped public opinion, yet conveniently chose to ignore this influence during a time of need.


It is not enough for public media to hide behind ethical ambiguity or to obfuscate important issues under the excuse of providing 'service' for advertisers. Given the factual evidence pertaining to the fireworks industry's contribution to the abuse of animals, one could argue that the newspaper's inability to show a clear and consistent ethical stance on this issue is in itself a form of media censorship (i.e. a suppression of ethical representation) and I would argue that it is also a reduction of their humanity in that their "services" encourage inhumane practices.


Author: David Catherine