DIVALI / DIWALI/DEEPAVALI
4th – 8th November
Deepawali or Diwali, the Hindu new year’s day, is the biggest and the brightest of all Hindu festivals. It is the festival of lights: deep means ‘light’ and ‘avali’ a row’, so divali is ‘a row of lights’. It coincides with the darkest night (15th) of the lunar month of Kartik, which usually falls in late October or early November. The festival is marked by four days of celebrations, which literally illuminate the country with their brilliance and dazzle with their joy. Traditionally every house will set out tiny clay pots with wicks and oil all around their home, and in locations where Diwali is a national holiday, public places are also lit up with beautiful candles and lamps. Families exchange gifts at this time and share a special dinner with relatives and friends.
Each of the four days in the festival of Diwali reflects a different tradition. All four view the festival as a celebration of life and of joy, and they all share a powerful sense of the value of goodness and virtue. Various legends point to its origin. Some believe it to be the celebration of the marriage of the goddess of wealth, Lakshmi, with Lord Vishnu. Others view it as a celebration of her birthday, since Lakshmi is said to have been born on the new moon day of Kartik; many see it as a day when she fulfils the wishes of her devotees.
Diwali also commemorates the return from exile of Lord Rama (along with his wife, Sita, his loyal brother, Lakshman, and his chief supporter, Hanuman), culminating in the vanquishing of 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 bursts of fire crackers.
In Bengal, the festival is dedicated to the worship of Mother Kali, the dark goddess of strength. Ganesha, the elephant-headed god, the symbol of auspiciousness and wisdom, is also worshipped in Hindu homes on this day. In Jainism, Deepawali has added significance as marking the great event of Lord Mahavira’s attaining the eternal bliss of nirvana.
All of the simple rituals of Diwali have a significance and a story to tell. Homes are illuminated with lights and noisy firecrackers fill the skies as an expression of human respect for the gods, whose help is sought in the quest for the attainment of health, wealth, knowledge, peace, and prosperity.
For Hindu families this is a time to clean their homes from top to bottom, so that when the lamps are lit their houses will be suitable for Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth and knowledge, to enter their home and bless them with good fortune for the coming year. It is traditional for families to make offerings to the goddess, chiefly of fruit, rice pudding, flowers and other assorted gifts.
In addition to that, the exchange of presents during Diwali has become a mandatory part of the celebration. Friends, families, colleagues all share Diwali gifts with each other as an expression of affection. A special feast is shared with delicious food that includes different varieties of sweets.
Indians love colours and this is reflected in various ways. Rangoli is one example, a unique form of art work based on beautiful and symbolic designs and patterns. These are colourfully presented all across India, and are usually created on floors or open spaces.
On this day, Hindu merchants in North India open their new account books for the year and pray for success and prosperity during the coming months. Husbands buy new garments for the family. Employers purchase new clothes for their employees, and the wealthy feed the poor.
The tradition of gambling on Diwali is also legendary: it is believed that on this day the goddess Parvati played dice with her husband Lord Shiva. She decreed that whoever gambled on Diwali night would prosper throughout the ensuing year.
In each legend, myth, and story the significance of Deepavali lies in the victory of good over evil. It is a time when everyone forgets and forgives the wrongs done by others during the previous year. When the oil lamps are lit, there is an air of freedom, festivity, and friendliness everywhere.