Hindu Festival: Diwali (Deepavali)

Every year, on the dark nights of Diwali the sound of firecrackers announces the celebration of the favourite Hindu Festivalns. Homes are decorated, sweets are distributed by everyone and thousands of lamps lit to create a world of fantasy. Of all the festivals celebrated in India, Diwali is by far the most glamorous and important. Enthusiastically enjoyed by people of every religion, its magical and radiant touch creates an atmosphere of joy and festivity.

The ancient story of how Diwali evolved into such a widely celebrated festival is different in various regions and states of India. In the north, particularly in Uttar Pradesh, Punjab, Haryana, Bihar and the surrounding areas, Diwali is the day when King Rama's coronation was celebrated in Ayodhya after his epic war with Ravana, the demon king of Lanka. By order of the royal families of Ayodhya and Mithila, the kingdom of which Sita was princess, the cities and far-flung boundaries of 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 whole of the kingdom of Lanka was destroyed.

The first day of Diwali is 'Dhanatrayodashi or Dhanteras. Doorways are hung with torans of mango leaves and marigolds. Rangolis are drawn with different coloured powders to welcome guests. The traditional motifs are often linked with auspicious symbols of good luck. Oil diyas are arranged in and around the house. Because of these flickering lamps, the festival has acquired its name: Dipawali or Diwali, meaning 'a row of lamps'.

The next day or Chaturdashils also called Chhoti Diwali. On the dark new moon night, the entrances to all homes are lit up and decorated with rangoli patterns to welcome Lakshmi, the radiant consort of Vishnu and the goddess of wealth and lustre. The day after the Lakshmi puja, most families celebrate the new year by dressing in new clothes, wearing jewellery and visiting family members and business colleagues to give them sweets, dry fruits and gifts.

Among the business communities of Gujarat, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra, Diwali is the festival when the new business year begins. All business establishments and families perform chopda pujan or veneration of their business books. Stockbrokers do mahurat trading or symbolic auspicious business deals to inaugurate a prosperous new year.

The last day is Bhaidooj when all brothers visit their sisters with gifts and sweets. Sisters put tilaks on their brothers' foreheads, offer prayers and conduct aratis, followed by a sumptuous feast of many foods.

In many Krishna temples, Diwali is celebrated as a day of feeding and venerating cows. In Nathdwara, for instance, there is a day-long feast for cattle called Annakoot. The reason for this special place given to the cow lies deep in the religious consciousness of Indians.

The sacredness of the cow goes back to the myth of the churning of the cosmic ocean by the gods. Of the 14 'jewels' which the ocean gave to the gods, Kamadhenu, the celestial cow, was one. She was venerated as the mother of the universe. The celestial cow is also called Surabhi or Nandini, the giver of joy and plenty. A cow is the constant companion of Krishna.

Diwali, one of the longest festivals in the Hindu year, is a time when everything in India comes to a standstill except family life, feasting and shopping. Diwali is considered auspicious for shopping, inaugurations of new homes, business deals or for starting any new ventures and projects.

Legends of Diwali

In the south, Diwali has two more legends connected with it. The first legend again concerns the victory of good over evil. Narakasura the demon of hell, challenged Krishna to battle. After a fierce fight lasting two days, the demon was killed at dawn on Narakachaturdashi.

To commemorate this event people in peninsular India wake before sunrise and make imitation blood by mixing kumkum or vermillion with oil. After crushing underfoot a bitter fruit as a symbol of the demon, they apply the 'blood' triumphantly on their foreheads. They then have ritual oil baths, anointing themselves with sandalwood paste. Visits to temples for prayers are followed by large family breakfasts of fruits and a variety of sweets.

The second legend is about King Bali, the benevolent demon king of the netherworld. He was so powerful that he became a threat to the power of celestial deities and their kingdoms. Intimidated by his expanding empire and taking advantage of his well-known generosity,' they sent Vishnu as the dwarf mendicant Vamana, to dilute Bali's power.

Vamana shrewdly asked the king for land that would cover three steps as he walked. The king happily granted this gift. Having tricked Bali, Vishnu revealed himself in the full glory of his godhood. He covered the heaven in his first step and the earth in his second. Realizing that he was pitted against the mighty Vishnu, Bali surrendered and offered his own head inviting Vishnu to step on it. Vishnu pushed him into the netherworld with his foot. In return Vishnu gave him the lamp of knowledge to light up the dark underworld. He also gave him a blessing that he would return to his people once a year to light millions of lamps from this one lamp so that on the dark new moon night of Diwali, the blinding darkness of ignorance, greed, jealousy, lust, anger, ego and laziness would be dispelled and the radiance of knowledge, wisdom and friendship prevail. Each year on Diwali day, even today, one lamp lights another and like a flame burning steadily on a windless night, brings a message of peace and harmony to the world.

Whatever may be the fables and legends behind the celebration of Diwali, all people exchange sweets, wear new clothes and buy jewellery at this festive time. Card parties are held in many homes. Diwali has become commercialised as the biggest annual consumer spree because every family shops for sweets, gifts and fireworks. However, in all this frenzy of shopping and eating, the steady, burning lamp is a constant symbol of an illuminated mind.

Dev Diwali: Lamps In The Moonlight

The full moon day in Kartik brings in the festival of Dev Diwali Lamps are lit under the moonlit sky and a family feast celebrates the end of the Diwali fortnight.

For Hindus, Kartik Purnima also brings the celebration of the Matsya or fish incarnation of Vishnu. According to the Puranas, Vishnu appeared in the form of a gigantic fish to save Manu, the progenitor of the human race from the primeaval flood which destroyed the universe. Manu, who saved all species of animaiJS, birds, reptiles and insects from extinction, is also called the father of the human race. Because of this, man is called manav or manushya in Sanskrit.

Jains celebrate Dev Diwali m memory of the final liberation of Maliavira, the great Tirthankara by lighting lamps at midnight and reciting scriptures.

The mythological background of this festival is many and varied. It is said that when Rama returned to Ayodhya after defeating Ravana in Lanka, the people of Ayodhya celebrated the event with lights and Fireworks on Krishna Chaturdashi.
Yet again the story goes that the Gods wanted the 'Amrit Kumbha' so as to get the elixir of life and conquer death. They joined the demons in this venture. Mainak mountain was used as the churning rod and Basuki, the snake was twisted round the mountain to be used as the churning rope. The God and the demons then began to churn the ocean in unison. The poison from Basuki vitiated the water and the demons became unconscious. It was then that the Amrit Kumbha arose from the water. The Gods drank and became immortal. This memorable event was celebrated with lights and fireworks by the Gods.

On the historical front we have Chandragupta II who took the name of Sakari Vikramaditya after conquering the Sakas. He returned to his capital Magadh in triumph. His subjects celebrated his great victory with lights and fireworks.

The sociological aspect of this festival is very interesting. We find evidences of the worship of Kali by the non-Aryan tribes-Katya, Kaushiki, Parnasabari and so on. The goddess Kali was worshipped on the darkest night of the month, i.e. on Krishna Chaturdashi to ward off death. She was perceived as someone fearful and naked. Darkness was her only apparel. Due to the darkness, the worship of Kali took place amidst illuminations. Crackers were burst to ward off evil spirits. With the passage of time, this festival entered into the Aryan cult of worship. Gradually the fearful appearance was replaced by different forms. Kali assumed different names in different regions. In Andhra Pradesh and in Karnataka she is Chamundeshwari, in Kanchi we have Kamakshi, Meenakshi in Madurai and further down South, she is Mukh Ambika. In the eastern region she came to be known as Mahakali.

Kali Puja was abandoned in the east, specially in Bengal. In the 16th century, Krishnananda Arambagish of Nadia (a learned pundit) reintroduced Kali puja in its earliest form. Gradually Kali puja was joined to the worship of Shiva. The original dead body (as Kali was the goddess of death) turned into Shiva. It is a peculiar feature of Bengal and an interesting Bengali trait that no matter whatever fearful cult is introduced, the Bengalis turn it into a popular household phenomenon. Characteristically the fearful Kali has become Shyama, Bhadrokali, Rakshakali, Siddhakali and so on. Kali puja in its most popular form is the worship of Kali and Shiva, the most popular God. This festival is now an Indian festival and Diwali or Deepavali is a festival of lights and fireworks.

Explaining the importance and ritual of the celebrations of the Diwali festival, Lord Shiva said, In the month of Kartik (Oct- Nov), in Krishna paksha (Dark fortnight), after giving sacrifice (Yageye) in reverence to Yama (god of death), out the lamp duly lit, outside the house. By this ritual and by pleasures of Yama, premature death is avoided. On the fourth day, after bath, worship Yama addressing him as 'Namaha Dharamaraj, Namaha Mrityu,' and so putting Namaha before other names viz. Antak, Veyvasvan, Sarva Bhootaksheye, Parmeshti etc., offer libations. Lamps should be lit in temples of Vishnu and Shiva, on the banks of rivers and on wells.

On the Amavaseya day (the 15th day of dark fortnight), worship the ancestors after invoking Lakshmi with the following prayer.

"0 ! Bhagwati Lakshmi, let there be ample wealth with me and that I should be contented, that I should ever reside in sufficiency. May you be thus kind to me."

On the following day of Diwali is performed Vali puja. With five colours draw the figures of Jambu and Madhu and Vali and offer incense and followers reciting the following hymns :


Next day i.e. two days after Amavesaya one should invoke Yamaraj and visit the house of one's sister with presents. It is believed that if one keeps one's sister happy, one remains free from the fear of Yama. This boon was given by Yami (Yamuna) to her brothre Yama. This is why this day is called Bhayya Dooj. When sisters pay reverence to and shower affection over their brothers praying for their long lives.

On the Diwali day the worship of Lakshmi and Ganesa starts from morning. After bath and purification of the body one should worship one's ancestors and gods. To please the ancestors, Pavaran Shraddh is arranged on this day, with milk, ghee and curd.

For the worship of Lakshmi and Ganesa in the evening besides observing a day-long fast a sacred seat is created by making an eight-petalled lotus flower on it with rice powder and vermilion and decorating it with flowers. Images of other gods and goddesses can also be kept and worshipped because the Vaman incarnation had released the deities from Vali's prison on this day.

While sitting for worship, the whole material for libations, should be kept ready at hand. After sipping the holy water, one should resolve:


Afterwards, take holy water in the right hand palm and recite the following hymn three times :-


Why The Virtuous Remain Poor?

The great saint Vasista once asked Brahma : 'In this world, most of the virtuous people are poor. By what means and how should they perform their duties so as to attain maximum bliss.'

Besides Brhma, Agni, Gargeye, Dhaumey and Jamadgini, also present, replied in different ways but Lakshmi said : "In a house where the utensils are broken, seats are torn and pots are scattered; where women are beaten; such a house becomes impious because of sins. The gods go away disappointed and during festivals and auspicious occasions do not accept the libations in such houses."

Lakshmi said "I am Shakti (power) but not separate from Saktivan (powerful). If there is a powerful one, then I am there. In Dharamasastras (religious scriptures), Saktivan is god Shiva. Shiva is the base of Sateyam, Shivarn, Sundaram. viz. where there is benediction, truth and beauty, there is the Shakti from Jagdhamba that is to say in benedictory policies, planning and economy is the abode of Shri Lakshmi. She said 'No one should consider himself the most powerful (Sarva Saktiman). Sarva Saktiman is Sadashiva (Shiva) only. I come here to remove ignorance; you may recognize it as Lakshmi or Siddhatri." Though wealth is not everything, still it is very important. Wealth does not mean only money. Hindu Dharamasastras give many more meanings to it. In the system of a household the wife has been described as "Grehiakshmi" i.e. the goddess of the house and the husband as Dhan Kuber, the treasurer of wealth. The rich have been told that their function is not only to earn money but also to see that no one in the society remains poor.

Arthasastra (Economics) deals with the utility of wealth objectively and shows the ways to use it in a refined, balanced and disciplined manner. This meaning of economy is also adopted in the West but there money comes first whereas in Indian approach religion (ethics) comes first and money later. The western approach is for greatest profit whereas Indian policy is for universal happiness but at present Indians are drifting from their scriptural ways and are adopting western methods. Indians must understand that goddess Bhagwati has three forms viz. Mahalakshmi, Mahakali and Mahasaraswati, a symptomatic combination of power, wealth and wisdom.

There is harmony in their form, elements and thoughts. Mahalakshmi is the bestower of life, Mahasaraswati of a wise living and Mahakali of destruction. Lakshmi is always centralized in us. Without her the country qr the society cannot progress. She is the goddess of virility as well as of food. To give 'return' for work is her function. Kautilya says: "One must collect wealth as much as necessary -to easily undertake worldly works." Vishnu Purana, Devi Bhagwat, Brhma Veyvarat Purana and Linga Purana and other scriptures describe Shri Lakshmi in various manifestations. Devi destroyed the demon Mahisasur and Durgam and established peace in the universe. The three goddesses Saraswati, Devi Gauri (Parvati) and Lakshmi became Shakti (power) of Vishnu in the form of Kali, Saraswati and Rudra. Lakshmi appeared as a synthesis of the three powers viz. mercy, benediction and welfare. Lakshmi helps everyone, may he be rich or poor. Everyone adores Lakshmi.

Lakshmi's another quality is to make everyone realize the 'reality' viz. change. She is of everyone and still is of none. She has been called Mudra (money) and productive Lakshmi. In society She is Grehiakshmi and for the nationi power she is Urja (energy). In political affairs she is Satta (power) and in scientific sphere "Avishkar" (invention).

Lakshmi is always accompanied by Saraswati and Ganesha, treasurer of wisdom. Without knowledge there is no discretion and without these two the importance of Lakshmi cannot be understood.

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