Indian festival season has already begun. No matter where we reside in this vibrant
country and what faith we adhere to, if there’s one festival that truly ties us
together, it’s Diwali. While most other festivals are celebrated in certain
regions or are specific to a certain zone in the country, Diwali is celebrated widely
across the expanse of India. Certainly, being the variegated country India is,
every community, every region, every culture has its unique manner of
celebrating this festival of lights.
Diwali is marked as the celebration of King Rama’s
return to Ayodhya after
his victory over Ravana, as described
in the epic Ramayana. Alternatively,
the basis of the festival is traced back to the Mahabharata, where Diwali is
marked by the return of the five Pandavas from
their exile in the forest. In a different tale from the mountains of Himachal,
the great war of Mahabharata commenced on the first day of Diwali. Another story
in the background of the festival symbolizes the day of Narak Chaturdashi, the
14th day of the second half of the month Ashwin (also
known as Aswayuja, it is the seventh month of the lunisolar Hindu
calendar) and the second day of Diwali. It is the day when Lord
Krishna exterminated the devil Narakasur and liberated the 16,000 women he had
primarily celebrated by Hindus, Jains, Sikhs, and some Buddhists, the celebration of
Diwali has crossed these boundaries way long ago and is thus observed by people
hailing from all backgrounds and walks of life. Further, it is quite an the important cultural occasion for the Hindu, Sikh, and Jain diaspora. The Jains
observe a Diwali distinct from others, which marks the final liberation of Mahavira (According
texts, Lord Mahavira, the twenty-fourth and last Tirthankara, is
said to have attained Nirvana on
the day of Diwali), the Sikhs celebrate Bandi Chhor Divas to commemorate
the release of Guru Hargobind from a Mughal prison, while Newar Buddhists
observe Diwali by worshipping Goddess Lakshmi, whereas
the Hindus hailing from the Eastern part of India and Bangladesh usually
celebrate Diwali by worshipping the goddess Kali. In regions
of Himachal Pradesh, at Ani and Nirmand in Kullu district, Shillai in Sirmaur
district, and Chopal in Shimla district, Diwali is celebrated a month after
it’s celebrated in the remaining country. This is also the reason that it’s not
known as Diwali, but rather as Budhi Diwali (implying old Diwali). As
victorious Rama came back, the news circulated in his kingdom. The people of
Ayodhya was ecstatic at their beloved King’s homecoming after fourteen long
years and thus celebrated by lighting lamps and distributing sweets. But then, given
the mountainous northern region was distant from the capital, it took nearly a
month for the news to reach there. They started the celebrations as soon as
they got the news, but it was a month after the celebrations took place in the
rest of the kingdom. It is interesting to note that the principal day of the
festival of Diwali (the day of Lakshmi
is an official holiday in many places other than India, namely Fiji, Guyana,
Malaysia, Mauritius, Myanmar, Nepal, Pakistan, Singapore, Sri Lanka, Suriname,
and Trinidad and Tobago.
of Diwali is to teach an enormously substantial lesson to everyone. That ‘good’
always triumphs over ‘evil’, the same way Lord Rama emerged victorious in the
battle. The tradition of lighting oil lamps symbolizes the victory of good over
evil and freedom from spiritual darkness.
term ‘Diwali’ is derived from the Sanskrit word ‘deepawali’ meaning
"series or trail of lights". This word is taken from the Sanskrit the word ‘dipa’, which indicates a source of "light that which glows,
shines, illuminates or provides knowledge". Diwali is celebrated over five
days generally, during the Hindu lunisolar month Kartika (between mid-October
and mid-November) – each day has a legend as a backstory for why it is
celebrated in the said manner.
first day of Diwali is called Dhan Teras (Dhanvantari
Triodas). The sixteen-year-old son of King Hima’s horoscope
predicted his death by snake-bite on the fourth day of his marriage. On that
particular day, his newly-wed wife did not allow him to sleep. With a plan to
save her husband, she laid out all her ornaments and lots of gold and silver
coins in a heap at the entrance of the sleeping chamber and lit lamps all over
the place. Then she started narrating stories and singing songs to keep her
husband from falling asleep. The next day, when Yamraja, the God of Death,
arrived at the prince's doorstep in the guise of a Serpent, his eyes were
dazzled and blinded by the brilliance of the lamps and the jewelry. Yamraja
could not enter the prince’s chamber, so he climbed on top of the heap of gold
coins and sat there the entire night listening to the stories and songs. In the
morning, he silently went away. Thus, the young prince was saved from the
clutches of death by the cleverness of his new bride and the day is celebrated
as Dhanteras, ever since.
day is also known as Narak Chaturdasi and Kali Chaudas. The legend behind the day is associated with the demon king Narakasur who
was a ruler of Pragjyotishpur, a province to the South of Nepal. Lord Krishna
destroyed the demon Narakasur on this day, freeing the world from fear and also
releasing the imprisoned ladies from Narakasur's harem.
believed that Goddess Lakshmi manifested herself on this day when the demons
and deities were churning the ocean together to find out the 'drink of
immortality'. Thus, Diwali is also celebrated to commemorate the birth of the
Goddess of Wealth, Lakshmi.
Govardhan is a small hillock situated at 'Braj', near Mathura. As the legend goes, on this day, Lord Krishna taught people to worship the supreme controller of nature, God, specifically Govardhan, as Govardhan is a manifestation of Krishna and to stop worship in the God of Rains, Lord Indra.
The day is also dedicated to the Hindu God, Lord Vishwakarma, who, as per mythology, created the weapons used in mythological times. Lord Vishwakarma is considered to be the best worker, the symbol of quality and excellence in craftsmanship. His creations also include the mythical town of Dwarka, the capital of Lord Krishna. The day is also celebrated as Lord Vishwakarma's birthday in many parts of India.
the most famous legends around Bhai Dooj narrates the story of Yamraja and
Yamuna. Yamraja visited his sister Yamuna on
this day. Pleased by her love and affection, Yamraja gave his sister a Vardaan
(boon) that whosoever visits her on this day, shall be liberated from all sins.
Since then, the custom of celebrating Bhai Dooj started and is also known as Yama
also believed that it was on the day of Diwali that Goddess Lakshmi was rescued
from a prison by the fifth incarnation of Vishnu in Vaman avatar. King
Mahabali, was a powerful demon king who ruled the earth. Bali was invincible
and even devas failed to defeat him in battles. Lord Vishnu disguised
himself as a short Brahmin and approached Bali for some charity. The righteous
and benevolent King couldn't refuse the Brahmin and was tricked into giving up
his kingship and wealth (of which Lakshmi considered to be the Goddess). Diwali
marks this overcoming of Mahabali by Lord Vishnu. This is the reason behind worshipping
Goddess Lakshmi on the day Diwali. In Kerala, it is observed as Onam in the
month of August.
Ganesha, known as a demolisher of obstacles, is worshipped on
Diwali for wisdom and intellect. A popular tale from Hindu mythology says that
Lakshmi adopted Ganesha from his mother Parvati because the former was
childless. Out of her love for Ganesha, Lakshmi declared that all her luxury,
prosperity and accomplishments is Ganesh's as well. She also said that in all
the three worlds, (trilok)
anyone who doesn't worship Ganesh with her will never see prosperity in his
life. Another explanation which surrounds the worship of both of them is that
Ganesh is the most righteous God. There is no wealth without prosperity, there
is no money without the wisdom to use it properly. All the material gains in
the world would not be permanent without intelligence. So, Ganesha is
worshipped to restore the balance between these two forces.
rural areas, Diwali signifies Harvest Festival. Diwali which occurs at the end
of a cropping season has along with the above custom, a few others that
reinforce the hypothesis of its having originated as a harvest. Every harvest
normally spelt prosperity. The celebration was first started in India by
farmers after they reaped their harvests. They celebrated with joy and offered
praises to God for granting them a good crop.
fact, the four-day-long Chhath
festivities dedicated to the Sun God (Surya
Bhagwan) and Chhathi Maiyya, begin four days after Diwali, i.e.,
on the Chaturthi Tithi of Kartik Shukla Paksha. On the first day, devotees
perform the Nahay Khay ritual. And on the second day (Panchami Tithi),
people prepare a Kheer and observe a vrat and break it in the evening after
offering their prayers to Chhathi Maiya. This ritual is called Kharna or
Lohanda. On the third day (Sashti Tithi), devotees offer their prayers to the
Sun God by performing a ritual called Sandhya Arghya. And on the Saptami
Tithi, they pay ode to the rising Sun by offering the Usha Arghya. After
performing all the rituals, devotees who keep a vrat break their fast.
preparation for Diwali begins many days prior to the festival. It starts with
the thorough cleaning of houses and shops. Many people also discard all the old
household items and get all the renovation work done before the onset of the
festival. It is an age-old belief that
Goddess Lakshmi visits people’s houses on Diwali night to bless them. Hence,
all the devotees clean and decorate their houses with lights, flowers, rangoli,
garlands etc. for the festival. People cover streets and buildings in festive
lighting and there are lively songs and dance. Dazzling fireworks go off,
creating a spectacle of noise and light. Many consider Diwali to be a fresh
start, similar to the Lunar New Year in January. Diwali is also a time to
settle debts and make peace. It’s common for people to reach out to loved ones
who may have lost touch and organise family reunions. It is in
true sense the festival of unity in diversity. It brings people together
inspite of religious, cultural, social or geographical barriers.
Rangoli is a
timeless tradition that is followed all over India. Rangoli is also known as
Alpana, Aripoma, or Kolam. It is an ancient art, practiced by almost all
households. In many cases, designs are passed down through generations with
some of them being hundreds of years old. The word 'Rangoli' is said to have
been derived from the words 'Rang' and 'Aavalli' which refers to
a row of colours. Rangoli designs and colours vary between different regions
but they all follow some basic patterns. A Rangoli usually has a geometrical
structure that is also symmetrical. The design patterns often consist of
natural elements like animals, flowers, etc. Diwali is celebrated, primarily to
herald the coming of the Goddess Lakshmi. Prayers are offered to her, asking
for her blessings in the form of wealth. As such, a Rangoli design is created
at the entrance of the house, not only to welcome the guests that visit, but
also the Goddess herself. Rangoli patterns are usually made using coloured
chalk, rice powder, and crushed limestone. A Rangoli drawn during Diwali
usually follows a certain theme. The central design or motif is symbolic and
represents a deity or the main concept of the theme. A Rangoli design usually
has a geometric shape, which is supposed to denote the infiniteness of time. A
Rangoli is also bordered by a lotus design, to represent the Goddess Lakshmi.
The lotus is also symbolic for the beginning of life. When drawn as an outline,
it could also refer to a heart or a wheel.
northern parts of Bihar, Lakshmi's footprints are drawn on the doorstep, with
the toes pointing towards the entrance of the house. A typical Rangoli drawn in
Andhra Pradesh, has an eight-petal lotus which is formed by a variety of
geometric patterns. This lotus is called 'Ashtadal Kamal'. In Tamil
Nadu, an Eight-Pointed star, referred to as 'Hridaya Kalam', replaces
the eight-petal lotus. This means the lotus of the heart. Gujarat itself is
said to have almost a thousand variations of the lotus that are drawn during
Diwali. ‘Sanskar Bharati’ Rangoli is very popular in Maharashtra which
is drawn in a free hand style. It is mainly drawn in circular form. It is drawn
in big as well as small circles. The way of drawing this style of Rangoli is a
little different. In the beginning colours are spread on the floor and then
design is made with white Rangoli on these colours. These designs include
different holy symbols depicting Indian culture, rituals, customs and
traditions. People also use different geometric shapes to make it look even
more attractive. Sanskar Bharati Rangoli is an epitome of Indian Culture and
tradition which represents the Sanskars
(sacraments) of Indic tradition.
wouldn't actually be celebrating Diwali without having sweet delicacies. Indian
sweets come in a variety of colours and flavours. Indian families celebrating
Diwali prepare sweets prior ten days to the festival. However, the celebration
features various rich savoury and sweet dishes. While eating out is popular,
families will mostly cook food at home for when the relatives arrive in and
exchange gifts and watch fireworks. Each family celebrating Diwali will more
than likely have its own favourite meal for the festival. It’s customary to eat
either vegan or vegetarian during Diwali. Traditionally Indian sweets are
called ‘Mithai’. It is an old tradition of considering sweets to be pure and an
offering to the gods. Sweets are a small gesture of greeting people, family,
and friends with the joy of celebrating the festival. A wide range of choices
of flavours and endless types are a must at any festival and especially Diwali.
Shakkarpaara, Chevdo, Sev, Pakoras, Barfi, Kheer, Jalebi, Laddoos, Ghugra,
Gulab Jamun, Gujia, Mathia Papad, Halwa, Batata Vada, Thattai, Murukku,
Nankhatai etc, are some foods enjoyed during the festival.
marks the victory of Lord Krishna over the evil demon Narakashura. This
symbolizes the victory of good over evil. Humans are made of three basic
qualities - sattva, rajas and tamas. These qualities symbolize goodness,
passion and destruction. Since none of these qualities can be totally
eliminated from a person, there needs to be a perfect balance among them.
is the source of happiness. According to Swami
Vivekananda, "Each soul is potentially divine. The
goal is to manifest the divinity within you." Lighting earthen lamps is a
symbolic representation of kindling the divinity within us by lighting the lamp
of knowledge to drive away the darkness of ignorance. As Sri
Ramakrishna Paramahamsa said, "A lamp cannot burn without
oil; similarly, a man cannot live without God."
Rama is the perfect example of how important it is to be humble and gentle.
That is why he was known as 'Maryada Purushottam' (Lord of Virtue). He
was always seen as being the perfect son to his parents, the ideal protector of
dharma and a living example of morality.
isn't confined to Hinduism. Jains celebrate it as the day when Vardhamana
Mahavira, the last Tirthankara or Teaching God, attained eternal
nirvana - spiritual liberation. Sikhs celebrate this day as Bandichor Diwas
(Day of Liberation) to mark the release of Guru Hargobind from Gwalior prison
where he had been a political prisoner. In Nepal, people celebrate the day as
the anniversary of King Ashoka's conversion to Buddhism. Diwali is, therefore,
a great example of the brotherhood of religions.
is the time for family get-togethers. It signifies the importance of
brotherhood and the joy of togetherness.
very purpose of celebrating festivals is to make people around us happy, for
true happiness comes from little acts of kindness. Diwali is the time when we
indulge in such generous acts.
thing will come to an end one day for sure – what we need to do is to have
patience. It helps build our reputations for persistence and improves our
relationships with all those around us. Sometimes we don't have all the answers
that we want in life when we want them. That's okay because we learn and grow
through challenges along the way.
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Ramin, and Vellotti, Jean-Paul. Sweet Hands: Island Cooking from Trinidad
& Tobago. New York: Hippocrene Books, 2006. Print.
Bahadur, Om. The book of Hindu festivals and ceremonies. UBS Publishers
Distributors; 2nd edition. 1994. Print.
James. Hinduism. New York: InfoBase Publishing. 2004. Print.
Kate. Diwali. New York: Crabtree Publishing Company, 2008. Print.
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