India is land of festivals and rich culture with the calendar overridden with various religious and regional festivals throughout the year. Diwali or Deepavali, the festival of lights and celebration is an important festival all over India. Diwali symbolizes the victory of light over darkness, knowledge over ignorance, good over evil, and hope over despair. It is a festival celebrated typically over a five day period with the main night of festivities or the Diwali night being the one with the darkest, new moon night of the Hindu Luna-solar month of Kartika. In the Gregorian calendar, Diwali night falls between mid-October and mid-November.
The night of Diwali is celebrated by different religions in different ways. For example, the Jains celebrate this festival of lights to mark the attainment of moksha by Mahavira while the Sikhs celebrate the Bandi Chor Divas and so on.
The onset of Diwali is marked by the cleaning up and renovations of the homes followed by its decoration with bright colorful lights. People dress up in their best outfits, light up diyas(lamps) both inside and outside their homes and participate in family pujas offering prayers to goddess Lakshmi- the goddess of wealth and prosperity. During this festival, the air is filled with the noise of the firecrackers and the skies lit with a multitude of colors. The families get together over sumptuous meals with a lot of sweets and exchange gifts and niceties amongst each other and close friends.
Diwali also marks beginning of a shopping frenzy in the nations celebrating it with goods being sold at some of the best discounted rates. The five festive days and rituals of Diwali vary significantly among Hindus, based on the region of India. In many parts of India, the festivities start with Dhanteras, followed by Naraka Chaturdasi on second day, Diwali on the third day, Diwali Padva dedicated to wife-husband relationship on the fourth day, and festivities end with Bhau-beej dedicated to sister-brother bond on the fifth day. Dhanteras usually falls eighteen days after Dussehra.
Stories and Legends
Return of Shri Ram To Ayodhyaa
According to this famous myth, the king of Lanka, Ravana, kidnapped the righteous prince Ram’s wife – Sita from the jungle, where they were exiled to by King Dashratha, father of Lord Ram. The story speaks of Ram’s great heroism in defeating Ravana and rescuing Sita from his custody. The victorious arrival of Lord Ram with his wife Sita and brother Lakshmana, back into the city of Ayodhya after their exile was celebrated by people of Ayodhya with the decoration of their homes as well as the city of Ayodhya by lighting tiny diyas or lamps everywhere, symbolizing the triumph of the good over evil and thus paving way for the famous festival of lights.
Incarnation of Goddess Lakshmi
In the Indian myths, the auspicious new moon day known as the ‘Amavasyaa’ of the Hindi month of Kartik is said to mark the incarnation of the Goddess of wealth and prosperity – Lakshmi. She is said to have appeared during the churning of the ocean, which is known as ‘Samudra Manthan’, by the demons on one side and ‘Devataas’ (Gods) on the other side. Thus the day being celebrated as Diwali with the homes adorned to welcome good luck and wealth by welcoming goddess Lakshmi into the humble abodes.
Lord Krishna Destroyed Demon Narakasur
One famous story behind the celebrations of Diwali is about the demon king Narakasur, who was ruler of Pragjyotishpur, a province to the South of Nepal. On acquiring victory over Lord Indra during a war, Narakasur snatched away the magnificent earrings of Mother Goddess Aditi, who was not only the ruler of Suraloka, but also a relative of Lord Krishna’s wife – Satyabhama. Narakasur also imprisoned sixteen thousand daughters of Gods and saints in his harem. With the support of Lord Krishna, Satyabhama defeated Narakasur, released all the women from his harem and restored the magnificent earrings of Mother Goddess Aditi.
The Return of The Pandavas
The great Hindu epic ‘Mahabharata’ has another interesting story related to the ‘Kartik Amavasyaa’. According to the story, ‘the Pandavas’, the five brothers Yudhishthhira, Bhima, Arjuna, Nakula and Sahdeva, were sentenced to thirteen years exile as a result of their defeat against ‘the Kauravas’ – Duryodhana and his ninety nine brothers, at the game of dice. Therefore, the Pandavas spent thirteen years in the jungles and returned to their kingdom on the day of ‘Kartik Amavasyaa’. On their return, the people of their kingdom welcomed the Pandavas by celebrating the event by lighting the earthen lamps all over in their city.
Coronation of King Vikramaditya
Another legend or story about Diwali celebrations relates to one of the greatest Hindu King – Vikramaditya. It was the day when he was coroneted and the people celebrated this event by lighting tiny earthen ‘diyas’.
Diwali dates back to ancient times in India, as a festival post the summer harvest in the Hindu calendar month of Kartik. The festival is mentioned in Padma Purana, the Skanda Purana, and other Sanskrit Hindu scriptures; the diyas (lamps) are mentioned in Skanda Purana to symbolically represent parts of sun, the cosmic giver of light and energy to all life, who seasonally transitions in the Hindu calendar month of Kartik.
Significance of the Festival in Different Regions
The five day festival of Diwali begins on the day Lakshmi was born from the churning of cosmic ocean of milk during the tug of war between the forces of good and forces of evil; the night of Diwali is the day Lakshmi chose Vishnu as her husband and then married him. Some Hindus offer pujas to additional or alternate deities such as Kali, Ganesha, Saraswati, and Kubera. Other Hindus believe that Diwali is the day Vishnu came back to Lakshmi and their abode in the Vaikuntha; so those who worship Lakshmi receive the benefit of her good mood, and therefore are blessed with mental, physical and material well-being during the year ahead.
In India’s eastern region, such as West Bengal, Lakshmi is not worshipped, only deity Kali is worshipped and the festival is called Kali Puja. In India’s Braj and north central regions, deity Krishna is recognized. People mark Mount Govardhan, and celebrate legends about Krishna. In other regions, the feast of Annakoot is celebrated, with 56 or 108 different cuisines prepared, offered to Krishna, then shared and celebrated by the local community.
In West, South and certain Northern parts of India, the festival of Diwali marks the start of a new Hindu year. Along with Goddess Lakshmi, offerings are made to Ganesha who symbolizes ethical beginnings and fearless remover of obstacles; Saraswati who symbolizes music, literature and learning; and Kubera who symbolizes book keeping, treasury and wealth management
The Five Days Of Diwali
Dhanteras kick starts the five day festival. During this day,houses and business premises are cleaned, renovated and decorated. Women and children decorate entrances with Rangoli – creative floral designs both inside and in the walkways of their homes or offices. Boys and men get busy with external lighting arrangements and completing all renovation work in progress. This day marks the birthday of Lakshmi – the Goddess of Wealth and Prosperity, and the birthday of Dhanvantari – the Goddess of Health and Healing. On the night of Dhanteras, diyas (lamps) are ritually kept burning all through the nights in honor of Lakshmi and Dhanvantari.
Narak Chaturdasi is the second day of festivities, and is also called Choti Diwali. Typically, house decoration and colourful floor patterns called rangoli are made on or before Narak Chaturdasi. Special bathing rituals such as fragrant oil bath are held in some regions, followed by minor pujas. Women decorate their hands with henna designs. Families are also busy preparing homemade sweets for main Diwali.
The third day is the main festive day showcasing people in their best attires and moods. Then diyas are lit and pujas are offered to Lakshmi, and to one or more additional deities depending on the region of India; typically Ganesha, Saraswati, and Kubera. Lakshmi symbolises wealth and prosperity, and her blessings are invoked for a good year ahead.
The day sees the skies lit with firecrackers and rockets and the distribution of sweets to neighbours and family member to invoke good will and blessings for the year ahead.
Diwali also marks the beginning of New Year, in some parts of India, where the Hindu Vikrama calendar is popular. Merchants and shopkeepers close out their old year, and start a new fiscal year with blessings from Lakshmi and other deities.
The day after Diwali, is celebrated as Padwa. This day ritually celebrates the love and mutual devotion between the wife and husband. The husbands offer gifts to their spouses and iIn many regions, newly married daughters with their husbands are invited for special meals. Sometimes brothers go and pick up their sisters from their in-laws home for this important day. The day is also a special day for the married couple, in a manner similar to anniversaries elsewhere in the world. The day after Diwali devotees perform Goverdhan puja in honor of Lord Krishna.
Bhai Duj, Bhaiya Dooj
The last day of festival is called Bhai dooj (Brother’s second). It celebrates the sister-brother relationship, in a spirit similar to Raksha Bandhan but with different rituals. The day ritually emphasizes the love and lifelong bond between siblings. It is a day when women and girls get together, perform a puja with prayers for the well being of their brothers, then return to a ritual of food-sharing, gift-giving and merriment. In historic times, this was a day in autumn when brothers would travel to meet their sisters, or bring over their sister’s family to their village homes to celebrate their sister-brother bond with the bounty of seasonal harvests.
The Significance of Lights & Firecrackers
The simplest of rituals in the festival are of the greatest significance. One such ritual is the illumination of homes with lights and the skies with firecrackers which express gratitude to the heavens for the attainment of health, wealth, knowledge, peace and prosperity. As per one popular belief, the sound of fire-crackers is an indication of the joy by the people on earth to the gods of their prosperity and abundance. Another possible logical reason which has a more scientific basis is that the fumes produced by the crackers kill a lot of insects and mosquitoes, found in plenty after the rains.
Diwali in Kerala
Diwali is popularly known as Deepavali in the native tongue in Kerala and it falls on the preceding day of the New Moon in the Malayalam month of Thulam (October–November). In kerala, the Deepavali celebrations are the result of the Narakasura Vadha legend, where Sri Krishna destroyed the demon. The day signifies the triumph of the good over the evil , namely the death of Narakasura.Unlike other parts of India, and other South Indian states, Deepavali is a low profile festival in Kerala and celebrated mostly by Hindus.