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DIVALI - LIFE IS A DIVINE GAMBLE
By Manmohan Melville
packs are shuffled. The plastic rummy counters are piled up
in front of the players. The cards are dealt. The bids are
called. Money changes hands. Gambling is very much a part of
the Divali festivities! Legend has it that the goddess
Parvati sat down to play dice with her husband Lord Shiva on
this night. And she decreed that all who gambled on Divali
night would prosper throughout the New Year.
A more severe superstition cautions those who do not
indulge in gambling at Divali It warns them that they
will be born as donkeys in their next births! (Of course, there
is no way we can confirm this superstition, so we won’t talk
too much about it.)
And so, we have this unusual custom of gambling on Divali
Some players gamble under the pretext of religion, while others
consider it a part of the merriment of the season. But, most
see it as a lively way of keeping awake through this auspicious
In most Hindu houses, gambling at Divali is part of the
tradition -- to bid farewell to the Old Year and to usher in
the New Year.
Perhaps the real reason for gambling at Divali arose from
humbler, rural customs…
A Night to
story of how Diwali came to be celebrated took place during
Rama avatar. Rama killed Ravana on Vijaya Dashmi day and
returned to Ayodhya on this day, 20 days after Ravana’s
death. He sent Hanuman
to Bharata, to convey to him that Rama, Sita and Laxman were
on their way back in Ayodhya and the lights were lit because
it was Amavasya night, dark and moonless. In the northern
this festivity is
known as Deepavali, the festival of lights and victory of
virtue over evil.
In the southern parts Diwali is attributed to
avatar, which was
in the Dwapara Yuga.
(and Holi) are festivals that originated in
to mark the major change of the seasons.
Divali marks the time between harvest and sowing a new crop. In
ancient, rural India, it was the festival that marked the
harvest of the kharif crop and the purchase of the next rabi
crop to be sowed.
Sociologists believe that Divali began as a celebration of the
harvest season – a season of plenty and prosperity. With the
end of one harvest and the start of a new sowing season –
naturally, people looked upon the festival as the start of a
After the sale of the kharif crops, the farmers were
generally flush with money in their pockets. This was the time
to thank the Gods for good fortune and to seek their blessings
for the new season.
This was also the
time to buy new provisions for the home and the family.
People brought new utensils, whitewashed their houses and
entered into new financial deals for the next season. And
so, the festival acquired the air of being a very auspicious
Naturally, with so
much money in the pocket, with so much time on hand and with
so much bonhomie in the air, one of the ways to pass those
ancient evenings was to indulge in a little drink and a roll
of the dice. In ancient India, dice games were extremely
popular, and so, Divali must have been a time for the
farmers to take it easy and spend some lazy days with family
This may have been
the actual social origin of the unusual practice of gambling
at Divali. It was a holiday-time activity that acquired the
divine sanction of recognition.
A Month to
A night to gamble may seem fair enough – but in some parts of
India one night does not seem quite enough!
In many parts of Gujarat, the entire Hindu month of Shravan
(usually in August-September) is considered auspicious for
gambling. Gamblers in the state may have the divine nod. Even
the police are usually helpless to take any action against them
– as the gamblers are from such a wide cross-section of
While the people from the lower strata of society, gamble in
shady dens; the rich organize games, involving thousands or
lakhs of rupees, in clubs, five-star hotels, bungalows and
private farmhouses. The popular card games are Flush (“teen
pati”) and Rummy.
One destination in India that sees a terrific surge of tourists
all through the Divali season is Goa. Ever since political
trouble erupted in Katmandu, Goa has acquired a newfound status
as the “casino centre” of India. It has one floating and
six on-shore casinos.
Goa has become the new destination for gamblers and fun-seekers
from Mumbai, Gujarat and Bangalore. They come here to claim the
promise made by goddess Parvati at Divali time!
Divali Card Parties usually take place on Divali night –
after the pooja. However, there is no strict rule about
this. Some folks begin their gambling sessions a full week
before Divali – culminating on the day after the festival.
The general rule most people observe is -- be traditional! That
includes the food, the mood, the clothes and the decor.
The house is usually decorated with diyas and marigold
flowers. If possible, the “western furniture” is pushed to
one side – and gaddis (or mattresses) are rolled out
– to create a desi aura.
The guests are encouraged to dress in ethnic outfits – churidars
and achkans for the men, while the ladies wear saris and
The food is very
Indian – tandoori fare, rotis, biryanis and tikha
barbecue bits – usually served buffet-style (with drinks)
and plenty of kheers and mithais.
Divali card parties are of two kinds. There are the mild,
family affairs, where the stakes are purposely kept low and
reasonable, so that all family members and friends –
including teenagers and children
-- can take part in the fun. The losses here are never
more than a couple of hundred rupees. And the purpose of
playing is for all to indulge in the gambling and merriment as
a part of the Divali tradition.
The other kind of Divali card parties – are the hard-core,
truly competitive sessions. Here, businessmen (and their
spouses) gather around to indulge in friendly contests. But,
the games are played dead serious – with money (in thousands
or even lakhs) exchanging hands.
One of the legends says that Lakshmi will only bless the person
who wins at gambling on Divali night. So naturally, each
businessman would like to impress goddess Lakshmi on this
auspicious night. The
parties go on till the wee hours of the morning. Piles of
money exchange hands.
After all, this is supposed to be an invitation to goddess
So, this Divali play your cards