The Festival of Light, Deepavali is a major Hindu Festival
The Festival of Light, Deepavali is a major Hindu Festival which is celebrated in India and other parts of the world. "Diwali" is the easy-to-pronounce form of Deepavali. In Sanskrit "deepavali" is the marriage of two Sanskrit words- Deepa meaning light and Avali meaning a row. Indeed celebrating the row of lights forms one of Diwali's main attraction. Every home from the huts of the poor to the mansions of the rich come alive with the orange glow of twinkling diyas. Lighting these small earthern lamps welcome Lakshmi, the Goddess of Wealth and Prosperity. Multi coloured rangoli designs, floral decorations and fireworks lend vivid, colourful imagery and grandeur to this festival which heralds joy, mirth and happiness in the ensuring years.
This festival is celebrated on a grand scale in almost all the regions of India and looked upon in some parts of India as the beginning of New Calendar or Financial Year. For those who believe Diwali begins a new financial year, all accounts are tidied up and grand pujas are held amidst devotional displays for Goddess Lakshmi. As such her blessings are invoked with prayers.
This Diwali festival, it is surmised, dates back to that period when perhaps history was not written, and in its progress through centuries, it lighted the path of thousands to attain the ultimate good and complete ecstasy. In India Diwali is very enthusiastically celebrated for five continuous days and each day has its significance with a number of myths, legends and beliefs.
Day 1 ; Dhanteras
The first day is called Dhanteras or Dhantrayodashi which falls on the thirteenth day of the month of Karthik. The word "Dhan" means wealth. As such this day of the five-day Diwali festival has great importance for the rich mercantile community in Western India. Houses and business premises are renovated and decorated. Entrances are made colourful with lovely traditional motifs of Rangoli to welcome the Goddess of Wealth and Prosperity. To indicate her long awaited arrival, small footprints are drawn with rice flour and vermillion 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 (oil lamps) of clay are lighted to drive away the shadows of evil spirits. "Bhajans"- devotional songs- in praise of Goddess Lakshmi are sung and "Naivedya", traditional sweets, are offered to the Goddess. There is a peculiar custom in Maharashtra (North India) to lightly pound dry coriander seeds with jiggery and offer as Naivedya.
In villages, cattles are adorned and worshipped by farmers as they form the main source of their income. In South India, cows are given a special veneration as they are supposed to be the incarnation of Goddess Lakhsmi and therefore they are adorned and worshipped on this day.
A very interesting story about this day is of the sixteen year old son of King Hima. As per his horoscope he was doomed to die by a snake-bite on the fourth day of his marriage. On that particular fourth day of his marriage, his young wife did not allow him to sleep. She laid all the ornaments and lots of gold and silver coins in a big heap at the entrance of her husbands boudoir and lighted innumerable lamps all over the place.and she went on telling stories and singing songs. When Yama the God of Death arrived in the guise of a serpent, his eyes were suddenly blinded by the dazzle of those brilliant lights and he could not enter the Princes chamber. So he climbed on top of the heap of the ornaments and coins and sat there whole night listening to the melodious songs. In the morning he quietly went away.
Thus the young wife saved her husband from the clutches of death. Since then this day of Dhanteras came to be known as the day of Yamadeepdan and lamps are kept burning throughout the night to keep away Yama, the God of Death.
Day 2 : Nakra-Chaturdashi
The second day is called Nakra-Chaturdashi or Choti Diwali falls on the fourteenth day of the month of Karthik. It is on this day that Lord Krishna returns from Pragyotishpur (Nepal) completing his mission of killing the demon, Narakasur. He also freed 16,000 daughters of the gods in the king's harem and reclaimed Mother Goddess Aditi's earrings. To prove he was victorious in killing the demon, Lord Krishna returned home with the king's blood smeared on his forehead. To cleanse the blood and restore overall cleanliness, the womenfolk bathed the Lord in scented oils. Since then, the custom of taking oil baths before sunrise is customary in various parts of India.
In South India that victory of the divine over the mundane is celebrated in a very peculiar way. To re-enact the victory of Lord Krishna, some believers will break melons on the door step of their homes, representing the head of the demon king. After smashing the melon, people will smear their foreheads with a mixture of kumkum powder and oil, which represents the blood Lord Krishna smeared on his head. They will then take an oil bath, using sesame oil with cumin seeds and peppercorns,before bathing with rose water.
In Maharashtra (North India) traditional early baths with oil and "Uptan" (paste) of gram flour and fragrant powders are a must. All through the ritual of baths, deafening sounds of crackers and fireworks are lit to keep the children happy as they are bathed. Afterwards steamed vermicelli with milk and sugar or puffed rice curd is served.
On Nakra-Chaturdashi day, people dedicate themselves to lighting lamps and praying. They believe that the lighting of the lamps expels ignorance and heralds a future full of joy and laughter. The story behind this holiday tradition revolves around King Bali of the nether world. His mighty power had become a threat to the gods. In order to curb his powers, Lord Vishnu in the guise of a small boy visited him and begged him to give him as much land as he could cover with his three steps. Known for his philantrophy, King Bali proudly granted him his wish. That very moment the small boy transformed himself into the all powerful Lord Vishnu. With his first step Lord Vishnu covered the entire heavens and with the second step he covered the earth. Before taking the third and the final step, lord Vishnu asked Bali where he should place it. Bali offered his head. Putting his foot on his head, Vishnu pushed him down to the underworld. At the same time for his generosity, Lord Vishnu gave him the lamp of knowledge and allowed him to return to earth once a year to light millions of lamps to dispel darkness and ignorance and spread the radiance of love and wisdom.
Day 3 : Lakshmi Puja
The third day of the festival of Diwali is the most important day of Lakshmi puja which is entirely devoted to the propitiation of Goddess Lakshmi. This day is also known by the name of Chopada Puja. On this very day the sun passes the house of Libra. As Libra's symbol is that of scale, it was believed it would be appropriate to the balance account books and their closing. Despite the fact that this day falls on an "amavasya day"(waning of the moon) it is regarded the most auspicious.
It is believed that on this day Lakshmi walks through the green fields and loiters through the bye-lanes and showers her blessings on men for plenty and prosperity. When the sun sets in the evening and the ceremonial worship is ended, all the homemade sweets are offered to the goddess as naivedya and distributed as Prasad (prasadam). Feasts are arranged and gifts are exchanged. On this day gaily dressed men, women and children go to temples and fairs, visit friends and relatives.
One of the most curious customs that characterizes this festival of Diwali is the indulgence of gambling, especially on a large scale in North India. It is believed goddess Parvati played dice with her husband, Lord Shiva on this day and she decreed that whosoever gambled on Diwali night would prosper throughout the ensuring year. This tradition of playing cards continues till today.
Another very interesting story about this Diwali day is from the Kathopanishad. In this story, a small boy called Nichiketa believed that Yama, the God of Death, was as black as the dark night of amavasya. But when he met Yama in person he was puzzled seeing Yama's calm countenance and dignified stature. Yama explained to Nichiketa that on this diwali day of amavasya, by passing through the darkness of death, only then does man sees the light of highest wisdom. It was then that Nichiketa realized the importance of worldly life and the significance of death. All of Nichiketa's doubts were set to rest and he whole-heartedly participated in the Diwali celebrations.
Day 4 : Padwa or Varshapratipada
It is the fourth day that marks the coronation of King Vikramaditya, initiating Vikra-Samvat on this Padwa day.
Govardhan-Puja is also perfomed in the Northern part of India on this day. As per Vishnu-Puran (Hindu books of God and Legends) the people of Gokul used to celebrate a festival in honour of Lord Indira, worshipping him after the end of every monsoon season. However, one particular year the young Krishna stopped them from offering prayers to Lord Indira. This angered Lord indira, who responded by submerging Gokul . Krishna saved Gokul by lifting up the Govardhan Mountain and holding it over the people as an umbrella. To commemorate this day,the people of Punjab, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh and Bihar build cow dung hillocks, decorate them with flowers and then worship them.
On this day in the temples of Mathura and Nathadwara (South India), the deities are given a milk bath, dressed in shiny attires with ornaments of dazzling diamonds, pearls, rubies, and other precious stones. After the prayers are offered, a dazzling variety of delicious sweets are ceremoniously raised in the form of a mountain (known as Annakkoot) before the deities as a bhog (serving). Only after this offering are devotees offered prasad from the bhog.
This day is looked upon as the most auspicious day to start any new venture. In many Hindu homes it is customary for the wife to put the red tilak (red mark) on the forehead of her husband, garland him and do an aarthi (xx) 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 gift. This Gudi Padwa is a symbol of love and devotion between the wife and husband. On this day newly married daughters with their husbands are invited to their parents�� home for a special meal and given presents.
Day 5 : Bahyya-Duj
The fifth and the final day of Diwali is known as Bhayya-Duj.
Legend says Yama, God of Death visited his sister, Yami on this particular day. She put the auspicious tilak on his forehead, garlanded him and fed him with special dishes. Together, they ate the sweets, talked and enjoyed themselves to their hearts content. While parting Yama gave her a special gift as token of his love and in return Yami also gave him a lovely gift which she had made with her own hands. That day Yama announced that anyone who receives tilak from his sister will never be punished or thrown from heaven. That is why this day of Bhayya-duj is also known as Yama Dwitiya.
Since then this day is being observed as a symbol of love between sisters and brothers. It became also imperative for the brother to go to his sister's house to celebrate Bhayya-Duj.