Diwali The festival of Lights

Deepawali aur Diwali is one of the major Hindu festivals that comes in the month of Karthik (October-November). It is an autumn festival that is celebrated on a Amavasya (new moon day) by Hindus across the globe. On this day, lamps are lit, homes are cleaned and decorated and people distribute sweets as a mark of goodwill and harmony.

Legends:- The significance and descriptions of this festival is recorded in both Padma and Skanda Puran as well as various Upanishads. Various Legends are associated with this festival as per the happenings in the various Yugas (mythological era). Some of them are mentioned below -

1. During the age of Ramayana, the Grand king Dashratha (Rama's father) gave in to the conspiracy theory of his second wife Kaikeyi and sent Raam to an exile. Shree Rama remained in exile for 14 long years. During this time he faced various hardship and encountered many evil forces. Vanquishing every evil, he ever came across, Shree Rama returned victorious with his wife and brother to Ayodhya. This day of return, is marked as Diwali as the entire land of Ayodhya had lit lamps to commemorate their happiness on the return of their beloved Rama. Till this day, lighting of lamps is considered auspicious and marks the victory of good over evil.

In Bengal, there is a tradition of lighting 14 lamps or diyaas on the eve of Diwali. Each lamp represents each year of exile that Shree Rama went through.

2. The Rigveda tells us a story about Nachiketa,the son of the sage Vājashravasa. Nachiketa was an ardent Brahman who wanted to learn the art of emancipation and separate his soul from worldly desires.

One day he saw his father making a sacrifice of cows to please the Gods. He noticed that his father was giving away only the feeble and diseased cows. So he asked his father if he would also give his son away to the Gods?. Angrily, the sage replied that he would indeed give Nachiketa away, but to Yama (the god of death).

So Nachiketa went to Yama but could not find him. Three days later when Yama returned he was astonished to see the Brahman's son still waiting for him. Pleased, he offered Nachiketa 3 boons. Nachiketa asked for peace for his father, fire sacrifice and the mystery of life after death. Reluctantly, Yama had to teach him self realization that only the Soul is the true being, everything else is material. Upon learning this, Nachiketa attained Moksha was and freed from the cycle of mortal rebirths. This story involves the knowledge of true wealth versus material wealth and imbibes the spiritual significance of Diwali.

3.In some parts India, a legend of Narakasura is mentioned. Narakasura was the king of of Pragjyotishapura, present-day Assam. He was evil and used to capture women and try to make them his wives. Narakasura was considered to be the demon of dirt or filth. To vanquish the demon, the Gods of heaven ask Shree Krishna to get rid of him and save the ladies. Shree Krishna fought with the demon and killed him. At the point of death, the Asura asked for a boon that "everybody should rejoice at his death". Lord Krishna granted him the boon.

Later, when he went to rescue the women, they were worried that living with the demon has marked their purity. They are not considered fit for the civilized society and no man would ever marry them. In order to save them from shame, Lord Krishna gave them a boon that he would marry them all and restore their place of honor as Krishna's wives.

When Shree Krishna returned home, he was covered in filth. So cleanse him special sandalwood paste and scented baths were drawn. Till date, early morning bathing rituals with oil or sandalwood paste is practiced on Diwali.

Among other religious communities too Diwali is celebrate albeit for different reasons:
In Jainism, this day marks the nirvana (spiritual awakening) of Lord Mahavira.
In Sikhism is was the day that Guru Hargobind Ji, the Sixth Sikh Guru was freed from imprisonment.


The five important days of Diwali:-
Dhanteras - On the day of Triodashi (thirteenth Lunar day) it is said that the Lord Dhanwantari brought the science of Ayurveda out of the ocean to help mankind.

On this day, people light lamps, buy new stuff for their households and pray to Yama in order to avoid untimely death

Naraka Chaturdashi:- This day is also known as the day of Choti Diwali or Choddo Prodip (14 lamps in Bengali). This is the day when Shree Krishna killed the demon Narakasur and liberated the women.

Lakshmi Puja:- This is the main day of Diwali. On this day people decorate there homes and vehicles with flowers. Rangolis (Designs made with colored sand) are made and the entire family gather together for Lakshmi puja, a prayer to the Goddess of Wealth. Grand feasts are held and fireworks are set off.

This is also the day on which Lord Rama returned to Ayodhya, after he rescued Sita and killed the demon, Ravana. Some parts of India also capture this story as a part of RamLeela (story of Shree Raam) which ends with burning of Ravan's effigy.

In some eastern states of India, kali Puja is performed at midnight. The maithili speaking regions of Nepal and Northern Bihar performs the Mahanisha Puja. Every region has its own way of paying obeisance to the Goddess of Power (Shakti).

Bali Pratipada:- The fourth day of Diwali marks the day when Lord Vishnu's incarnation (Vamana) sent the demon king Bali to the netherworld. Govardhana Puja is performed to pray to Shree Vishnu's Krishna avtaar. Govardhan Puja is also done by worshiping cows (Go-maata) as Shree Krishna belongs to the Yadava (Cow herders) dynasty. Symbolically a game of dice or cards are played to invoke the gambling game that Lord Shiva played with his wife Parvati.

This day is also known as Padva or New year in some parts of the country. Businessmen worship their account books and start with newer books from this day forth.
Among people of Tamil Nadu and Karnataka, Kedargauri vratam is performed.

Bhai Dooj: - It is said that on this day, the lord of death visited his sister Yamuna. She welcomed her brother and her hospitality pleased Yama in such a way that he blessed her saying "On this day if a brother visits his sister, he will be freed from all his misdoings and will be shielded from Yama's wrath".

Till date, on this day sisters pray for their brothers good health, success and safety. An old Bengali adage that every sister says while applying Tilak (holy mark) on her brothers forehead is -

“Dwitya-e diya phonta, tritiya-e diya nita
Aaj obdhi bhai amar na jaiyo Jomer para
Jamuna dey Jome-re phonta
Amra di amar bhai-ke phonta.
Dhak bhaje, dhol baje ar baje kara
Aj hote bhai amar na jaye jomer para
Swargo, morto, dulya bokul
Na jaiyo bhai ganger okul
Jamuna dei Jamere phonta
Amra di amar bhai-ke phonta.
Aaj hote bhaier amar Jamar duare kanta.”


Which means, “As I place this mark on the second lunar day and celebrate on the third
I know, From this day my brother will not go to the abode of Lord Yama
Like Yamuna placed a mark on Lord Yama’s forehead
I mark a tilak on my brother’s forehead.
The drum beats with the other instruments
From this day my brother will not go to the abode of Lord Yama
For Heaven, earth and flowers
Never may my brother cross over to Yama's side
Like Yamuna placed a mark on Lord Yama’s forehead
I mark a tilak on my brother’s forehead.
May my brother be a thorn in Yama's side. may his eyes never fall on my brother.

Image Courtesy: Wikipedia Images

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