Why Diwali is Celebrated – Indian Festival of Light to be held on 7th November 2018
Why diwali is Celebrated – Indian Festival of Light to be held on 7th November 2018
Diwali is the Hindu festival of lights, which is celebrated every autumn in the northern hemisphere (spring in the southern hemisphere). Diwali is also called Deepavali or Dipavali. One of the most popular festivals of Hinduism, Diwali symbolizes the spiritual “victory of light over darkness, good over evil and knowledge over ignorance”. During the celebration, temples, homes, shops and office buildings are brightly illuminated. The preparations, and rituals, for the festival typically last five days, with the climax occurring on the third day coinciding with the darkest night of the Hindu Lunisolar month Kartika. In the Gregorian calendar, the festival generally falls between mid-October and mid-November.
In the lead up to Diwali, celebrants will prepare by cleaning, renovating and decorating their homes and offices. During the climax, revellers adorn themselves in their finest clothes, illuminate the interior and exterior of their homes with diyas (lamps and candles), offer puja (prayers) to Lakshmi – the goddess of prosperity and wealth, light fireworks, partake in family feasts, where mithai (sweets) and gifts are shared. Diwali is also a major cultural event for the Hindu and Jain diaspora from the Indian subcontinent.
The five-day festival originated in the Indian subcontinent and is mentioned in early Sanskrit texts. The names of the festive days of Diwali, as well as the rituals, vary by region. Diwali is usually celebrated eighteen days after the Dussehra festival with Dhanteras, or the regional equivalent, marking the first day of the festival when celebrants prepare by cleaning their homes and laying floor decorations, such as rangoli. The second day is Choti Diwali, or equivalent in north India, while for Hindus in the south of India it is Diwali proper. Western, central, eastern and northern Indian communities observe Diwali on the third day and the darkest night of the traditional month. In some parts of India, the day after Diwali is marked with the Goverdhan Puja and Diwali Padva, which is dedicated to the relationship between wife and husband. Some Hindu communities mark the last day as Bhai Dooj, which is dedicated to the bond between sister and brother, while other Hindu and Sikh craftsmen communities mark this day as Vishwakarma Puja and observe it by performing maintenance in their workspaces and offering prayers.
The Diwali festival is likely a fusion of harvest festivals in ancient India. It is mentioned in Sanskrit texts such as the Padma Purana, the Skanda Purana both of which were completed in the second half of the 1st millennium CE. The diyas (lamps) are mentioned in Skanda Purana as symbolising parts of the sun, describing it as the cosmic giver of light and energy to all life and which seasonally transitions in the Hindu calendar month of Kartik. One historical reference attributes Diwali to the legend of Yama and Nachiketa on Kartika Amavasya (Diwali night). The Nachiketa story of right versus wrong, true wealth versus transient wealth, knowledge versus ignorance is recorded in Katha Upanishad, which was composed in the 1st millennium BCE.
King Harsha refers to Deepavali, in the 7th century Sanskrit play Nagananda, as Deepapratipadutsava (Deepa = light, pratipada = first day, utsava = festival), where lamps were lit and newly engaged brides and grooms received gifts. Rajasekhara referred to Deepavali as Dipamalika in his 9th century Kavyamimamsa, wherein he mentions the tradition of homes being whitewashed and oil lamps decorated homes, streets, and markets in the night.
Diwali was also described by numerous travelers from outside India. In his 11th century memoir on India, the Persian traveler and historian Al Biruni wrote of Deepavali is celebrated by Hindus on the day of the New Moon in the month of Kartika. The Venetian merchant and traveler Niccolò de’ Conti visited India in the early 15th-century and wrote in his memoir, “on another of these festivals they fix up within their temples, and on the outside of the roofs, an innumerable number of oil lamps… which are kept burning day and night” and that the families would gather, “clothe themselves in new garments”, sing, dance, and feast. The 16th-century Portuguese traveler Domingo Paes wrote of his visit to the Hindu Vijayanagara Empire, where Dipavali was celebrated in October with householders illuminating their homes, and their temples, with lamps.
Islamic historians of the Delhi Sultanate and the Mughal Empire era also mentioned Diwali and other Hindu festivals. A few, notably the Mughal emperor Akbar, welcomed and participated in the festivities, whereas others banned such festivals as Diwali and Holi, as Aurangzeb did in 1665.
Publications from the British colonial era also made mention of Diwali, such as the note on Hindu festivals published in 1799 by Sir William Jones, a philologist known for his early observations on Sanskrit and Indo-European languages. In his paper on The Lunar Year of the Hindus, Jones, then based in Bengal, noted four of the five days of Diwali in the autumn months of Aswina-Cartica [sic] as the following: Bhutachaturdasi Yamaterpanam (2nd day), Lakshmi puja dipanwita (the day of Diwali), Dyuta pratipat Belipuja (4th day), and Bhratri Dwitiya (5th day). The Lakshmi puja dipanwita, remarked Jones, was a “great festival at night, in honor of Lakshmi, with illuminations on trees and houses”
Dhanteras (Day 1)
Dhanteras, derived from Dhan meaning wealth and teras meaning thirteenth, marks the thirteenth day of the dark fortnight of Kartik and the beginning of Diwali. On this day, many Hindu’s clean their homes and business premises. They install diyas, small earthen oil-filled lamps that they light up for the next five days, near Lakshmi and Ganesha iconography. Women and children decorate doorways within homes and offices with rangoli, colorful designs made from rice flour, flower petals and colored sand, while the boys and men decorate the roofs and walls of family homes, markets, and temples. The day also marks a major shopping day to purchase new utensils, home equipment, jewelry, firecrackers, and other items. On the evening of Dhanteras, families offer prayers (puja) to Lakshmi and Ganesha and lay offerings of puffed rice, candy toys, rice cakes and batashas (hollow sugar cakes).
According to Tracy Pintchman, Dhanteras is a symbol of annual renewal, cleansing and an auspicious beginning for the next year. The term “Dhan” for this day also alludes to the Ayurvedic icon Dhanvantari, the god of health and healing, who is believed to have emerged from the “churning of cosmic ocean” on the same day as Lakshmi. Some communities, particularly those active in Ayurvedic and health-related professions, pray or perform havan rituals to Dhanvantari on Dhanteras.
Choti Diwali, Naraka Chaturdasi (Day 2)
Choti Diwali, also known as Naraka Chaturdasi, is the second day of festivities coinciding with the fourteenth day of the second fortnight of the lunar month. The term “choti” means little, while “Naraka” means hell and “Chaturdasi” means “fourteenth”. The day and its rituals are interpreted as ways to liberate any souls from their suffering in “Naraka”, or hell, as well as a reminder of spiritual auspiciousness. For some Hindus, it is a day to pray for the peace to the manes, or deified souls of one’s ancestors and light their way for their journeys in the cyclic afterlife. A mythological interpretation of this festive day is the destruction of the asura (demon) Narakasura by Krishna, a victory that frees 16,000 imprisoned princesses kidnapped by Narakasura.
Naraka Chaturdasi is also a major day for purchasing festive foods, particularly sweets. A variety of sweets are prepared using flour, semolina, rice, chickpea flour, dry fruit pieces powders or paste, milk solids (mawa or khoya) and clarified butter (ghee). According to Goldstein, these are then shaped into various forms, such as laddus, barfis, halvah, kachoris, shrikhand, and Sandesh, rolled and stuffed delicacies, such as maladu, susiyam, pottukadalai. Sometimes these are wrapped with edible silver foil (vark). Confectioners and shops create Diwali-themed decorative displays, selling these in large quantities, which are stocked for home celebrations to welcome guests and as gifts. Families also prepare homemade delicacies for the main Diwali day. Choti Diwali is also a day for visiting friends, business associates and relatives, and exchanging gifts.
This day is commonly celebrated as Diwali in Tamil Nadu, Goa, and Karnataka. Some South Indian Hindus receive an oil massage and then take a ritual bath. Many visit their favorite Hindu temple.
Diwali, Lakshmi Puja (Day 3)
The third day is the height of the festival, and coincides with the last day of the dark fortnight of the lunar month. This is the day when Hindu, Jain and Sikh temples and homes are aglow with lights, thereby making it the “festival of lights”.
The youngest members in the family visit their elders, such as grandparents and other senior members of the community, on this day. Small business owners give gifts or special bonus payments to their employees between Dhanteras and Diwali. Shops either do not open or close early on this day allowing employees to enjoy family time. Shopkeepers and small operations perform puja rituals in their office premises. Unlike some other festivals, the Hindu typically do not fast on Diwali, rather they feast and share the bounties of the season at their workplaces, community centers, temples, and homes.
As the evening approaches, celebrants will wear new clothes or their best outfits, teenage girls and women, in particular, wear saris and jewelry. At dusk, family members gather for the Lakshmi puja, although prayers will also be offered to other deities, such as Ganesha, Saraswati, Rama, Lakshmana, Sita, Hanuman, or Kubera. The lamps from the puja ceremony are then used to light more earthenware lamps, which are placed in rows along the parapets of temples and houses, while some diyas are set adrift on rivers and streams. After the puja, people go outside and celebrate by lighting up patakhe (fireworks) together, and then share a family feast and mithai (sweets, desserts).
The puja and rituals in the Bengali Hindu community focus on Kali, the goddess of war, instead of Lakshmi. According to Rachel Fell McDermott, a scholar of South Asian, particular Bengali, studies, in Bengal during Navaratri (Dussehra elsewhere in India) the Durga Puja is the main focus, although in the eastern and northeastern states the two are synonymous, but on Diwali, the focus is on the puja dedicated to Kali. These two festivals likely developed in tandem over their recent histories, states McDermott. Textual evidence suggests that Bengali Hindus worshipped Lakshmi before the colonial era and that the Kali puja is a more recent phenomenon. Contemporary Bengali celebrations mirror those found elsewhere, with teenage boys playing with fireworks and the sharing of festive food with family, but with the Shakti goddess Kali as the focus.
Annakut, Padwa, Govardhan puja (Day 4)
The day after Diwali is the first day of the bright fortnight of the lunisolar calendar. It is regionally called as Annakut (heap of grain), Padwa, Goverdhan Puja, Bali Pratipada, Bali Padyani, Kartik Shukla Pratipada, and other names. According to one tradition, the day is associated with the story of Bali’s defeat at the hands of Vishnu. In another interpretation, it is thought to reference the legend of Parvati and her husband Shiva playing a game of dyuta (dice) on a board of twelve squares and thirty pieces, Parvati wins. Shiva surrenders his shirt and adornments to her, rendering him naked. According to Handelman and Shulman, as quoted by Pintchman, this legend is a Hindu metaphor for the cosmic process for creation and dissolution of the world through the masculine destructive power, as represented by Shiva, and the feminine procreative power, represented by Parvati, where twelve reflects the number of months in the cyclic year, while thirty are the number of days in its lunisolar month.
In some rural communities of the north, west and central regions, the fourth day is celebrated as Govardhan Puja, honoring the legend of the Hindu god Krishna saving the cowherd and farming communities from incessant rains and floods triggered by Indra’s anger, which he accomplished by lifting the Govardhan mountain. This legend is remembered through the ritual of building small mountain-like miniatures from cow dung. According to Kinsley, the ritual use of cow dung, a common fertilizer, is an agricultural motif and a celebration of its significance to annual crop cycles.
Bhai Duj, Bhaiya Dooj (Day 5)
The last day of the festival is called Bhai duj (literally “brother’s day”) or Bhai tilak. It celebrates the sister-brother bond, similar in spirit to Raksha Bandhan but it is the brother that travels to meet the sister and her family. This festive day is interpreted by some to symbolize Yama’s sister the Yamuna welcoming Yama with a tilaka, while others interpret it as the arrival of Krishna at his sister’s, Subhadra, place after defeating Narakasura. Subhadra welcomes him with a tilaka on his forehead.
The day celebrates the sibling bond between brother and sister. On this day the womenfolk of the family gather, perform a puja with prayers for the well being of their brothers, then return to a ritual of feeding their brothers with their hands and receiving gifts. According to Pintchman, in some Hindu traditions, the women recite tales where sisters protect their brothers from enemies that seek to cause him either bodily or spiritual harm. In historic times, this was a day in autumn when brothers would travel to meet their sisters or invite their sister’s family to their village to celebrate their sister-brother bond with the bounty of seasonal harvests.
The prayers vary widely by region of India. An example vedic prayer from Brhadaranyaka Upanishad celebrating lights is:
Asato ma sat gamaya | (असतो मा सद्गमय ।)
Tamaso ma jyotir gamaya | (तमसो मा ज्योतिर्गमय ।)
Mṛtyor ma amṛtam gamaya | (मृत्योर्मा अमृतं गमय ।)
Om shanti shanti shantihi || (ॐ शान्तिः शान्तिः शान्तिः ॥)
Translation into English:
From untruth lead us to Truth.
From darkness lead us to Light.
From death lead us to Immortality.
Om Peace, Peace, Peace.
Why diwali is Celebrated – Indian Festival of Light to be held on 7th November 2018
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