Deepavali – The Festival of Light
Deepavali (also spelled Divali in few countries) or Diwali, popularly known as the festival of lights, is an important five-day festival in Hinduism, Sikhism, and Jainism, occurring between mid-October and mid-November. For Hindus, Diwali is the most important festival of the year and is celebrated in families by performing traditional activities together in their homes. Deepavali is an official holiday in India, Nepal, Guyana, Trinidad & Tobago, Mauritius, Malaysia, Singapore, Sri Lanka, Myanmar, Fiji, and Suriname.
The name Diwali is itself a contraction of the word “Deepavali” (Sanskrit: Dipavali), which translates into row of lamps. Diwali involves the lighting of small clay lamps (diyas) (or Deep in Sanskrit) filled with oil to signify the triumph of good over evil. During Diwali, all the celebrants wear new clothes and share sweets and snacks with family members and friends. Most Indian business communities begin the financial year on the first day of Diwali.
Some believe it to be the celebration of the marriage of Lakshmi with Lord Vishnu. Whereas in Bengal the festival is dedicated to the worship of Mother Kali, the goddess of strength. Lord Ganesha, the symbol of auspiciousness and wisdom, is also worshiped in most Hindu homes on this day. In Jainism, Deepawali has an added significance to the great event of Lord Mahavira attaining the eternal bliss of nirvana. Diwali also commemorates the return of Lord Rama along with Sita and Lakshman from his fourteen year long exile and vanquishing the demon-king Ravana. In joyous celebration of the return of their king, the people of Ayodhya, the Capital of Rama, illuminated the kingdom with earthen diyas (oil lamps) and burst crackers. In Jainism, Diwali marks the attainment of moksha by Mahavira in 527 BC. In Sikhism, Deepavali also commemorates the return of Guru Har Gobind Ji to Amritsar after freeing 52 Hindu kings imprisoned in Fort Gwalior by defeating Emperor Jahangir; the people lit candles and diyas to celebrate his return. This is the reason Sikhs also refer to Deepavali as Bandi Chhorh Diyas, “the day of release of detainees”.
Deepavali is widely celebrated in both India and Nepal. The first day of the festival Naraka Chaturdasi marks the vanquishing of the demon Naraka by Lord Krishna and his wife Satyabhama. Amavasya, the second day of Deepawali, marks the worship of Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth in her most benevolent mood, fulfilling the wishes of her devotees. Amavasya also tells the story of Lord Vishnu, who in his dwarf incarnation vanquished the tyrant Bali, and banished him to hell. Bali was allowed to return to earth once a year, to light millions of lamps to dispel the darkness and ignorance, and spread the radiance of love and wisdom. It is on the third day of Deepawali – Kartika Shudda Padyami that Bali steps out of hell and rules the earth according to the boon given by Lord Vishnu. The fourth day is referred to as Yama Dvitiya (also called Bhai Dooj) and on this day sisters invite their brothers to their homes.
In each legend, myth and story of Deepawali lies the significance of the victory of good over evil; and it is with each Deepawali and the lights that illuminate our homes and hearts, that this simple truth finds new reason and hope. From darkness unto light – the light that empowers us to commit ourselves to good deeds, that which brings us closer to divinity. During Diwali, lights illuminate every corner of India and the scent of incense sticks hangs in the air, mingled with the sounds of fire-crackers, joy, togetherness and hope. Diwali is celebrated around the globe. Outside India, it is more than a Hindu festival, it’s a celebration of South-Asian identities.
While Deepavali is popularly known as the “festival of lights”, the most significant spiritual meaning is “the awareness of the inner light”. Central to Hindu philosophy is the assertion that there is something beyond the physical body and mind which is pure, infinite, and eternal, called the Atman. The celebration of Deepavali as the “victory of good over evil”, refers to the light of higher knowledge dispelling all ignorance, the ignorance that masks one’s true nature, not as the body, but as the unchanging, infinite, immanent and transcendent reality. With this awakening comes compassion and the awareness of the oneness of all things (higher knowledge). This brings Ananda (joy or peace). Just as we celebrate the birth of our physical being, Deepavali is the celebration of this Inner Light.
While the story behind Deepavali and the manner of celebration varies from region to region (festive fireworks, worship, lights, sharingof sweets), the essence is the same – to rejoice in the Inner Light (Atman) or the underlying Reality of all things (Brahman).
Deepavali is celebrated for five days according to the lunisolar Hindu Calendar. It begins in late Ashvin (between September and October) and ends in early Kartika (between October and November). The first day is Dhan Teras. The last day is Yama Dvitiya, which signifies the second day of the light half of Kartika. Each day of Deepavali marks one celebration of the six principal stories associated with the festival.
Hindus have several significant events associated with Diwali:
The return of Sri Ram after 14 years of Vanvas (banishment). To welcome his return, candles were lit in rows of 20. The killing of Narakasura: Celebrated as Naraka Chaturdashi, one day before Deepavali, it commemorates the killing of the evil demon Narakasura, who wreaked havoc. Krishna’s wife Satyabhama killed Narakasura during the Dwapara yuga. In another version of the belief, the demon was killed by Krishna or Krishna provoked his wife Satyabhama to kill Narshna, defeating Indra.
Govardhan Puja is celebrated the day after Deepavali and is the day Krishna defeated Indra, the deity of thunder and rain. According to the story, Krishna saw preparations for an annual offering to Lord Indra and asked his father Nanda about it. He debated with the villagers about what their ‘dharma’ truly was. They were farmers, they should do their duty and concentrate on farming and protection of their cattle. He said that all human beings should do their ‘karma’ to the best of their ability and not pray for natural phenomenon. The villagers were convinced by Krishna, and did not proceed with the special puja (prayer). Indra was then angered, and flooded the village. Krishna lifted Mount Govardhan and held to protect the people and cattle from the rain. Indra finally accepted defeat and recognized Krishna as supreme. Although this aspect of Krishna’s life is sometimes ignored it sets up the basis of the ‘karma’ philosophy later detailed in the Bhagavat Gita.
Deepavali marks the end of the harvest season in most of India. Farmers give thanks for the bounty of the year gone by, and pray for a good harvest for the year to come. Traditionally this marked the closing of accounts for businesses dependent on the agrarian cycle, and is the last major celebration before winter. Lakshmi symbolizes wealth and prosperity, and her blessings are invoked for a good year ahead.
There are two legends that associate the worship of Lakshmi on this day. According to the first legend, on this day, Lakshmi emerged from Kshira Sagar, the Ocean of Milk, during the great churning of the oceans, Samudra manthan. The second legend (more popular in western India) relates to the Vamana avatar of the big three Vishnu, the incarnation he assumed to kill the demon king Bali. On this day, Vishnu came back to his abode the Vaikuntha; so those who worship Lakshmi receive the benefit of her benevolent mood, and are blessed with mental, physical and material well-being. As per spiritual references, on this day “Lakshmi-panchayatan” enters the Universe. Vishnu, Indra, Kubera, Gajendra and Lakshmi are elements of this “panchayatan” (a group of five). The tasks of these elements are:
1.Lakshmi: Divine Energy (Shakti) which provides energy to all the above activities.
2.Vishnu: Happiness (happiness and satisfaction)
3.Kubera: Wealth (Generosity; one who gives away wealth)
4.Indra: Opulence (satisfaction due to wealth)
5.Gajendra: Carries the wealth
Wishing you a very happy and prosperous Diwali!!
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