Monday, 14 October 2013

Diwali (Depavalli) - A colors of Light Festival


Diwali - the 'festival of lights' is as outwardly celebratory as inwardly uplifting. Diwali is celebrated on the 'new moon day' in the month of Kartik which falls in October/ November. As per the Hindu calendar, the day is also termed 'Krishna Chaturdashi'. The boisterous fervor of Diwali is manifested in busy markets much ahead of celebration, illuminated public places and homes lit with earthen 'diyas' , candles and decorative lighting and people decked up in bright, new clothes. Men and women partake of the rituals which involves doing 'pujas' and offering 'prasad' to Gods and Goddesses.

Diwali is one of the Indian festivals celebrated all over India, with equal enthusiasm and zeal. The word 'Diwali' is the abbreviation of the Sanskrit word 'Deepavali', which means 'rows of lights'. One of the major Hindu festivals, it is celebrated to commemorate the victory of good over the evil, when Lord Rama defeated Ravana and rescued his wife Sita from his custody. It is predominantly a five-day festival, with a number of customs and rituals followed during each day. People prepare themselves for the festival weeks ahead, by cleaning and decorating their premises.

The main festival day falls on the no-moon day of the dark half of Kartik, according to the Hindu lunar calendar. Celebrated with vigor and gaiety by people of every religion, the magical effect of Diwali creates an atmosphere of joy and festivity. Innumerable lamps are lit on the roofs and windowsills of the houses, thus, giving a divine look to the whole scenario. It is said that Lakshmi, Goddess of Wealth, roams the earth on this day and enters the house that is pure, clean and brightly illuminated. Therefore, people, before exchanging gifts and bursting crackers, offer prayers to the deity.

Young and old, men and women, all dress up in new clothes on this day to illuminate their home with diyas. The deities of Goddess Lakshmi and Lord Ganesha are worshipped on Diwali, after which, the people share sweets and gifts with their relatives and friends. Fireworks, which attract the kids the most, form the highlight of the festival. The festive mood extends to the couple of days following the main day of the festival. Deepawali symbolizes the victory of righteousness and the lifting of spiritual darkness. It is the celebration of victory of good over evil - and the glory of light.

Deepavali is celebrated in Hinduism, Jainism and Sikhism. In each of these the significance varies. For Jains the day marks as the day when Mahavira attained nirvana in 527 B.C. Sikhs associate Deepavali or Diwali with the release of their sixth guru from prison named Guru Hargobind. Hindus celebrate Diwali for more than one reason. The most popular association is with day that Ram, the son Dasharatha, king of Ayodhya, returned from his banishment after 14 years. His return was welcomed by deep or diya that were lit in ghee. Another association is with the death of Narakasura by Krishna's wife Satyabhama. This is celebrated one day before Deepavali as Naraka Chaturdashi. The other is the Govardhan Puja. This is celebrated one day after Deepavali. This day holds the significance of Krishna defeating Indra.

Historically, the 'festival of lights' can be traced back to ancient India, when it was probably an important harvest festival. However, there are various legends that are associated with this festival and its origin. Some believe that the alliance between Lord Vishnu and Goddess Lakshmi sparked the origin of this festival. Other states in India believe that the return of Lord Rama along with his wife Sita and brother Lakshman, from the fourteen year exile, shaped the joyous occasion of the festival. The people of Ayodhya, in the jubilant return of their beloved king, lit the city with 'diyas' (oil lamps) and burst crackers, thus, starting the tradition of celebrating Diwali. Although the significance and the origins of this festival vary from state to state, the illumination of homes with lamps and lights is a universal expression of obeisance to the heavens for harmony, fortune and prosperity.

According to other legend, Pandavas from the Mahabharata returned to their homeland after 13 years and the day is celebrated to commemorate their return. The Sikhs celebrate this day to mark the day of freedom or the day when their Guru, Guru Hargobind got free from the jail. The Jains celebrate this day as they believe that Lord Mahavira attained enlightenment on this day. There are still other theories associated with Diwali such as the rising of Goddess Lakshmi from the sea, the killing of Narkasura by Lord Vishnu and birth of Goddess Kali.

The event is largely celebrated in India. Indians celebrate this day as the start of the new business year. People light up their homes 2-3 days prior to the festival and gifts are exchanged between friends and families. On the night of the festival, prayers are offered to Lord Vishnu and Goddess Lakshmi which is followed by bursting of fire crackers eating of sweets and other gourmet food. However, people refrain from meat and alcohol on this day. Of late, a lot of clubs have started organizing special parties on Diwali for the young generation.

Although Diwali is largely an Indian festival, it is widely celebrated in other countries.

Background of Deepawali:-
Deepawali or Diwali is a festival of lights symbolizing the victory of righteousness and the lifting of spiritual darkness.  The word “Deepawali” refers to rows of diyas, or clay lamps. This is one of the most popular festivals in the Hindu calendar. It is celebrated on the 15th day of Kartika, according to the Hindu calendar. This festival commemorates Lord Rama's return to his kingdom Ayodhya after completing his 14-year exile. The myths around Rama and Ravana are told during another holiday, known as Dussehra or Vijaya Dashami.

The Goddess Lakshmi was Vishnu’s consort and she symbolizes wealth and prosperity. She is also worshipped on Diwali. This festival is celebrated in West Bengal as "Kali Puja", and Kali, Shiva's consort, is worshipped during Diwali. The Diwali festival in southern India often commemorates the conquering of the Asura Naraka, a king of Assam who imprisoned many people. It is believed that Krishna freed the prisoners.

Many Buddhists in India mark anniversary of the Emperor Ashoka’s conversion to Buddhism around the time of Diwali. Many scholars believe that Ashoka lived between 270BCE and 232 BCE. Many people who observe Jainism mark the anniversary of Mahavira's (or Lord Mahavir) attainment of nirvana on October 15, 527 BCE. Mahavira established the central spiritual ideas of Jainism. Many Jains celebrate the Festival of Lights in his honor.

Bandi Chhorh Divas, which is the Sikh celebration of the sixth Nanak's (Guru Har Gobind) return from detention in the Gwalior Fort, coincides with Diwali. This coincidence has resulted in the similarity of celebrating the day among many Sikhs and Hindus

Celebrations and Rituals:-
Celebrations and ritual for the festival begins days and weeks in advance. Every household indulges in a list of activities that marks the occasion. Cleaning of the house and office forms the priority. It is believed that the house should be neat and clean for the Goddess of wealth Laxmi, to give her blessings. As such, one week before the festivity, the house is cleaned and kept tidy. Rangoli' motifs are made on the entrance, to welcome Goddess Lakshmi. Celebrations last for five days. On day one, which is known as Dhanteras, people indulge in lighting lamps and candles. It is considered auspicious to buy gold and silver on this day. Many people opt for buying new utensils on this day.On the second day of Diwali, people illuminate their homes with diyas and burst crackers, thus setting the mood for the oncoming of the festival. The third day is the main day wherein people wear new clothes and indulge in ceremonious activities. The whole house is illuminated with 'diyas' and candles. Fireworks and crackers take a major part on this day celebrations. Later the next day, 'Govardhan-Puja' or 'Annakoot' is practiced. The deities are bathed with milk and adorned with precious clothes and ornaments. The fifth day is the last day of the festival and is called ' Bhai Duj '. On this day, sisters invite their brothers and their family to their homes and treat them with delicacies. In turn, brothers offer them with gifts and sweets.

 Festivities during Diwali:-
Additionally, Diwali festival in India is celebrated over a period of five days in many parts of the country. These days include Dhanteras, Naraka Chaturdashi, Lakshmi Puja, Govardhana Puja, and Bhai Dooj. On Dhanteras, which actually means the thirteenth day of the lunar month, people purchase utensils and gold as it is considered an auspicious occasion. On Naraka Chaturdashi, people commemorate the slaying of the demon Narakasura as it was the 14th day on which the demon was killed.

On Laxmi Puja, people worship Goddess Laxmi, who is considered the Goddess of wealth and prosperity. Govardhan Puja is the worship of Lord Krishna, which is celebrated as the day on which Lord Krishna obtained victory over Lord Indra. In Gujarat, this day is also celebrated as the New Year, and the first day of the new Vikram Samavat. On Bhai Dooj, sisters meet brothers and vice versa and exchange presents and sweets to express their fondness and affection for each other.

Every one in the family gets up early in the morning and puts on new clothes. Especially on this day, children and parents alike burst crackers, make use of a variety of fireworks at night and light lamps to celebrate the occasion. It's a great joy to see crackers bursting and joyful people all around celebrating this festival with a lot of happiness and gaiety. On many occasions, even people of other faiths join together in celebrating this occasion as one.

Hanumanji is offered pujan using oil and sindur.
It is traditional to eat 'vadaa' and items made from 'udad' (lentils) on this day. Also known as Deepawali and
Deepotsav, this festival occurs on Aso vad 15 (Amaas), the final day of the Hindu year.

Origin of Festival:-
There are five stories celebrating this day:

Lord Krishna vanquished Narkaasur, releasing people from misery.
Lord Pruthu extracted goodness from the earth.
During the Samudra Manthan, Lakshmiji emerged from the ocean.
The Pandavs returned from their forest exile.
Lord Ramachandra returned to Ayodhya after his victory over Rawan in Lanka.
In essence people light divas on this day to depict their joy on being released from suffering inflicted by evil elements.

The first day of Diwali festivities is known as Dhanteras, on which most of the business communities in India begin their financial year. This day is considered highly auspicious for buying gold and silver, either in the form of ornaments or coins. Naraka Chaturdasi marks the second day of festivities; it is believed that Lord Krishna slayed a demon named Narakasura on this day. On the third day, Deepavali is celebrated, which involves the worship of Goddess Laksmi and Lord Ganesha. Besides this, houses are illuminated most ostentatiously with diyas, candles and various multicolor designer strings of light bulbs. The night sky comes alive with the glitter of firecrackers. On the fourth day, Govardhan Puja is performed, whereas the final day is known as Bhai Dooj and celebrates the love between a brother and sister.

The scriptures mention the divinity called Dhanvantari emerging from the churning of the ocean holding a kalash (pot) filled with Amrit (ambrosia). Due to the fact that Dhanvantari, who revealed the science of Ayurveda to the world, first manifested on this day, all over India, doctors following the Ayurvedic system of medicine organise joyful celebrations during the annual Dhanvantari festival.

Naraka Chaturdashi:-
Narakaasura was a demon king ruling over Praagjyotishapura (the present-day Assam ). By virtue of his powers and boons secured from God, he became all-conquering. Power made him swollen-headed and he became a menace to the good and the holy men and even the Gods. The Gods headed by Devendra implored Sri Krishna who was at Dwaaraka (in the present-day Gujarat ) to come to their rescue. Sri Krishna responded. He marched from the western end of the country to its eastern end, Praagjyotishapura, destroyed the huge army which opposed him finally beheaded Narakaasura himself.

The populace was freed from the oppressive tyranny and all heaved a sigh of relief. The 16,000 women kept in captivity by the demon king were freed. With a view to removing any stigma on them and according social dignity, Sri Krishna gave all of them the status of his wives. After the slaying of Narakaasura Sri Krishna bathed himself smearing his body with oil in the early morning of Chaturdashi. Hence the invigorating vogue of taking an early morning `oil-bath' on that day.

Mother Earth, whose son Narakaasura was, requested Sri Krishna that the day be celebrated as one of jubilation. Sri Krishna granted the request and since then the tradition has continued. Mother Earth reconciled herself to the loss of her son and knowing as she did that the Lord had punished her son for the sake of the welfare of the world, she set a glowing example of how one has to brush aside one's personal joys and sorrows in the interest of society. It is this deliverance of the people from the clutches of the asuras that fill the people with joy.

Sri Rama:-
Deepavali falls on a no-moon day - in fact the darkest day of the year. The illuminations and fireworks, joy and festivities, are to signify the victory of divine forces over the powers of darkness. On Deepavali day,
triumphant Sri Rama is said to have returned to Ayodhya after defeating Ravana, the asura king of Lanka.

Goddess Lakshmi Devi:-
The Puranas say that it was on this day that Goddess Lakshmi, who emerged from the churning of the ocean
of milk (Ksheera Sagara), married Lord Vishnu, the repository of all divine qualities.

Govardhana Puja:-
In order to shelter the gopis and gopas and their cows from the torrential rains sent by Indra, Krishna lifted a hill near Mathura called Govardhana with his finger and sheltered all the people for a period of seven days
under it. By then Indra saw Krishna's greatness and asked him for forgiveness.

Bhaiyya Dooj:-
The river Yamuna and Yama, the God of Death, were brother and sister. As they grew up they went their different ways. On this day Yama supposedly visited his sister Yamuna, who in her joy at seeing her brother after such a long interlude set up a feast for him. Pleased, Yama granted her a boon. He declared that every man that receives a tilak or vermilion mark on the forehead from his sister and presents her with lovely gifts on this day would attain higher worlds.

Diwali in different regions:-

In Orissa:-
In Orissa, lamps are lit to light up the dark path that celebrates the return of Rama, Sita and Lakshmana to Ayodhya after a 14- year exile. In modern times, ghee diyas have been replaced by wax candles and coloured electric bulbs. In many areas, there is a competition of sorts among neighbours as everyone tries to have the belief is that the crackers are an indication of the joy of the people living on the earth, making the gods aware of their plentiful state. Still another possible reason has amore scientific basis: the fumes produced by the crackers kill a lot of insects, found in plenty after the rains.The use of high-tech bomb crackers is fairly recent. At times, Diwali celebrations get ugly, especially in the metropolitan cities. In New Delhi, people start bursting crackers in the evening and this continues till the early hours of the morning. As a result, the city is engulfed in toxic fumes and smoke for almost 10 hours. Another problem with crackers is that their manufacture is usually unregulated. As a result, the manufacturing units are unsafe and the material used is inflammable and toxic. Every year, many units are destroyed in accidental fires, resulting in the death of those employed there.

In Kerala:-
Kerala is probably the only state in India where even Hindus do not celebrate Diwali. The major festival there is Onam. In West Bengal, Kali Puja is performed on Diwali as it is believed that on this day Kali killed the wicked Raktavija. Being one of the main festivals of the trader community, markets are gaily decorated and lit up. Many safety measures and precautions are telecast on television and radio, especially for children. The fire departments are kept on the alert, and the municipal corporations of bigger cities also organise buckets and tankers of water at strategic locations. The second day after Diwali is celebrated as Bhai Duja when sisters apply tilak to their brothers and pray for their long and happy life. In all likelihood, this ritual was originally intended only for married women. Sincethey celebrated Diwali with their in-laws, this festival allowed them to come to their parents' home during this auspicious time. They got some time t omeet the family and to rest after the hectic activity of the preceding week. And it gave their parents an opportunity to give them gifts, an opportunity they did not often get. Nowadays however,among many communities Bhai Duja is observed by both married and unmarried sisters.

The Jain communities of India celebrate Diwali as a New Year's Day. Lord Mahavira, the founder of Jainism, attained his Nirvana on the day of Diwali.
Sikhs celebrate Diwali to express joy at the return of the sixth Guru to Amritsar in 1620; Emperor Jahangir had imprisoned him along with 52 Hindu kings.

The Guru was granted freedom but refused to leave until the kings were also released.

Although Diwali is largely an Indian festival, it is widely celebrated in other countries as well such as Malaysia, Sri Lanka, Singapore, Nepal, Myanmar, Maurititus and Fiji. In fact, Diwali is a national holiday in each of these countries.