Thursday, November 1, 2007
One of the biggest festivals of Hindus, Deepawali or Diwali in India is celebrated with lots of enthusiasm and happiness. This festival is celebrated for five continuous days, with the third day being celebrated as the main Diwali or as 'Festival of Lights'. Fireworks are always associated with this festival. The day is celebrated with people lighting diyas, candles all around their house. Lakshmi Puja is performed in the evening to seek divine blessings of Goddess of Wealth. Diwali gifts are exchanged among all near and dear ones.
Diwali, (in Hindi - दिवाली or दीपावली), is a major Indian festival that is very significant in Hinduism and Jainism. Known as the "Festival of Lights," it symbolizes the victory of good over evil, and lamps (called diyas or kandils) are lit as a sign of celebration and hope for humankind. The lights also represent the time when Rama came back from the forest, and all his village lit lamps to welcome him back home. Celebrations focus on lights and lamps, particularly traditional dīpa or deeya (earthen lamp, as illustrated). Fireworks are associated with the festival. Diwali is a colloquial name used in North India, while the festival is formally called Deepavali in South India.
Diwali is celebrated for five consecutive days at the end of Hindu month of Kartika (purminata) or Ashwayuja (amanta). It usually occurs in October/November, and is one of the most popular and eagerly awaited festivals in India. Diwali comes exactly twenty days after Dussehra. Hindus, Jains and Sikhs alike regard it as a celebration of life and use the occasion to strengthen family and social relationships. For Hindus it is one of the most important festivals, and beginning of the year in some Hindu calendars. There are several beliefs regarding the origin of the holiday. The most repeated version is that Hindus celebrate Diwali to mark the time when Lord Rama achieved victory over Ravana. Some also view it as the day Krishna defeated the demon Narakasura or in honor of the day Bali went to rule the nether-world, obeying the order of Vishnu. In Jainism it marks the nirvana of Lord Mahavira, which occurred on Oct. 15, 527 BCE. It is also a significant festival for the Sikh faith. In India, Diwali is now considered to be more of a national festival, and the aesthetic aspect of the festival is enjoyed by most Indians regardless of faith.
Dates in various calendars
The festival is celebrated for a differing number of days by different communities. In Maharashtra and Karnataka, the celebrations start from Vasubaras, 12th day of the second fortnight of Ashvin (going on for 6 days) while in Northern India the celebrations start from Laxmi Puja the no moon day of the same month (going on for 2-3 days). Though the core days are common and fall on exactly the same set of days across India, they fall in different months depending on the version of the Hindu calendar being used in the given region.
The Amanta ("ending on the no-moon") version of the Hindu Calendar has been adopted as the Indian national calendar. According to this calendar, which is prevalent in southern India and Maharashtra, the 6-day celebration is spread over the last four days of the month of Ashwayuja (Ashwin in Marathi) and the first two days of the new month of Kartika. According to the Purnimanta ("ending on the full-moon") version prevalent in northern India, it falls in the middle of the month of Ashwayuja/Ashvin. In the Gregorian calendar, it falls generally in the months of October or November. In 2006, it was celebrated on October 21, a Saturday. In 2007 it will be celebrated on November 10, also a Saturday.
Significance in Hinduism
The festival marks the victory of good over evil. The Sanskrit word Deepavali means an array of lights that stands for victory of brightness over darkness. As the knowledge of Sanskrit diminished, the name was popularly modified to Diwali, especially in northern India. In South India, Diwali does not coincide with the beginning of a new year as South Indians follow a different calendar, the Shalivahana calendar.
On the day of Diwali, many wear new clothes, share sweets and snacks. Some North Indian business communities start their financial year on Diwali and new account books are opened on this day.
Hindus find cause to celebrate this festival for different reasons:
It commemorates the killing of Narakasura, an evil demon who created havoc, by Lord Krishna's wife Satyabhama. This happened in the Dwapara Yuga during this time of Lord Krishna's avatar. In another version, the demon was killed by Lord Krishna himself. Before Narakasura's death, he requested a boon from his mother, Satyabhama (believed to be an Avatar of Bhudevi - Narakasura' mother), that everyone should celebrate his death with colorful light.
According to the Skanda Purana, the goddess Shakti observed 21 days of austerity starting from ashtami of shukla paksha (eighth day of the waxing period of moon) to get half of the body of Lord Shiva. This vrata (austerity) is known as kedhara vrata. Deepavali is the completion day of this austerity. This is the day Lord Shiva accepted Shakti into the left half of the form and appeared as Ardhanarishvara. The ardent devotees observe this 21 days vrata by making a kalasha with 21 threads on it and 21 types of offerings for 35 days. The final day is celebrated as kedhara gauri vrata.
Diwali also celebrates the return of Lord Rama, King of Ayodhya, with his wife Sita and brother Lakshmana to Ayodhya from a war in which he killed the demon king Ravana. It is believed that the people lit oil lamps along the way to light their path in the darkness. This is the reason, why the festival is celebrated a day earlier in South India since Lord Rama travelled from the south to his kingdom in the north. In North India, the festival is held on the final day of the Vikram calendar. The following day marks the beginning of the North Indian new year, and is called Annakut.
Govardhan Puja is celebrated the day after Diwali. It is the day Lord Krishna defeated Indra, the deity of thunder and rain. As per the story, Krishna saw huge preparations for the annual offering to Lord Indra and questions his father Nanda about it. Why was this necessary? Why should human beings offer anything to some unknown being in the sky? He debated with the villagers about what their 'dharma' truly was. They were farmers, they should do their duty and concentrate on farming and protection of their cattle. He continued to say that all human beings should merely do their 'karma', to the best of their ability and not pray for natural phenomenon. The villagers were convinced by Krishna, and did not proceed with the special puja (prayer). Indra was then angered, and flooded the village. Krishna then lifted Mt Govardhan and held it up as protection to his people and cattle from the rain. Indra finally accepted defeat and recognized Krishna as supreme. This aspect of Krishna's life is mostly glossed over - but it actually set up the basis of the 'karma' philosophy later detailed in the Bhagavat Gita.
In Bhavishyottara and Brahma Vaivarta Purana, Diwali is associated with the Daitya king Bali, who is allowed to return to earth once a year. However in Kerala this is the reason 'Onam' is celebrated. 'Onam' festival falls around the month of August-September.
While Deepavali is popularly known as the "festival of lights", the most significant esoteric meaning is "the awareness of the inner light".
Central to Hindu philosophy, is the assertion that there is something beyond the physical body and mind which is pure, infinite, and eternal, called the Atman. Just as we celebrate the birth of our physical being, Deepavali is the celebration of this Inner Light, in particular the knowing of which outshines all darkness (removes all obstacles and dispels all ignorance), awakening the individual to one's true nature, not as the body, but as the unchanging, infinite, imminent and transcendent reality. With the realization of the Atman, comes universal compassion, love, and the awareness of the oneness of all things (higher knowledge). This brings Ananda (Inner Joy or Peace).
Deepavali celebrates this through festive fireworks, lights, flowers, sharing sweets, and worship. While the story behind Deepavali varies from region to region, the essence is the same - to rejoice in the Inner Light (Atman) or the underlying reality of all things (Brahman).
The Five days of Diwali
Diwali is celebrated over five days in most of North India. All the days except Diwali are named using the designation in the Indian calendar. A lunar half-month is 15 days. Diwali as a new-moon day, marks the last day of a 15-day period.
1)Dhan-trayodashi or Dhan teras: Dhan means "wealth" and Trayodashi means "13th day". Thus, as the name implies, this day falls on the 13th day of the second half of the lunar month. It is an auspicious day for shopping.
2)Naraka Chaturdasi: Chaturdasi is the fourteenth day on which demon Narakasura was killed. It signifies the victory of good over evil and light over darkness (Gujarati: Kali Chaudas). In south India, this is the actual day of festivities. Hindus wake up way before dawn as early as 2.00 in the morning, have a fragrant oil bath and wear new clothes. They light small lamps all around the house and draw elaborate kolams /rangolis outside their homes. They perform a special puja with offerings to Lord Sri Krishna or Lord Sri Vishnu, as he liberated the world from the demon Narakasura on this day. It is believed that taking a bath before sunrise, when the stars are still visible in the sky is equivalent to taking a bath in the holy Ganges. Hence, when people greet each other in the morning, they ask "Have you performed your Ganga Snaanam?". After the puja, children burst firecrackers heralding the defeat of the demon. As this is a day of rejoicement, many will have very elaborate breakfasts and lunches and meet family and friends. In the evening, lamps are again lit and Goddess Lakshmi is worshipped and offered special dishes. This being a no moon day, many will offer special tarpana (offerings of water and sesame seeds) to their ancestors.
3)Diwali: the actual day of Diwali, is celebrated on the third day of the festival, when the moon completely wanes and total darkness sets in the night sky.
4)Govardhan Puja or also called Annakut, is celebrated as the day Krishna defeated Indra. For Annakut a mountain of food is decorated symbolizing Govardhan mountain lifted by Lord Krishna. In Maharashtra it is celebrated as Padva or BaliPratipada. The day commemorates King Bali. Men present gifts to their wives on this day.
5)Bhayiduj (also Bhayyaduj, Bhaubeej or Bhayitika) — on this day, brothers and sisters meet to express their love and affection for each other (Gujarati: Bhai Bij, Bengali: Bhai Phota). Most Indian festivals bring together families, Bhaiduj brings together married sisters and brothers, and is a significant festive day for them. This festival is ancient, and pre-dates 'Raksha Bandhan' another brother-sister festival being celebrated today.
The celebrations vary in different regions:
In Southern India, naraka chaturdashii is the main day, with firecrackers at dawn.
The main festival in North India is on Amavasya(No moon) evening with Lakshmi Puja which is followed by lighting of oil lamps around the house.
As per spiritual references, on this day "Lakshmi-panchayatan" enters the Universe. Sri Vishnu, Sri Indra, Sri Kuber, Sri Gajendra and Sri Lakshmi are elements of this "panchayatan" (a group of five). The tasks of these elements are:
Vishnu: Happiness (happiness and satisfaction)
Indra: Opulence (satisfaction due to wealth)
Kubera: Wealth (one who gives away wealth)
Gajendra: Carries the wealth
Lakshmi: Divine Energy (Shakti) which provides energy to all the above activities
Uprising against the Mughal Empire
The story (according to Hindu Mythology) of Lord Rama returning home after destroying the demon god Ravana who had taken away Rama’s wife, Sita, of course, has no significance in the Sikh tradition. However, in the Sikh struggle for freedom from the oppressive Mughal regime, the festival of Diwali did become the second most important day after the Baisakhi, when Khalsa was formally established by the Tenth Guru Gobind Singh in 1699.
The Sikh struggle for freedom, which intensified in the 18th Century, came to be centered around this day. After the execution of Banda Bahadur in 1716, who had led the agrarian uprising in Punjab, the Sikhs started the tradition of deciding matters concerning the community at the biennial meetings which took place at Amritsar on the first of Baisakh and at Diwali. These assemblies were known as the "Sarbat Khalsa" and a resolution passed by it became a "gurmata" (decree of the Guru).
To add to the festival of Diwali, fairs (or melas) are held throughout India. Melas are to be found in many towns and villages. A mela generally becomes a market day in the countryside when farmers buy and sell produce. Girls and women dress attractively during the festival. They wear colourful clothing, new jewelry and their hands are decorated with henna designs.
Among the many activities that take place at a mela are performances by jugglers, acrobats, snake charmers and fortune tellers. Food stalls are set up, selling sweet and spicy foods. There are a variety of rides at the fair, which include Ferris wheels and rides on animals such as elephants and camels. Another attraction is the puppet shows that are shown throughout the day.
Diwali in other parts of the world
Diwali is celebrated in various parts of the world, in countries such as the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Suriname, Canada, Guyana, Mauritius, Fiji, Japan, Indonesia, Malaysia, Myanmar, Nepal, Singapore, Sri Lanka, South Africa, Trinidad and Tobago, Thailand, United Arab Emirates, Australia, much of Africa, and the United States. With more and more Indians and Sri Lankans now migrating to various parts of the world, the number of countries where Diwali is celebrated has been gradually increasing. While in some countries it is celebrated mainly by Indian expatriates, in others it has become part of the general local culture. In most of these countries Diwali is celebrated on the same lines as described in this article with some minor variations. Some important variations are worth mentioning.
In Nepal, Diwali is known as "Tihar" and celebrated during the October/November period. Here the festival is celebrated for five days and the traditions vary from those followed in India. On the first day, cows are given offerings, in appreciation of the food they have given and agricultural work they have performed. On the second day, dogs and all living animals are revered and offered special food. On the third day, celebrations follow the same pattern as in India, with lights and lamps and much social activity. On the fourth day Yama, the Lord of Death, is worshipped and appeased. On the fifth and final day, brothers and sisters meet and exchange pleasantries.
In Trinidad and Tobago, communities all over the islands get together and celebrate the festival. One major celebration that stands out is the Divali Nagar, or Village of the Festival of Lights. It features stage performances by the east Indian cultural practitioners, a folk theatre featuring skits and plays, an exhibition on some aspect of Hinduism, displays by various Hindu religious sects and social organizations, nightly worship of Goddess Lakshmi, lighting of deeyas, performances by various schools related to Indian culture, and a food court with Indian and non-Indian vegetarian delicacies. The festival culminates with magnificent fireworks displays ushering in Diwali. Thousands of people participate in an atmosphere devoid of alcohol and in a true family environment.
In Malaysia, Diwali is known as "Hari Deepavali," and is celebrated during the seventh month of the Hindu solar calendar. It is a federal public holiday throughout Malaysia. In many respects it resembles the traditions followed in the Indian subcontinent. 'Open houses' are held where Hindu Malaysians welcome fellow Malaysians of different races and religions to their house for a sumptious meal. 'Open house' or 'rumah terbuka' is a practice very much unique to Malaysia and shows the goodwill and friendly ties practised by all Malaysians during any festive occasion.
In Singapore, the festival is called "Deepavali", and is a gazetted public holiday. Observed primarily by the minority Indian community, it is typically marked by a light-up in the Little India district and is most known for the fire-walking ceremonies not practiced as part of the festival in other countries. The Hindu Endowment Board of Singapore along with Singapores' government organizes many cultural events around Diwali time.
In Sri Lanka, this festival is also called "Deepavali" and is celebrated by the Tamil community. On this day, it is traditional for people to wear new clothes and exchange pleasantries.
In Britain, Hindus and Sikhs celebrate Diwali with great enthusiasm and in most ways very similarly to as in India. People clean and decorate their homes with lamps. People also give each other sweets such as laddoo and barfi, and the different communities may gather from around the country for a religious ceremony and get-together. It is also an important time to contact family in India and perhaps exchange gifts through the post. Diwali is becoming a well known festival in Britain and non-Indians also join in the festivities
Economics of Diwali
Diwali is an annual stimulus for the Indian economy. Indians purchase gold, gifts, decorations, crackers (fireworks) and household appliances during this festival and many Indian films (Bollywood, Tollywood, Kollywood, etc.) are released during this period. Companies offer huge discounts during the Diwali season to attract customers, which helps the economy and also helps the poor. Food distributed as acts of charity during community festivities also helps the underprivileged. Diwali also brings tourists to the country. Schools in India are closed during this festival, and many young people have the free time and the money to spend on luxury items. Also, people buy new clothes to wear during Diwali.
To enhance the joy of Diwali both the young and the old light firecrackers and fireworks at night. Nowadays there is a significant growth in campaigns on creating awareness over the adverse impacts of noise and air pollution. Some Governments drive to keep the festival less noisy and pollution-free. The Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board has banned production of crackers with over 125 decibel levels. In survey of UP Pollution Control Board, it was revealed that the emission of smoke was found more in the light illuminating fire crackers. Levels of SO2 (Sulphur dioxide) and RSPM (respirable suspended particulate matter) was found marginally higher on Diwali day. Crackers, which use large quantities of sulphur and paper, spew out sulphur dioxide and charcoal into the air. Considering these facts, bursting of crackers is prohibited in silent zones i.e. near hospitals, schools and courts.
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