HinduPost is the voice of Hindus. Support us. Protect Dharma

Will you help us hit our goal?

Hindu Post is the voice of Hindus. Support us. Protect Dharma
20.2 C
Friday, June 14, 2024

Bursting firecrackers on Deepawali is an ancient tradition – and no, gunpowder was not invented in China

Deepavali & firecrackers

In this thread, I will debunk the MYTH that bursting firecrackers is a new innovation that was recently introduced into Deepavali festivities. It will be shown that bursting firecrackers has always been integral and central part of Deepavali.

At the very core of this entire MYTH is the presumption that Gunpowder (cf. fireworks) was invented in China in 9th century and brought to Bharat by Muslim rulers. This THREAD debunks this widespread MYTH and throws light on the unknown/hidden history of Deepavali & gunpowder. 

Indeed, so widespread is this myth that gunpowder is popularly known as one of “the ‘Four Great Inventions’ of China”. However, this myth starts falling apart when we examine Chinese sources themselves for the origin of Gunpowder. 

According to Chinese sources themselves, a Bharatiya Buddhist monk brought gunpowder technology to China. In 664 CE, he discovered soils in China containing Saltpetre (primary constituent of gunpowder). Chinese studies of chemistry of saltpetre show evidence of Bharatiya origin.

Of course, this is not to say that Chinese have no contribution to Gunpowder technology. They improvised it & made innovations. However, the initial knowledge of Gunpowder came to China from Bharat.

Even Scholar Roger Pauly, a hardcore Sinophile, admits “Indian inspiration”.

For those familiar with Hindu literature, this should hardly come as a surprise. Hindu literature contains ample references to what could be seen as an early form of Gunpowder. Let us examine these references before jumping into the discussion about Deepavali. 

Vaisampayana, the narrator of Mahabharata, describes the manufacture of smoke balls by ancient Hindus using what many scholars see as Gunpowder. According to a medieval commentator of the verse, the aforementioned smoke balls were indeed made of Gunpowder.

Atharvanarahasya mentions the use of charcoal, sulphur and saltpetre to make gunpowder, which are the same ingredients used even today to manufacture Gunpowder.

In-fact, workers at Sivakasi use these ingredients to make fireworks even today (more below).

Diwali fireworks are manufactured by traditional makers to this day in this manner. This video shows traditional maker of fireworks from Andhra in action.

This is a simple form of crackers, but use of such crackers is very widespread. In the above video, the Andhra maker uses basic ingredients to make simple fireworks:

1. Suryakara (सूर्यकार, Telugu సురేకారము)= Saltpetre

2. Gandhaka(गन्धक, గంధకము)= Sulphur.

3. Sand.

These were known in Bharat since ancient age . Why would Bharatiyas borrow this from anywhere? 

The etymology of the ingredients tells us about their origin. The Bharatiya firecracker workers of Andhra and Sivakasi use the Indic Saltpetre (सूर्यकार) whose origin is Sanskritic. They do not use the word Shora (शोरा شورہ) which is Persian for Saltpetre imported in medieval age. 

It takes an extremely colonized mindset to claim that Hindus were incapable of making simple fireworks themselves when they had all basic ingredients since antiquity. Did they have to wait for Muslims to come and teach them to put all these ingredients in a container? 

Until this point, we have seen that Hindus had knowledge about use of Saltpetre/gunpowder & were perfectly capable of making fireworks themselves. Now we shall come to Diwali.

Why are fireworks used in Diwali? What is the underlying theology? These will be discussed further. 

At the core of Deepavali is a belief that our departed ancestors (who had come down for Pitru Paksha) would return on this night. It is believed that on the night of Chaturdashi & Amavasya, the Pitrs would return. It is the light & noise which shows them the path in the dark. Hence we illuminate our houses. 

The Skanda Purāṇa is largest of the 18 MahāPurāṇas. It describes the rites to be performed on Dīpāvalī and it mentions this belief. The Vaiṣṇava-khaṇḍa of Skanda Purāṇa says

उल्काहस्ता नराः कुर्युः पितॄणां मार्गदर्शनम्।
नरकस्थास्तु ये प्रेतास्ते मार्गं तु व्रतात्सदा ।।

The Skanda Purana says Diwali should be celebrated by holding Ulkas in our hands. This will show path to our ancestors. What are “Ulkas”? The meaning of this word has changed with time. GV Tagare translates it as “firebrands”.

[Firecrackers in their early form were firebrands].

Analysing such verses, professor of Sanskrit and historian Dr. GV Raghavan concludes that (an early form of) crackers have been a part of Deepavali celebrations since earliest times. He says that their religious purpose was to illuminate & resonate the path of departed pitrs.

In her thesis, Indologist Tracy Pintchman says that the core of Diwali festivity is illuminating the path of deceased ancestors with firecrackers and lights.

This is also corroborated in Ananda Ramayana. Ananda Ramayana is an epic that has been traditionally been attributed to Valmiki. It mentions that fireworks were burst during Lord Rama’s homecoming. It mentions crackers which burst and shine in the sky (gaganantarvirajitan).

As against this, it is objected that Ananda Rāmāyaṇa is a work of 15th century. But these dates have been assigned by same Indologists who assigned a date of 500-100 BCE (post Buddha) for Valmiki Rāmāyaṇa. In Hindu Dharma, date doesn’t determine validity.

What does is acceptance of texts among Sampradayas. Ananda Ramayana easily qualifies such test and is accepted by most Sampradayas. “This practice isn’t old enough, ban it” is Abrahamic. This isn’t really how Hindu tradition operates. 

Such an idea could be seen in Medhātithi’s 11th century commentary on Manusmriti 2.6. He says that a practice (in our case bursting firecrackers), what is actually done with a view to invisible results, by persons learned in the Veda has the authority of Smriti.

Hard archaeological evidence for all festivals has been allusive in a tropical & frequently (re) populated civilization like Bharat. There are wall murals (of a possibly later date) on 9th century Tyagaraja temple in Tamilnadu. They depict festival celebrations with firecrackers.

Bogar Sattakandam is a book attributed to Tamil Siddha Saint Bogar. He is traditionally dated to 500 BCE but some modern scholars have put him in 5-7th century CE. Deepavali firecrackers are clearly described in this book.

Bogar describes the method of preparing the Saltpetre solution (Vediuppu Cheyanir) for all types of Sarakku Vaippu. Fireworks, gunpowder etc. are all described.

Hindu tradition & Hindu civilizational memory has always remembered firecrackers as an integral part of Hindu tradition. There are thousands of paintings made all over Bharat which show Sri Krishna celebrating Diwali by bursting firecrackers.

Here is one from Rajasthan school:

An objection is raised that these paintings are late. The earliest available of these Sri Krishna-fireworks series of paintings comes from 16th century. But that is precisely the point. Hindu art & tradition hasn’t seen firecrackers as an alien custom that was absent in Sri Krishna’s era.

A painting of Krishna watching Deepavali fireworks. From Kishangarh (Rajasthan)

What to make of this? Were our ancestors such idi0ts that they made thousands of paintings depicting Sri Krishna celebrating fireworks which may not have existed during his time? Or was it something else?

Is it possible they remembered these medieval fireworks as a successor of something which had ancient roots in Bharat and in their memory had been integral part of Hindu culture?

Hindu civilizational memory DOES NOT see Deepavali firecrackers as alien import. Rather the opposite. As another example of civilizational memory, the great Marathi Saint Eknath (16th cent CE) describes firecracker celebrations in the wedding of Rukmini and Krishna.

He describes Agniyantra, Havai, Sumanmala, Chichundari, Bhuinala etc. They can be found even today in Deccan.

The great Maharastrian saint & Shivaji Maharaj’s Guru, Samarth Ramdas also describes various kinds of fireworks burst by Sri Rama’s army in his Ramayana. These firecrackers include havaiya, nala, phula(phuljhari), ghosha etc.

Let us pause and ask ourselves.What do we make of this?

If we assume firecrackers were imported in Muslim age, the inevitable conclusion is that all great Hindu painters, poets & scholars were collectively wrong & deluding themselves when they mentioned fireworks in ancient Bharat. 

Skanda Purana says Diwali should be celebrated by holding Ulkas in our hands. These ulkas were mostly likely firebrands which served two purposes.

1) Made noise
2) Illuminated sky

Diwali celebration with firebrands was its earliest form & must date back to thousands of years. Even today, such Diwali firebrands can be found.

Take Kaunriya Kathi of Odisha. It is a basic Diwali firebrand without gunpowder. But it illuminates and makes noise.

Such firebrands illuminated sky which could explain why some commentators described उल्काहस्ता of Skanda Purana as दीप. This was older, original form. Traces of it can be found in some medieval paintings.

This painting from Mir Kalan school depicts what is close to older form:

At one point (definitely before Muslim age), Saltpetre was incorporated into firebrands. While use of such crackers gradually became widespread, more conservative ones persisted with the older form of firebrands which explains why not many ancient texts describe this innovation. 

Crackers used in Ancient Bharat were different from today’s modern crackers. Just like chairs used in ancient Bharat were different from today’s modern chairs. Does that mean Chairs are not a part of Bharatiya history? Almost everything used today is different from its predecessors. 

If one goes by this logic, one could as well conclude that Ancient Bharat had NOTHING in our culture because everything today is different from its yesteryear’s predecessors. What is relevant is that the concept existed. And the concept was quite simple. 

The concept was to use a combustible substance on the night of Deepavali to make a lot of noise, illuminate the sky and show the path to our departed ancestors. This is mentioned in the Skanda Purana itself & is true irrespective of whether or not Ulka means modern fire crackers. 

What does it all show? With advancement of technology, everything changes. But the basic concept of using combustibles to make noise and illuminate the sky on the day of Deepavali existed since ancient times. This was not a foreign import or medieval 16th century concept. 

In Sanskrit the original meaning of Ulkā (उल्का) was a “meteor”. If the ancient combustibles used in Deepavali were just lamps, they would not have been given this name. They are called Ulkās because of the similar visual appearance of crackers to meteors.

This is common sense. 

(This article has been compiled from the tweet thread originally tweeted by @BharadwajAgain – previously @TrueIndology on October 25, 2022. It includes minor edits to improve readability and conform to HinduPost style guide)

Subscribe to our channels on Telegram &  YouTube. Follow us on Twitter and Facebook

Related Articles

Web Desk
Web Desk
Content from other publications, blogs and internet sources is reproduced under the head 'Web Desk'. Original source attribution and additional HinduPost commentary, if any, can be seen at the bottom of the article. Opinions expressed within these articles are those of the author and/or external sources. HinduPost does not bear any responsibility or liability for the accuracy, completeness, suitability, or validity of any content or information provided.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

Latest Articles

Sign up to receive HinduPost content in your inbox
Select list(s):

We don’t spam! Read our privacy policy for more info.

Thanks for Visiting Hindupost

Dear valued reader, has been your reliable source for news and perspectives vital to the Hindu community. We strive to amplify diverse voices and broaden understanding, but we can't do it alone. Keeping our platform free and high-quality requires resources. As a non-profit, we rely on reader contributions. Please consider donating to Any amount you give can make a real difference. It's simple - click on this button:
By supporting us, you invest in a platform dedicated to truth, understanding, and the voices of the Hindu community. Thank you for standing with us.