Why (Some) Indians Gamble On Diwali

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Diwali has many different rituals and traditions, but one in particular very popular with Punjabis is gambling through the late hours of the night. Playing cards is accompanied with plenty of drinks (usually Jack Daniels or Black Label, all-time Punjabi favourites) and an incredible feast with lots of mithai (sweets) and fireworks.

As a child, my favourite part of this ritual was the fireworks. Growing up in London, the dates closely coincide with Guy Fawkes night, which meant that for about a week, there were fireworks constantly exploding through the night generating pulsing excitement. Here in San Francisco, fireworks are illegal and for good reason. There were most definitely dubiously dangerous times where us kids were kicking at fireworks that we thought we had lit but didn’t go off until you were a little too close! Not to mention the poor environment – intense black smog filling the air, which takes me on a tangent but how and why does Disneyland get away with polluting the air with nightly fireworks??

Lord Shiva played dice with his wife Parvati

Now that I’m older, I look forward to the just as dangerous vice of gambling. The ancient myth is that Lord Shiva (an important God in the Hindu religion representing complex themes of creation and destruction) played dice with his wife Parvati. She won and was so mesmerized by her win (as first time gamblers often are) that she declared that everyone who gambles on Diwali night will mint money (which doesn’t quite make sense as there has to be some losers). And to make it worse, anyone who doesn’t will be re-born as a donkey!

Being a pragmatic, I tend to wonder if the gambling thing could have it’s roots in a more practical application. At the end of the harvest season, which is when Diwali falls, farmers needed to chill after all their hard work. But they also had to leave their doors open through the night of Diwali to allow the Goddess Laxmi (the goddess of good fortune) into their well lit clean houses. This meant the door needed to be guarded all night. What better way to stay up through the night and relax at the same time – cards and drinks! Especially when you don’t have hard core farming the next day, you just need the religion to sanction it of course.

My spiritual side contemplates how the gambling could be exploring heavy spiritual themes of cosmic cycles of winning/losing, beginnings/ends, creation/destruction, the grand illusion of Maya and a reminder of the fickleness of luck urging us to create a sense of balance in the pursuit of material success.

Either way – I plan on playing some poker soon! Not that I mind being born a donkey in the next life at all.

We encourage you to feed your office or Diwali party with our discount offer through November 11th to celebrate. Offer can be found on our October Newsletter. And if you need another player for your card game, you know how to reach me!

Playing Poker