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Tuesday, November 1, 2022

Deepavali fireworks - some history and celebrations at Thiruvallikkeni 2022

After a two-year lull, with people having forgotten  Covid-related norms – Nation celebrated Deepavali this year with happiness.  Every year there are eternal negativists stating that inflation would dampen the spirits – but though by some statistics, prices of crackers had gone up by 30% - the demand for crackers was high as seen in Triplicane, especially on the evening of Deepavali day ie., 24.10.2022 -  the  demand slowly picked up last year and this year, we have reached pre-pandemic level demands though the prices are high," stated, a wholesale dealer of crackers. Traders traced the jump in cracker prices to costlier material, damp weather, and shortage of labour.


A Firecracker is a diminutive  explosive device primarily designed to produce a large amount of noise, especially in the form of a loud bang, usually for celebration or entertainment. They have fuses, and are wrapped in a heavy paper casing to contain the explosive compound. Firecrackers, are very popular and the town of Sivakasi, down South is very famous for manufacturing quality fire crackers.  For Deepavli, people  light up fireworks near their homes and in streets. Additionally, cities and communities have community fireworks. 

BUT life is sought to be changed in recent years – with a NGO taking to Supreme Court, which in turn brought in so many restrictions and reduced the time during which crackers can be burnt ! – can this happen to anybody else, will Courts or politicians question the belief of other religions, they fear the vote bank !!  .. .. in the small State of chaos,  Delhi environment minister Gopal Rai said that manufacturing, storing, and selling firecrackers in the national capital is a punishable offence and would attract a fine of up to 5,000 and three years in jail. 

Nuremberg   is the second-largest city of the German state of Bavaria after its capital Munich. On the Pegnitz River (from its confluence with the Rednitz in Fürth onwards: Regnitz, a tributary of the River Main) and the Rhine–Main–Danube Canal, it lies in the Bavarian administrative region of Middle Franconia.   The first international war crimes tribunal in history revealed the true extent of German atrocities and held some of the most prominent Nazis accountable for their crimes, and it was held in this city.  On October 18, 1945, the opening session of the first international war crimes trial in history took place in Berlin, Germany. Unable to find a suitable venue in the destroyed Nazi capital, the court soon moved to the city of Nuremberg (Nürnberg) in Bavaria, where the highest profile cases were heard in the aptly named Palace of Justice between November 20, 1945 and August 31, 1946. Over the course of nine months, the International Military Tribunal (IMT) indicted 24 high-ranking military, political, and industrial leaders of the Third Reich. It charged them with war crimes, crimes against peace, crimes against humanity, and conspiracy to commit these crimes. Although many prominent Nazis, including Field Marshal Walter Model, Joseph Goebbels, Heinrich Himmler, and Adolf Hitler, committed suicide before they could be tried, the list of defendants at the trial included Admiral Karl Dönitz, Minister of the Interior Wilhelm Frick, Field Marshal Wilhelm Keitel, and Governor-General of Occupied Poland Hans Frank. No post on  World War or war crimes ! but on fire works !


The word “ fireworks as a metaphor, used either to describe the higher flights of oratory, of literature, or of human strife, whether it be in Parliament or the Parish Hall, or merely descriptive of domestic discord, is familiar, even threadbare, the metaphor has generally a humorous flavour; why is this ? Can any who have heard the long-drawn Ah-h l of rapture from many thousand throats, at the bursting of a flight of shell, or the darting up of the wonderfully tinted rays of the “ Magical Illumination ” at the Crystal Palace, maintain that the most dramatic moment on the stage is more affecting to the spectators ? 

Pyrotechny is possibly the only art which can compete with nature ; anyone who has seen a first-class firework display will admit that for impressive grandeur, colour effects, and contrasts of light and shade, pyrotechny is unapproached.   Many artists have tried to record their impressions, but the results have been generally disappointing.  Here is one of Nuremberg dating back to 1650! 

That fireworks are popular there is no doubt; no form of amusement is capable of giving enjoyment to so many people at one time; there is no entertainment which so appeals to youth and age of all classes and tastes. And yet it is doubtful if there is an industry concerning which the public at large is so profoundly ignorant.  To the average onlooker any firework which rises in the air is a rocket, any that revolve are Catherine wheels ; both of these assumptions are incorrect.  What is the average conception of a firework factory ? A building, let us say, in which workmen, with sleeves rolled up, are busily engaged in shovelling heaps of gunpowder. How many know that a firework factory consists of dozens of small buildings, the construction of which is exactly defined by law, separated by spaces also specified by law ; that workmen may not roll up their sleeves in the danger buildings ; or that the amount of gunpowder in each building is strictly limited to a small quantity ? All of these restrictions being enforced with the view, of course, of limiting the effects of any explosion that may occur.

PYROTECHNY, or the Art of Firework-making, is of great antiquity, and the date of its origin is quite unknown ; indeed, it would be impossible to define with any degree of exactitude what actually constitutes a firework.  It is curious how universal is the belief that fireworks were dependent upon the invention or discovery of gunpowder. Very little consideration will prove the fallacy of this view ;  in fact, will show that the reverse is probably the case. In India and China saltpetre (or nitrate of potash) is found in large quantities, and was, no doubt, used by the primitive in habitants in far-off times for such purposes as curing meat, cooking, etc. The dropping of a quantity in the camp fire may have attracted the attention of some early inventor to the extent of starting him on a series of what were probably the earliest chemical experiments. 

The most important item in early social life is fire, the implements for producing it the most valued property of the tribe ; it was the focus of religion and the centre of daily existence.  Fire would be struck with a piece of iron pyrites on a flint, small pieces of reguline particles of iron would be detached and fall on the fire mixture unlit. Afterwards, when combustion of the mass of fire mixture took place, these small pieces of metal would scintillate as do the iron filings in a modern firework composition.  The composition Greek-fire, known in ancient times as “ naphtha,” was a mixture of pitch, resin, and sulphur, with the addition in some cases of crude saltpetre.  The fire was either enclosed in hollow stones or iron vessels, and thrown from a catapult, or sometimes filled into the end of arrows and assisted to propel them forward or sustain their flight. 

Philostratus (170-250 a.d.), writing of the Indian Campaign of Alexander the Great (b.c. 326), relates that the inhabitants of a town on the river Hyphasis (Beas) “ defended themselves by means of lightning and thunder, which darted  upon their besiegers.” This has been considered as evidence of the use of firearms, but is more probably the first reference to Greek-fire.   

At the siege of Pian-King Lo-Yang (1232), as mentioned in the Chinese Annals, iron pots were thrown containing a burning substance which could spread fire over half an acre, and described by the historians as the “ thunder which shakes heaven.”  The Mongolians attacking Bagdad in the year 1258 made use of similar vessels, also fire arrows. Marco Polo, describing sieges of towns in China 1268 to 1273, mentions the throwing of fire.  In most of the early records although noise is remarked upon, it is apparently while the projectile is in the air or upon impact; this disposes of the impression which many writers have formed that firearms are referred to, there being no reference to an initial explosion.   

In India as in China fireworks play a frequent part in religious and civil ceremonies. In the former country, at certain festivals, a primitive device for producing a series of reports is used. These are called “ adirvedis,” and consist of a series of short iron tubes fitted to a wooden plank, charged with gunpowder and tamped with clay.  At weddings, crackers are largely used under a variety of names, such as Vengayavedi, Gola, Pataka or Koroo. Today these are simple crackers filled with country-made gunpowder.  A favourite form consisted of a small quantity of the two ingredients put together unmixed into a piece of rag with some small stones or grit and tied. The resulting fireworks were similar to the “ throw-down ” crackers sold in this country.  

It is a common practice to fix a pot at either end of a long bamboo, which is whirled quickly about by a performer ; the result produced is quite good, but seems rather to come under the heading of juggling than that of pyrotechnics proper. As the pots are theoretically the wrong shape for such a purpose, that is to say, a large mass of composition is burning through a narrow orifice, premature explosions are frequent. This want of theoretical knowledge is noticeable throughout, but such incidents seem to be appreciated as part of the show. Another use of the earth pot is the “ burusu,” a kind of red flare; the composition used being sulphur, saltpetre, and nitrate of strontia. 


display of fire print C 1659

fireworks on Thames 1688
fireworks at Nuremberg 1650 ! 

The most interesting reference of an early date is supposed to have been written by Marcus Graecus in his “ Liber ignium ad comburendos hostes ” (Book of fires for burning up the enemy), in which he not only gives the exact proportions of the compositions, but describes what is virtually the modern cracker, and also a primitive form of rocket.  A series of prints published in Germany during the seventeenth century are among the earliest in which a serious attempt is made to depict pyrotechnic effects ; the series includes “ Swedish Fireworks,” dated 1650 ; “ Fireworks at Nuremburg in celebration of Peace,” of the same date ; “ Fireworks given at Pleissenburg by the Prince of Saxony,” 1666 ; and the same year, “ Fireworks at Vienna ” ; all three prints show a good display of rockets, also bonfires, and there are indications of primitive wheels.  

For us at Thiruvallikkeni divaydesam and elsewhere, Deepavali is double bonanza ~ it combines  with Sri Manavala Mamunigal Uthsavam – this year on day 5 of the Uthsavam – Deepavali was  celebrated with fervour.  Diwali is the festival of lights and one of the most popular festivals of Hindus and is celebrated all over the world. Diwali symbolises the spiritual ‘victory of light over darkness and good over evil’. During the celebrations every house gets  decorated by lighting díyas and drawing rangolis. 

It starts early in the morning ~ ‘the pureficatory bath prior to Sun rise – is known as Ganga snanam’ – bathing in the holy Ganges.  Life would start with lighting colour matches before bathing – then children  rush to burst crackers – Deepavali would start a fortnight or so in advance, siblings would share the booty of crackers bought – look at them everyday, speak fondly of their valuable purchase, dry them in heat – and in the morning – there would be din .. .. in fact, in my house, my great grand ma, into her nineties would be the first to get up and in the oven using firewood, she would light one cracker (cheena pattasu) and throw in the backyard, it would explode with a big bang .. .. crackers, new clothes, sweets, elders, cinema, cricket, Perumal purappadu  - life just rolled on .. .. .. 

Here are some photos of the Deepavali crackers and Sri Parthasarathi Emperuman who dazzled on Deepavali purappadu with His benevolence 

adiyen Srinivasadhasan
Mamandur Veervalli Srinivasan Sampathkumar
31st Oct 2022.  

PS:  all the above found with text highlighted are not mine but excerpted from a Book published exactly 100 years ago titled “PYROTECHNICS- the History and Art of Fireworks making by Ala St H Brock who is credited with 19 works in 64 publications in 2 languages and 819 library holdings   

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