(Last Updated on : 27/11/2012)
Diwali, Indian festival, is one of the grandest festivals celebrated across the world which means `row of lights`. It is celebrated all over India with equal enthusiasm and zeal, in the month of October-November. Hindus all over India celebrate Diwali whole-heartedly. Lighting up entire house with earthenware lamps, decorating it, making rangolis outside the porch of the house, shopping for new clothes, bursting crackers distributing sweets are the spirits tagged to Diwali. According to the Hindu calendar, it is celebrated in the last days of Ashvina and at the beginning of Kartika, exactly twenty days after Dussehra
. It is celebrated to honour the return of Lord Rama
and Sita to their kingdom of Ayodhya
, after fourteen years of exile; thus, lamps are lit as a sign of celebration as well as hope for mankind against evil.
It is a composite festival, which includes other small festivals as well. To add to the festival of Diwali, fairs called Melas are held throughout India. A mela generally becomes a market day in the countryside and there are also plenty of activities that take place at a mela. These activities include performances from jugglers, acrobats, snake charmers and fortune-tellers. Food stalls, selling sweet and spicy foods, are set up and a variety of rides are also present during the fair.
There are few popular legends associated with Diwali and different parts of India have their version to explain. All the versions are given below:
It is celebrated as the marriage ceremony of Goddess Lakshmi with Lord Vishnu. Goddess Lakshmi`s birthday: The Goddess of wealth, Lakshmi incarnated on the new moon day (amaavasyaa) of the Kartik month during the churning of the ocean (samudra manthan), hence the association of Diwali with Lakshmi.
In West Bengal, the festival is dedicated to the worship of Mother Kali, the goddess of strength.
On the day preceding Diwali, myth has it that Lord Krishna assassinated the demon king Narakasur and rescued 16,000 women from his captivity and the following freedom went on for two days including the Diwali day as a victory festival.
Mahabharata tells one, that it was a Kartik Amavashya when the Pandavas appeared from their 12 years of banishment as a result of their defeat in the hands of the Kauravas at the game of dice. The subjects who loved the Pandavas celebrated the day by lighting the earthen lamps.
The Victory of Rama: According to the epic Ramayana, it was the new moon day of Kartik when Lord Ram, Ma Sita and Lakshman returned to Ayodhya after vanquishing Ravana and conquering Lanka. The citizens of Ayodhya decorated the entire city with the earthen lamps and illuminated it like never before.
In Jainism, Deepavali has an added significance to the great event of Lord Mahavira attaining the eternal bliss of nirvana. Four days of the Diwali have different legends, saga and myths to talk about and thus Diwali is celebrated in the following format:
1st Day - Dhanteras
The first day of Diwali is known as Dhanteras (Dhan means "wealth" and Teras means 13th day). Thus, as the name implies, this day falls on the 13th day of the first half of the lunar month. According to a legend, a sixteen year old son of King Hima was, was doomed to die by a snakebite on the fourth day of his marriage. Thus, on that particular fourth day of his marriage, his young wife laid all the ornaments and many gold and silver coins in a big heap at the entrance of her husband`s room and lighted innumerable lamps all over the place. When Yama, the god of Death, arrived there in the guise of a Serpent, he was blinded by the dazzle of brilliant lights and he could not enter the Prince`s chamber. So, he climbed on top of the heap of the ornaments and coins and sat there whole night listening to the melodious songs, which the young wife was singing and in the morning, he quietly went away. Since then, this day of Dhanteras came to be known as the day of "Yamadeepan". In the beginning of this day, people bathe early in the morning. A fast is observed which is broken only after sunset, when the housewife lights an earthen lamp at the gate and even other lamps are kept burning throughout the night in respectful adoration to Yam, the god of Death.
2nd Day - Naraka Chaturdashi
On this day, it is believed, that the demon Naraka was defeated and vanquished by Divine Lord Krishna. On the day previous to the Naraka Chaturdashi, Lord Krishna killed the demon Naraka, as a symbol of that victory; Lord Krishna smeared his forehead with the demon king`s blood and returned to his house, early morning on the Naraka Chaturdashi day. Here, the womenfolk massaged scented oil to his body and gave him a good bath to wash away the filth from his body. Since then, the custom of taking bath before sunrise on this day has become a traditional practice, especially in Maharashtra. On the previous day of the Naraka Chaturdashi, people offer prayers to the vessel in which water is being heated for bath. Hindus light fireworks, which is regarded as the model of Narakasura who was killed on this day.
There is another legend is about King Bali, the grandson of Prahlad, who was pushed into the Patallok by Lord Vishnu in disguise of Vamana, the Brahmin
dwarf. King Bali, though being the king of the demons was generous enough to let himself pushed into the underworld, Lord Vishnu gave him the lamp of knowledge. He was allowed to return to earth once a year to light millions of lamps to drive away the darkness and ignorance and spread the light of love and wisdom. Thus, in ancient times, the festival of Bali was celebrated on the first day of bright half of Kartika, the day following Diwali.
In West Bengal
, Kali Puja is performed on Diwali, since it is believed that on this day Kali killed the wicked Raktavija. In South India, the story widely associated with this day of Diwali is that of Narasimha, the man-lion incarnation of Vishnu. Here, Lord Vishnu, in this fifth incarnation, killed Hiranyakashipu
with his claws on the threshold of his palace, just before daybreak, hence steering clear of the boundaries of the boon given to the king by Lord Brahma
. Here, the victory of good is celebrated in a peculiar way. People wake up before sunrise; prepare blood by mixing Kumkum in oil. Then, break a bitter fruit that represents the head of the demon King that was smashed by Krishna. After this, they apply the mixture of kumkum on their foreheads. Then, they have an oil bath using sandalwood paste.
On the second day, Narak Chaturdashi, this day also called, Chhoti Deepawali -minor Deepawali- when after puja (worship) five lamps are lit at five strategic places in the house: the gateway, the barn, the well, the peepul tree
and the kitchen. Traditionally, these lamps are of earthenware, filled with clarified butter into which cotton wicks are immersed. These days oil or wax is used instead of clarified butter. Nowadays, more people prefer candles to earthen lamps. In Maharashtra also, traditional early baths with oil and "Uptan" (paste) of gram flour and fragrant powders are a `must`.
3rd Day - Diwali
The actual day of Diwali is celebrated on the third day of the festival, when the moon completely wanes and total darkness sets in the night sky. This day is also called Chhoti Diwali or Chopda Puja or Kali Chaudas. Hence, this day is also celebrated as the Puja of Goddess Lakshmi. During Laxmi Puja, small footprints are drawn with rice flour and vermilion powder all over the houses. This is a sign of arrival of Goddess Lakshmi, the Goddess of Fortune, Beauty, Prosperity and Wealth. Women believe this day to be auspicious and purchase some gold or silver or at least one or two new utensils. "Lakshmi-Puja" is performed in the evenings when tiny diyas (lamps) are lighted in a small clay vessel to drive away the shadows of evil spirits. "Bhajans"-devotional songs- in praise of Goddess Laxmi are sung and "Naivedya" (offering of food) of traditional sweets is offered to the Goddess. There is a peculiar custom in Maharashtra to lightly crush dry coriander seeds with jaggery and offer it as Naivedya.
Diwali is the day when Rama`s coronation was celebrated in Ayodhya after his epic war with Ravana, the demon king of Lanka. Ayodhya and Mithila
, the kingdom of Sita`s father and many other cities bordering these kingdoms were lit up with rows of lamps, glittering on dark nights to welcome home the divine king Rama and his queen Sita after 14 years of exile, ending with an across-the-seas war in which, the entire Lanka was destroyed. It is believed that the people lit oil lamps along the way to light their path in the darkness. Every house in Ayodhya was illuminated to welcome them. The illuminations symbolize the removal of spiritual darkness from the country and the expression of Ram Rajya, the rule of Rama.
In North India, the festival is held on the final day of the Vikram Calendar. The following day marks the beginning of the North Indian New Year, and is called Annakut. According to Vishnu Bhagawatham, devas and asuras churned the Milky Ocean to extract Amrut from it, during this process, Goddess Lakshmi was born. Attracted by her beauty, both the groups offered their best possessions as their gift. This day is celebrated as Diwali. During the Deepavali day, people also follow the tradition of gambling. There is a prominent belief that Goddess Parvati
played dice with her husband, Lord Shiva, and predestined that any person on earth who would gamble on Diwali night will flourish throughout the following year. This tradition of playing cards- flush and rummy with stakes on this particular day continues even today.
4th Day - Padwa
This fourth day of Diwali falls on the first day of Karthik Masa of the Indian calendar. It is known as Varshapratipada or Pratipad Padwa. Varshapratipada that is the coronation of King Vikramaditya and Vikaram-Samvat was started from this Padwa day. Padwa is the beginning of the New Year. As the name suggests, this day is celebrated as the New Year`s Day amongst the Hindus. People visit temples and elderly people to seek their blessings and good wishes so that the New Year passes with ease. Businessmen start new account books and every kind of transaction, receipt or payment and business is postponed. On this day, many people gamble. This day is considered as the most auspicious day to start any new venture.
In many Hindu homes, the wife applies the red tilak on the forehead of her husband, garlands him and does his "Aarati" with a prayer for his long life. In appreciation of all the tender care that the wife showers on him, the husband gives her a costly gift. This Padwa is symbolic of love and devotion between the wife and husband. On this day, newly married daughters with their husbands are invited for special meals and given presents.
5th Day - Bhai Duj
Bhaiya Duj is known as Tikka in Punjab
. In Vedic times, it was called Bhartri-dvitiya and on the `Shukla Paksha Dwitiya` in the Hindi month of `Kartik`. `Dwitiya` means `Duj` or the second day after the new moon. It is known by different names such as `Bhai-Dooj` in north India, `Bhau-Bij` in Maharashtra
, `Bhai-Phonta` in Bengal and `Bhai-Teeka` in Nepal. On this day, brothers and sisters meet and express their love and affection for each other.
The legends goes that Lord Yamraj, the God of Death, visited his sister Yamuna on the `Shukla Paksha Dwitiya` day in the Hindi month of `Kartik`. When he reached her house, she welcomed him by performing his aarti, applying `Tilak` on his forehead and by putting a garland around His neck. After his arm welcome, he gave a boon that if any brother visits his sister on this day he would be blessed with health and wealth. This is why; this day of Bhaubeej/Bhai Duj is also known by the name of `Yam-Dwitiya`. Thus, it has become a tradition that on the day of Bhai-Duj, brothers visit their sisters` house and offers those gifts, even sisters make various dishes and also give gifts to their brothers and wish for their long life, health and prosperity.
Another legend describes the day of Lord Krishna, when he reached his house; his sister Subadra was waiting for him and she then, welcomed him in the traditional way by performing his `aarti`, flowers and sweet and applied a holy `Tilak` on His forehead. This day also gained importance as a celebration of the relationship between a brother and sister.
Thus, Diwali is just not about lights, crackers, sharing sweets and worship of Lakshmi but it is also a chance for reconciliation. There are social gatherings and people exchange wishes. It teaches us to destroy ignorance and remove the darkness that covers the light of knowledge. This is a festival for young and the old, men and women, rich and poor; for everyone irrespective of their religious and economic background, the festival is celebrated throughout the country. Diwali is also celebrated outside India mainly in Asia, Africa, Britain, Fiji, Guyana, Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, Mauritius, Myanmar, Nepal, Singapore, Sri Lanka, Trinidad and Tobago and Thailand. Diwali is celebrated in South America and among the Hindus the entire world over.