The literal meaning of ‘Diwali‘ in Sanskrit is ‘a row of lamps’. The most popular tradition of Diwali is filling little clay lamps with oil and wick and lighting them in rows all over the house. Even today, the tradition projects the rich and glorious past of our country and teaches us to uphold the true values of life.
Diwali has many legends and religious accounts associated with it. Lights and diyas are lit to signifying the driving away of darkness and ignorance, as well as the awakening of the light within ourselves. It is the perfect time for family gatherings, foods, celebrations and pooja. Goddess Laxmi plays a major role in this festival, as do Ram and Sita. This autumn festival is a five-days celebration, of which each one has its own significance.
Diwali dates back to ancient times in India, as a festival after the summer harvest in the Hindu calendar month of Kartika. The festival is mentioned in Sanskrit scriptures such as the Padma Purana, the Skanda Purana both completed in second half of 1st millennium AD but believed to have been expanded from a core text from an earlier era. 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. Hindus in some regions of India associate Diwali with the legend of Yama and Nachiketa on Kartika amavasya (Diwali night). The Nachiketa story about right versus wrong, transient wealth versus true wealth, ignorance versus knowledge is recorded in Katha Upanishad composed in 1st millennium BC.
King Harsha in the 7th century Sanskrit play Nagananda mentions Diwali as Deepapratipadutsava, where lamps were lit and newly engaged brides and grooms were given gifts.Rajasekhara referred to Diwali as Dipamalika in his 9th century Kavyamimamsa, wherein he mentions the tradition of homes being whitewashed and oil lamps decorating homes, streets and markets in the night.The Persian traveller and historian Al Biruni, in his 11th century memoir on India, wrote Diwali being celebrated by Hindus on New Moon day of the month of Kartika.
In order to welcome Goddess Laxmi, the house is kept clean and rangoli is drawn at the doorstep. A pandit is consulted for the best time of puja. The general things needed for a diwali puja are silver and gold coins, suparis, uncooked Rice, paan leaves, kumkum for applying tilak, mithaai (Indian sweets), camphor, agarbattis (incense sticks), dry fruit (almonds, cashews), flower petals and Lakshmi-Ganesh icon.
The Diwali illuminations with lighted diyas bring the supernatural brightness and joy with the hope of finding light in darkness, achieving knowledge where there is ignorance, and spreading love amidst hatred. Diwali is also known as the Festival of Lights. Light is significant in Hinduism because it signifies goodness. So, during the Festival of Lights, ‘deeps’, or oil lamps, are burned throughout the day and into the night to ward off darkness and evil.
Homes are filled with these oil lamps, candles and lights. Some people use decorated light candles, some decorated diya or clay lamps, and other decorative lights and put them in their windows for the festival. Traditionally people use ‘earthen lamps’ with cotton wicks and oil to light up the dark night. As man progresses, tradition gives way to modernity. Similarly, earthen lamps have replaced candles of various colors and forms. Electric lights of different shapes and sizes illuminate the dark, cold nights of Diwali.
The Marwari New Year is celebrated on the day of the festival of Diwali, which is the last day Krishna Paksha of Ashvin month & also last day of the Ashvin month of Hindu calendar.
The Gujarati New Year is celebrated the day after the festival of Diwali (which occurs in mid-fall – either October or November, depending on the Lunar calendar). The Gujarati New Year is synonymous with sud ekam i.e. first day of Shukla paksha of the Kartik month -, which is taken as the first day of the first month of Gujarati lunar calendar. Most other Hindus celebrate the New Year in the Spring – Baisakhi. Gujarati community all over the world celebrates the New Year after Diwali to mark the beginning of a new fiscal year.
The Nepal Era New year is celebrated by the ethnic Newari in the Kathmandu valley. The new year occurs in the fourth day of Diwali. The calendar was used as an official calendar until the mid 19th century. Most Nepalese celebrate the traditional new year in April i.e. Baisakhi.
Kali Puja is light-up night for West Bengal, Mithila region of Bihar and Assam. Kali Puja coincides with the festival of Diwali (pronounced Dipaboli in Bengali), (in Maithili, it is known as Diya-Baati) where people light diyas/candles in memory of the souls of departed ancestors. The goddess Kali is worshiped, not Lakshmi, for whole night on one night during this festival. The festival is popularly called Kali puja, not Diwali. Kali puja is also known by the names of Shyama puja or Nisha puja in parts of the Mithila region and West Bengal.Many people also celebrate this festival by lighting earthen lamps (deeps) which is a significance of Lord ram winning over the evil Ravana.
Diwali Celebrated as Naraka Chaturdashi, one day before Diwali, it commemorates the killing of the evil demon Narakasura, who wreaked havoc. In different versions, either Krishna or Krishna’s wife Satyabhama killed Narakasura during the Dwapara yuga. The festival is celebrated over six days. It starts with Govatsa Dwadashi. Go means cow and vatsa means calf. Dwadashi means the 12th day. The story associated with this day is that of King Prithu, son of the tyrant King Vena. Due to the ill rule of Vena, there was a terrible famine and earth stopped being fruitful. Prithu chased the earth, who is usually represented as cow, and ‘milked’ her, meaning that he brought prosperity to the land. On second day, people shop for utensils, clothes, gold and other items. The third day is called Chaturdashi, the day on which the demon Narakasura was killed by Krishna – an incarnation of Vishnu. It signifies the victory of good over evil and light over darkness. The day is celebrated with puja, fireworks, and feast. The fourth day, is Diwali night, celebrated like rest of India. The fifth day is Govardhan Puja, celebrated as the day Krishna defeated Indra by the lifting of Govardhana hill to save his kinsmen and cattle from rain and floods. Symbolic mountains of food are prepared representing the Govardhan hill lifted by Krishna, then shared in the community. The last day is Yama Dwitiya where brothers and sisters meet to mark their bond, love and affection for each other. If sister is married and lives in a distant area, the brothers typically visit their sisters’ place on this day and usually have a meal there. The brothers also bring and give gifts to their sisters.
Diwali is celebrated around the world, particularly in countries with significant populations of Hindu, Jain and Sikh origin. These include Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Myanmar, Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia, Australia, New Zealand, Fiji, Mauritius, Kenya, Tanzania, South Africa, Guyana, Suriname, Trinidad and Tobago, the Netherlands, Canada, the United Kingdom, United Arab Emirates, and the United States. With more understanding of Indian culture and global migration of people of Indian origin, the number of countries where Diwali/Deepavali is celebrated has been gradually increasing. While in some countries it is celebrated mainly by Indian expatriates, in others it is becoming part of the general local culture. In most of these countries Diwali is celebrated on the same lines as described in this article with some minor variations. Some important variations are worth mentioning.
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