Diwali - The Festival Of Light



By Mr. Jasvant & Asmita Mehta


All Indians celebrate Dewali with great enthusiasm all over the world. The uniqueness of this festival is its harmony of five varied philosophies, with each day to a special thought or ideal. If we celebrate each of its five days of festivities with true understanding, it will uplift and enrich our lives. It is a festival of joy, splendor, brightness and happiness.

Our country is known throughout the world for it's celebratory fervor; Fresh flowers, exchanges of gifts, new clothes, meeting new and old friends and offerings of traditional sweets sum up a typical Indian celebration. Diwali is one such occasion where this particular description would fit perfectly. And Diwali is one of the most important and colorful of the Indian festivals.

Celebrations of Diwali begin from Dusshera, which comes twenty days before Diwali. Lord Rama destroyed Ravana on this day and hence it is celebrated as a day of victory. Brilliantly decorated tableaux and processions depicting various facets of Rama's life are taken out and scenes from his life enacted out in a popular form of drama called Ramlila.

At a metaphysical level, Deepawali is a festival signifying the victory of good over evil, the latter is destroyed and reduced to ashes by fireworks is the belief of the people. On these auspicious occasion shopkeepers offer huge discounts, Diwali Melas are organised, people assemble at places and celebrate Diwali together and this occasion is called as Diwali Milan. Different people celebrate Diwali in different ways. Each region of India celebrates Diwali in it's own unique way.

On Diwali day, everywhere in India, at dusk when darkness unfolds itself, you can see a spectacular illumination of tiny flickering lamps adorning in rows - at homes, buildings and streets. All sorts of makeshift stalls suddenly spring out on the pavements and the bazaars are choc-a-bloc with people and all sweet shops display their latest temptations.

People visit the places of their relatives and friends to wish them on the occasion and exchange gifts and for those who can not pay a personal visit there is a mind-boggling range of cards and gifts to choose from. Feasts are arranged and gaily-dressed men, women and children go to temples and fairs, visit friends and relatives. Markets are gaily decorated and lit up everybody adorned with new and bright clothes, especially ladies decorated with the best of ornaments, captures the social mood at its happiest. And all this illumination and fireworks, joy and festivity, is to signify the victory of divine forces over those of wickedness. Even countries like Singapore, Thailand and Malaysia celebrate this festival but in their own ways.

Diwali, which leads us into truth and light, is celebrated on a nationwide scale. It symbolises that age-old culture of our country, which teaches us to vanquish ignorance that subdues humanity and to drive away darkness that engulfs the light of knowledge. Diwali, the festival of lights even today in this modern world projects the rich and glorious past of our country and teaches us to uphold the true values of life. It is associated with many customs and traditions. One of the most curious customs, which characterises this festival of Diwali, is the indulgence of gambling, especially on a large scale in North India. It is believed that goddess Parvati played dice with her husband, Lord Shiv on this day and she decreed that whosoever gambled on Diwali night would prosper throughout the ensuring year. This tradition of playing cards- flash and rummy with stakes on this particular day continues even to day.

The first day is of great importance to the rich community of western India Houses and Business premises are renovated and decorated. Entrances are made colorful with lovely traditional motifs of Rangoli designs to welcome Lakshmi, the Goddess of wealth and prosperity. To indicate her long-awaited arrival, small footprints are drawn with rice flour and vermilion powder all over the houses. Lamps are kept burning all through the nights. Believing this day to be auspicious women purchase some gold or silver or at least one or two new utensils.

Lakshmi-Puja is performed in the evenings when tiny diyas of clay are lighted to drive away the shadows of evil spirits, devotional songs- in praise of Goddess Laxmi are sung and Naivedya of traditional sweets is offered to the Goddess. There is a peculiar custom in Maharashtra to lightly pound dry coriander seeds with jaggery and offer as Naivedya In villages cattle's are adorned and worshipped by farmers as they form the main source of their income. In south cows are offered special veneration as they are supposed to be the incarnation of Goddess Lakshmi and therefore they are adorned and worshipped on this day.

On second day there is a traditional practice especially in Maharashtra of taking bath before sunrise with oil and "Uptan" (paste) of gram flour and fragrant powder. In northern India, especially in places like the Punjab, Diwali is dedicated to the worship of Lord Rama. While in Bengal, Kali/Durga, the goddess of strength, is worshipped? This reverence is called "Kali Chaudas or Kal Chaturdasi". It is believed that on this day kali killed the wicked Raktavija. Lord Ganesha, the elephant-headed god, the symbol of auspiciousness and wisdom, is also worshipped in most Hindu homes on this day. Diwali is one of the few Hindu festivals which is celebrated in every part of the country, even in states like Kerala, that has Onam as its main festival. To the Jain's, Deepavali has an added significance to the great event of Mahaveera attaining the Eternal Bliss of Nirvaana. The passing into Eternity on the same Amavasya of Swami Dayananda Saraswati, that leonine sanyasin who was one of the first to light the torch of Hindu Renaissance during the last century, and of Swami Ramatirtha who carried the fragrance of the spiritual message of Hindu Dharma to the western world, have brought the national-cum-spiritual tradition of Deepaavali right up to modern times.

Govardhan-Puja is also performed in the North on the fourth day. This day is also observed as Annakoot meaning mountain of food. In temples especially in Mathura and Nathadwara, the deities are given milk bath, dressed in shining attires with ornaments of dazzling diamonds, pearls, rubies and other precious stones. After the prayers and traditional worship innumerable varieties of delicious sweets are offered to the deities as "Bhog" and then the devotees' approach and take Prasad. Goddess Lakshmi is worshipped in every Hindu household. In many Hindu homes it is a custom for the wife to put the red tilak on the forehead of her husband, garland him and do his "Aarathi" 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 Gudi 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. Diwali celebration is a very happy occasion for all.

Diwali - The Traditions and Celebration
Diwali, a diminutive form of Deepavali, etymologically means a row of lights ('Deep'- light and 'Avali'-a row). Hence it is festival of lights. Marked mainly by four days of celebration it certainly illumines the country in its brilliance and brightens all with its joy. Diwali is a pan-Indian festival. It is celebrated on a grand scale in almost all the regions of India and is looked upon mainly as the beginning of New Year. As such the blessings of Lakshmi, the celestial consort of Lord Vishnu, are invoked with prayers. Even people of Indian origin in countries like Kenya, Thailand, Trinidad, Siam, Sri Lanka and Malaya celebrate this festival but in their own ways.

Diwali is a time to lit up 'diyas' in and around the house, and kindle the dark, moonless night-sky with dazzling display of fireworks. It is a time for rejoice, time to go berserk. It is also a time to put on new things, time for exchanging gifts and greetings and wishing each other. It is time for the children to seek the blessings of the elderly and for the elderly to bless the children profusely.

Diwali is also time of transition from darkness unto light - the light that empowers us to commit ourselves to good deeds and which brings us closer to divinity. And hence it is time to keep at bay all parochial interests and fling open all the doors of our mind so that it is a-washed thoroughly by the lights of joy and righteousness.

In each of the simple traditions and rituals at Diwali there is a tale of significance and credo. Apart from the celebration of Rama's return to Ayodhya, historically too, the origin of Diwali can be traced back to ancient India, when it was probably an important harvest festival. Diwali that is the 15th day of the month of Kartik is a holiday and is celebrated with fervor and gaiety. Being a New Year day all financial transactions remain closed on this day. Lord Ganesh, the elephant-headed god, the symbol of auspiciousness and wisdom, is also worshipped in most Hindu homes on this day.

In North India on the day of the Diwali the children emerge, scrubbed clean to get into their festive attire, and light up little oil lamps, candles and agarbathis the wherewithal for setting alight crackers and sparklers.

On this day there is a traditional practice, especially in Maharashtra, of taking bath before sunrise with oil and "Uptan" (paste) of gram flour and fragrant powders.

In South India the day is celebrated in a unique way. People wake up before sunrise prepare blood by mixing Kumkum in oil and after breaking a bitter fruit that represents the head of the demon King that was smashed by Krishna, apply that mixture on their foreheads. Then they have an oil bath using sandalwood paste.

The illumination of homes with lights and the skies with firecrackers is an expression of obeisance to the heavenly for the attainment of health, wealth, knowledge, peace and fame. According to one belief, the sound of fire-crackers are an indication of the joy of the people living on earth, making the gods aware of their plentiful state. Still another possible reason has a more scientific basis: the fumes produced by the crackers kill a lot of insects, found in plenty after the rains. The tradition of gambling on Diwali also has a legend behind it. It is believed that on this day, Goddess Parvati played dice with her husband Lord Shiva and she decreed that whosoever gambled on Diwali night would prosper throughout the ensuing year.

Other Traditions
Apart from the epical attributions Diwali is regarded as a pious day for other reasons as well. To the Jain's, Deepavali has an added significance to the great event of Mahaveera attaining the Eternal Bliss of Nirvaana.

It is on the same day of Amavasya Swami Dayananda Saraswati, that leonine sanyasin who was one of the first to light the torch of Hindu Renaissance during the last century, passed into Eternity. Swami Ramatirtha who carried the fragrance of the spiritual message of Hindu Dharma to the western world, also passed into eternity. The lights kindled on this day also mark the attempt of their followers to immortalise the sacred memories of those great men who lived to brighten the lives of millions of their fellow beings. The passage of these great men has indeed brought the national-cum-spiritual tradition of Deepavali right up to modern times.

The Pujas apart Diwali is basically celebrated as a New Year day for the Hindus world over. And the customs of wearing new garments and gears and exchanging gifts and greetings have come to be associated with Diwali, probably because of this of New Year celebration. Accordingly most of the traditions of a New Year celebration are all present. The occasion sees the spring-cleaning and whitewashing of houses; decorative designs or rangolis are painted on floors and walls to greet the New Year. New clothes are bought and family members and relatives gather together to offer prayers, distribute sweets and to light up their homes. In today's world when pressing everyday problems are narrowing down our world of relationships, the celebration of this day has its own importance in continuing to maintain the love between brothers and sisters. Thus Diwali is the day of food sharing, gift giving and reaching out to the inner most depths of the hearts. In fact, Diwali on the whole has always been the festival with more socials than religious connotations. It is more of a personal, people-oriented festival than anything else, when enmities are forgotten; families and friends meet, enjoy and establish a word of closeness.

History of Diwali
India is a land of festivals. Deepavali or Diwali is the Festival of Lights and is celebrated with fervour and gaiety. The festival is celebrated by young and old, rich and poor, all alike throughout the country to ward off the darkness and welcome the lights into their lives. This festival symbolises the unity in diversity as every state celebrates in its own special ways.

The celebration of the four-day festival commences on Aswayuja Bahula Chaturdasi and would conclude on Kartika Shudda Vijiya. The first day of the festival Naraka Chaturdasi marks the vanquishing of the demon Naraka by Lord Krishna and his wife Satyabhama. According to puranas Naraka, the son of Bhudevi, acquired immense power as a blessing from Lord Brahma after a severe penance. He soon unleashed a reign of terror in the kingdom of Kamarupa, harassing the celestial beings with his invincible might. Unable to bear the tyranny of the demon, the celestial beings pleaded with Lord Krishna to save them from his torture.

But Naraka could not be easily killed as he had a boon that he could face death only at the hands of his mother Bhudevi. So, Krishna asks his wife Satyabhama, the reincarnation of Bhudevi, to be his charioteer in the battle with Naraka.

When Krishna feigns unconsciousness after being hit by an arrow of Naraka, Satyabhama takes the bow and aims the arrow at Naraka and kills him instantly. Later Lord Krishna reminds her of the boon she had sought as Bhudevi. The slaying of the Naraka by Sathyabhama could also be taken to interpret that parents should not hesitate to punish their children when they stray on to the wrong path. The message of Naraka Chaturdasi is that the good of the society should always prevail over one's own personal bonds.

The second day is Amavasya when Lakshmi puja is performed and is believed that on this day Goddess Lakshmi would be in her benevolent mood and would fulfill all the wishes of her devotees. One version says that it was on this day Goddess Lakshmi emerged from Kshira Sagara when the Gods and demons were churning the sagara for Amrutha Bhandam.

Another version is that when Lord Vishnu in the guise of Vamana, sought three feet of land from the very generous king Bali Chakravarthy, Bali had to surrender his head as Vamana had conquered the earth and the sky in His two strides. Lord Vishnu banishes Bali into the Pathala Loka by keeping his third stride on Bali's head. Later, pleased by his generosity, Lord Vishnu grants him a boon and he in turn requests the Lord to guard his palace at Patha Loka.

Meanwhile, the Goddess is unable to bear the separation and her grief affects the functioning of the entire universe. Brahma and Lord Shiva offer themselves as guards and plead with Bali to relieve Vishnu. So, on the Amavasya day Lord Vishnu returns to his abode and Goddess Lakshmi is delighted. That is the reason it is believed that those who worship Goddess Lakshmi on this day would be bestowed with all the riches.

The third day is "Kartika Shudda Padyami" and it is only on this day that Bali would come out of Pathala Loka and rule Bhuloka as per the boon given by Lord Vishnu. Hence, it is also known as "Bali Padyami".

The fourth day is referred to as "Yama Dvitiya" and on this day the sisters invite their brothers to their homes.

However, in the northern part of India it is celebrated as the return of Rama along with Sita and Lakshmana from his 14 years of exile after killing Ravana. To commemorate his return to Ayodhya, his subjects illuminated the kingdom and burst crackers. For the Gujaratis, Marwaris and other business community Diwali marks the worship of Goddess Lakshmi and also the beginning of the new financial year.

For Bengalis, it is the time to worship Goddess Kali or Durga. The Goddess Durga continued her "Vilaya Tandava" even after killing the demon Mahishasura.

Significance of Diwali
Depavali day, or is it night? It is a festival where people from all age groups participate in the festivities to give expression to their happiness by lighting earthen diyas, decorating the houses, bursting fire crackers and inviting the near and dear ones to their households for partaking in the sumptuous feast. The lighting of lamps is a way of paying obeisance to god for attainment of health, wealth, knowledge, peace, valour and fame.

It is one time in the whole year that children volunteer to leave their beds long before the day begins, having delayed their retiring there, in the first place as long as they possibly can, without incurring pare natal wrath. In fact, the traditional oil bath at 3 Am., is the only chore that stands between them and the pre-dawn adventures, as they emerge, scrubbed clean to get into their festive attire, and light up little oil lamps, candles and agarbathis the wherewithal for setting alight crackers and sparklers.

Who shall set off the first chain of crackers that go boom, bang and vroom? And who is the owner of the 10-minute banger that steals the thunder from your little chain of needle-sized crackers? Does the boy next door have more crackers than me?

Competition is stiff, and even the little girl in silk pavadais, frocks and their finery are watching out for the best sparklers and flowerpots, the rockets and Vishnuchakras which light-up the night sky like a thousand stars. Grown-ups are all the souls of generosity, and its nary a harsh word of reproach except a warning to steer clear of the crackers. Crackers, clothes, good wishes and festive bonhomie abound, as if there is more coming from the bottomless source of all this happiness.

Deepavali : The Festival of Lights - For Jain Followers
Deepavali, the festival of lights, has a pride of place in the history of Jainism. It was on Aso Vad Amas (the dark later half of the month Aso, the last in the Hindu calendar) at midnight that Bhagwan Mahavir left his mortal coil in Pavapuri Village in Bihar. On that auspicious day, he was a liberated soul.

Bhagwan Mahavir finished 42nd monsoon in Pavapuri and took shelter in the office of king Hastipal's talati (village accountant). Three months passed and fourth was about to be over. Bhagwan foresaw his end approaching and informed everyone about it. As soon as the news spread, Pavapuri was plunged into gloom. Nature also felt the impending doom, as it were, and looked crestfallen at the thought of Mahavir's impending departure. The cognoscenti said, "Be happy! God's a liberated soul now! The shackles will break and He will attain complete freedom". The common people began to grieve : "Alas! the lord will be no more and we will not be able to behold him anymore. When would we hear the divine speech again? We are trying to dispel the encircling clouds of gloom but in vain. Is it true that God will disappear from our midst forever?"

The devotees were all grieving. "It is only yesterday that he came in our midst and today he will be on his eternal voyage", they said. They were not in a position to rejoice. How can they when Bhagwan was to leave this world? They argued, "For him death is not a matter to be grieved over but how can we be happy at the thought of his death? A night is a night, howsoever bright the moon may be".

Bhagwan began his last discourse. It was a marathon one and the world was bathed in the words of widsom emanating from his lips. Indra, the chief of Gods, who had prepared for God's death, lost his equanimity and was sad too.

The very thought of Mahavir's death pained him to no ends. Indra, on behalf of the anxious people, asked, "Lord your conception, birth, renunciation and attainment of absolute knowledge were all in the hastottara nakshatra?" Bhagwan nodded his head in agreement.

"Your departure coincides with the entry of Bhasmagraha in the nakshatra. Does it indicate the impending misfortune?", asked Indra. "Yes", said Mahavir. "You are omnipotent and omniscient; can't you delay the moment of your departure?" asked Indra anxiously. He thought that if that moment passed then God would have a new lease of life.

Bhagwan, thereupon, said in a grave tone : "Indraraj, lust blinds one. You love my body and hence your request. You are knowledgeable and yet you forget that no one - God, demon or a human being - can extend the lifeline by even a fraction. The mission for which I was born as a human being is accomplished and a moment more here is a great burden to me. See Indra, there is spring blooming and there is a new dawn of sat, chit, anand. Welcome it."

The inmates of Bhagwan were trying to console the congregation of people saying, "Bhagwan will not attain nirvan (liberation) now. We know it for sure." "How?" asked the people. They said, "We remember Bhagwan once said to his pet disciple, Maharshi Gautam, that he would not think of leaving the world without him. Maharshi Gautam has been sent out by Bhagwan for a religious discourse and he will not leave the world in his absence. Have patience." People, on hearing these words, kept quiet but Bhagwan was preparing for the ultimate journey. He transcended Badar Manyog and Vachan-yog and rested in kayayoga the last vestige of life on the planet. The congregation looked, with rapt attention, at his face, which shone, very brightly. Everyone appeared tense, anxious. At last God transcended kayayoga , and a luminous circle of light appeared. The dark night of amavasya brightened and whispers were heard : Bhagwan has attained nirvan . The lamp, which had shed its luminous light and enlightened many a soul, had burnt out. Indra, who had regained his composure said, "Light the lamps. God has attained nirvan ".

The dark night was aglow with myriad lamps but people were eager to know why Bhagwan chose to depart in the absence of Guru Gautam, breaking his own promise.

They felt they would not be able to live and decided to undertake fasting. On the other hand the festival of Bhagwan's nirvan was on and the skies reverberated to the sounds of mridang and conch.

Mahavir had discoursed the day before his nirvan and kali chaudas, the day before deepavali, and the discourse in found in the aagam sutra Uttaradhyayan . That is why Shri Uttaradhyayan sutra is recited on the last two days (kali chaudas , and amaas ) of the month of Aso , the last month in the Hindu Calendar.

On the night of amaas - Deepavali day - devotees worship Bhagwan Mahavir and at midnight special prayers are offered. On the first day of the month of Kartak, the first month in Hindu Calendar, Bhagwan's first disciple Gautamswami attained absolute knowledge. People, therefore, worship him on that day. Thus kali chaudas, deepavali and the New year day witnessed events of great significance, and some fast of these days and undertake elaborate worship.



By Mr. Jasvant (JV) & Asmita Mehta, E-Mail : MehtaJ@MacEwan.ca


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