The word Diwali brims our minds with nostalgic memories of candle-lights, earthen lamps, homes filled with rich smells of delicious delicacies and mouth-watering sweets, the vibrant new clothes, bag full of firecrackers, hours of hard work put in designing the best Rangoli, the warmth of families & friends, the surprising gifts and the chill of the upcoming winter season. This seems to appear as the perfect picture of Diwali in India.
Diwali, one of the most significant, colourful and sacred festivals in Indian culture, the celebration of lights, is celebrated by millions of Hindus, Sikhs, Jains and Buddhists with immense fervour and zest across the length and breadth of the country and even beyond.
As the festival manifests to its Sanskrit meaning “row of lamps”, diyas are lit to ward off evil and to usher in goodness with light, it is the time to commemorate the victory of good over evil, light over darkness and knowledge over ignorance, the day when Lord Rama after his fourteen years of exile and majestic victory over Raavan, returned to his kingdom in the city of Ayodhya on a moonless night. The residents of Ayodhya had light up the city in divine splendor with diyas.
On the first day, Dhanteras, Goddess of Wealth and Treasurer of Gods are worshiped. The name is derived from a Sanskrit word where ‘Dhan’ means wealth and ‘Teras’ is the thirteenth day on which it is celebrated. It is believed to bring prosperity and good luck throughout the year.
The next day after Dhanteras is the Narak Chaturdasi, and it is on this day that Narakasur was beheaded by Lord Krishna’s wife – Satyabhama. It is a day to abolish evil from our lives.
The third day of the five-day festival traditionally marks as Diwali- to pray for good luck and prosperity from the Hindu Goddess Lakshmi and the God Ganesh, who represents good luck, wealth and enlightenment. It falls on Amavasya (no moon) and it is the most auspicious day of this festival.
The day following Diwali is Padwa as it is believed that Lord Krishna saved the people of Gokul by lifting the govardhan hill. At some places, it also marks the beginning of a new year.
The last day is the Bhai dooj and it celebrates the unconditional love between brother and sister. On this day, the god of deaths, Yamraj visited his sister, Yami after a long time and she welcomed him with great hospitality. Yamraj was so delighted with this and he made this custom every year and believed that if a sister puts a tilak on her brother’s forehead then no one will be able to harm him. Thereby, brother visits their sister and they enjoy.
The states of India are celebrated for their unique eccentricities be it various traditional costumes, culture or lifestyle. However, Diwali binds the country together, since ages, and the culture of each Indian state has increased the sparkle of this festival of light. From Kashmir in the north to Kanyakumari in the south, the festival imbibes the flavor of the region.
In Northern India, the festival is associated with the return of Lord Rama along with wife Sita and brother Lakshman after 14 years of exile to Ayodhya. His homecoming is celebrated with bursting crackers and fireworks, lights and sweets. The Northern states of Uttar Pradesh, Punjab, Haryana, Bihar, Delhi, and surrounding areas still uphold the tradition of burning huge effigies of Ravana. Besides, Goddess Lakshmi and Lord Ganesha are also worshiped and the entire city and the houses are decorated with Rangoli and lights.
In Eastern India, it is the night of ancestors, and earthen oil lamps are lit on poles to guide the souls of the departed loved ones to heaven in Odisha. The people of West Bengal and Assam worship goddess Kali on the night of Diwali and offer prayers to their ancestors. The people of Bihar and Jharkhand perform Lakshmi Pooja in the evening and women make Rangolis on the porch of their homes and temples.
In Western India, while Gujarati’s draw footprints of goddess Lakshmi on the threshold of the house, light their homes with candles, rice lights, and diyas on the night of Diwali, the people of Maharashtra perform Lakshmi Pooja in their homes and arrange a feast of sweets and snacks for their families and friends. Also, there is a custom to buy new utensils or gold and silver jewellery on this day. The day after Diwali is the New Year for Gujarati people.
In Southern India, Andhrites and Tamilians worship Lord Krishna and his wife Satyambha’s victory over the demonic King Narkasura, the people of Kannada take oil bath and build forts from cow dung in their homes. Here, Diwali is celebrated in the Tamil month of Aippasi Naraka Chaturdashi thithi, preceding amavasai. The preparations and cleanings begin the day before; homes are decorated with kolam designs. On the morning of Naraka Chaturdashi, the actual celebrations begin with an early morning oil bathe before sunrise. Thereafter, new clothes and sweets are relished. Another unique ritual in South India observed on Diwali is Thalai Deepavali. On this day, the newlyweds celebrate their first Diwali in the bride’s parental home.
Diwali also marks the end of the harvest season in India and the beginning of the financial year for Indian businesses. It is a national holiday not only in India but in countries like Trinidad & Tobago, Myanmar, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Mauritius, Guyana, Surinam, Singapore, Malaysia, Fiji as well.
All in all, Diwali comes with many messages. From unconventional philosophies to faint craziness, Diwali prides of its spirited, dynamic essence at varying places.
Diwali has always been something empowering: an occasion to contemplate on all the positives in our lives-our loving friends and family, our good health, and prosperity; and realize what is truly important. Never lose faith in the fact that the good and virtuous shall always triumph over the evil and spiteful. That within each of ourselves, our best, virtuous self will defeat the impulses of ego and tyranny. The Ramayan epic – a battle between Ravana and Rama — can be inferred as a battle between our egos, our urges for control and manipulation, on one hand; and humility, virtue, and love on the other.