Known as the Festival of Lights, is one of the most popular Indian festivals. It is celebrated in India and throughout the world to welcome in the New Year. It is celebrated on the 15th day of the Hindu calendar month of Katrika, which falls at the end of October or the beginning of November every year.
The word, Diwali, is derived from the Sanskrit word ‘deepavali’, which means “a row of lights”. This explains why Diwali is often referred to as the Festival of Lights.
The First Diwali
The first Diwali was held to celebrate the return of Lord Rama, his wife, Sita and his brother, Lakshmana, to their kingdom in Ayodhya (India), after 14 years of exile. They had overcome many obstacles and successfully fought many battles. The last, and greatest, of these battles was the one against King Ravana, a powerful adversary of Lord Rama. He had kidnapped Sita, instigating war with his arch enemy. Eventually, Lord Rama won and rescued his dear wife. When they returned to Ayodhya, they were greeted with rows of lights to guide them home. When they got to the Palace, the whole city turned out to greet them. Music and flowers were everywhere. Houses were cleaned, new clothes were made or bought, and hundreds of sweets were prepared. Garlands hung from every balcony, and rows and rows of lights bordered the streets. A city that had gone to sleep over a decade before had been reawakened. This auspicious occasion symbolized the return of light over darkness, knowledge over ignorance, and goodness over evil. Life began to flow again throughout the country, and prosperity returned once again.
Five days of celebration
The festival lasts for five days in many parts of India and can, in fact go on for a lot longer in some places. On the first day (Dhanteras), houses and shops are cleaned, whitewashed and decorated. The second day (known as Naraka Chatrudashi), marks the death of the tyrant king Narakusara who had imprisoned many men, women and daughters of various gods, saints and other holy men in his castle. Lord Krishna killed him, freeing his captives and this date is therefore seen as a day of rejoicing. The third, and most important day is Lakshmi-Puja and is devoted to revering the Goddess Lakshmi (the goddess of good luck, wealth and fortune). Hindus believe that on the night of Diwali, the Goddess Lakshmi will visit their home and bless every house that is lit with lights and candles.
The fourth day – called either Padwa or Varshapratipada – is looked upon as the most auspicious day to start any new venture.
The fifth and final day is commonly known as Bhaiya Dooj or the Teeka Ceremony. It is customary for men to visit their sisters’ homes where the sister puts a sacred mark on her brother’s forehead and prays for his long life and prosperity. The brothers give their sisters money and presents in return.
How it is celebrated
The day begins with Lakshmi puja in which the Goddess Lakshmi is thanked for all that she has given in the year gone by. For people with their own businesses, doing a puja in the office is a must as it is considered lucky and auspicious.
After puja, friends and relatives visit to give presents – generally dry fruits and sweet meats. Many families do a puja in the evening as well. This is followed by a display of fireworks and a sumptuous vegetarian dinner. It is an evening where families gather together and celebrate. A number of people host big parties and play cards well into the night as it is one night where even the most conservative Asians condone gambling, as it is considered lucky!
In Hindu custom, light signifies goodness and during Diwali, lights are kept burning throughout the day and into the night to ward off darkness and evil. This is a five days festival; each of the five days in the festival of Diwali is marked with a significant ‘puja’ of a certain God/Goddess.
Sikhs celebrate Diwali to express joy at the return of the sixth Guru to Amritsar in 1620, after his release from Gwalior Jail. Emperor Jahangir had imprisoned him along with 52 Hindu kings. When the Guru was granted freedom, he refused to leave until he had gained the release of the 52 Hindu kings too. Sikhs on this day (which generally falls in November) hold a one-day celebration in the Gurudwara. In the evening, lights are lit in their homes and firework displays are held.
The Jain communities of India celebrate Diwali as a New Year’s Day. Lord Mahavira, the founder of Jainism, attained his Nirvana on the day of Diwali. His followers celebrate the occasion with a festival of oil lamps, symbolizing their Master’s light of knowledge.
Diwali is celebrated for five consecutive days in the Hindu (lunar) month of Ashwayuja, usually around the end of October or the beginning of November. It is one of the most popular festivals in the Hindu calendar, a holiday celebrated by Hindus, Jains and Sikhs alike. It is celebrated on a grand scale in almost every region of India, and it is looked upon as the beginning of the Hindu New Year.
DAY 1 – Dhun Teras (13th Day)
‘Dhun’ means money or wealth. Traditionally people would wash their money on this day. In their homes, people literally wash coins in milk and water and worship Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth. It can also be said that to give or distribute money to the poor and needy, is a way of ‘washing your wealth’.
DAY 2 – Kali Chaudas (14th Day)
Some say that those who are into tantra, learn their ‘mantras’ on this day. Alternatively, people offer Nived (food) to the goddess that is local to where they are originally from. This goddess is called their ‘Kul Devi’, in order to cast off evil spirits. Some families also offer food to their forefathers on this day.
DAY 3 – Diwali (15th Day)
Diwali is the last day of the Hindu year and thus also the end of the Hindu financial year. Many businessmen close their account books and do rituals to open their new account books for the next financial year, in order to gain prosperity in the next financial year. In the Ramayana, Rama, Sita and Lakshmana returned to the kingdom of Ayodhya on this day as it was the last day of the last year of their 14 year banishment. As it was so dark, the subjects of the kingdom, lit ‘divas’ (little wicks doused in ghee) to light the path. The lights are seen as a triumph of good over evil, light over dark, happiness (the homecoming) over sadness (the banishment).
DAY 4 – New Year’s Day (1st Day)
The new cycle of days now starts with Bestu Varush or New Year’s Day. Everybody greets each other with good wishes and a happy new year, ‘Saal Mubarak’. The young bow down and touch the feet of their elders to gain blessings. Money or gifts of clothes are also given. At the temples 56 different foods are offered to the deities, this is known as Annakut Darshan, the food is blessed and offered as prashad to the people who come to worship at the temple and to the poor and needy.
DAY 5 – Bhai Bhij or Bhai Duuj (2nd Day)
Sisters call their brothers and his family to their homes for a meal. Brothers normally take a gift or leave money under their plates when they have finished their meal. Traditionally this was so that the brother could check that all was well with his sister in her marital home.