What is Diwali?
Diwali, known as the ‘festival of lights’, is one of the biggest festivals in India. Learn all about the origin, customs and celebrations associated with this grand festival. Diwali or ‘Deepavali’, is celebrated over a period of five days. This festival celebrates and symbolizes the victory of righteousness and marks the end of Lord Ram’s exile from the forest. Most often, the festival is also associated with ‘wealth’ and ‘prosperity’ and Lord Vishnu and Goddess Lakshmi are also revered on this day. Diwali also symbolizes the triumph of good over evil and virtue over ignominy. On this festive occasion, a myriad of Puja’s are performed honoring Lord Ganesh, Lord Vishnu, Goddess Lakshmi, Mount Govardhan, and Goddess Kali. The word ‘Diwali’ is derived from the Sanskrit term ‘Deepavali’ and is a conjoined name made of two different words ‘Deepa’ and ‘Avali’. ‘Deepa’ means light and ‘Avali’ means ‘row’— thus the name implies ‘row of lights’. Even countries such as Thailand, Trinidad, Maldives, Kenya and Malaysia celebrate Diwali, but with their own traditions, and in their own ways.
Diwali Around the World
Diwali is also known as the ‘festival of lights’ and is celebrated on a grand scale all over the world. Jains, Buddhists and Sikhs also observe the various customs related to this Hindu festival. Diwali celebrations usually last for 5 days. Many people start decorating their houses and lighting earthen ‘diyas’ a week prior to this festival. In the northern parts of India, Diwali is divided into two separate days—‘Chhoti Diwali’ (small Diwali) and ‘Badi Diwali’ (big Diwali), which in turn is part of the five-day celebrations. The beauty of the festival lies in its diversity of customs and the way it is celebrated all over the country. On most occasions, Diwali is even celebrated on different dates, depending on each individual state’s calendar. For example, Diwali in most parts of North India falls in the month of Karthik while in Tamil Nadu this festival is celebrated in the Tamil month of ‘Aipasi’. Most often, Diwali is associated with a plethora of colors, fireworks, earthen lamps (diyas), delectable food, sweets and the exchange of gifts. In India, Diwali is a national Holiday. If you are enthralled by the vivacity of this festival and you want to know more, scroll down.
Origin of Diwali
Diwali is celebrated on the 15th day of the month of ‘Karthik’ according to the Hindu calendar. This festival commemorates Lord Ram’s return to his kingdom Ayodhya, after a fourteen year exile. It is believed that Lord Ram was banished from his own kingdom by his half-mother Kaikeyi, and on his return, the kingdom broke into a jubilant hubbub and people decorated their houses with earthen lamps and lights to mark their savior’s return from the forest. The victory over the demon king, Raavan, also supplemented the festivities. Many people also believe that by lighting their houses with earthen lamps and colorful floor decorations (rangoli), they would be invoking the blessings of Goddess Lakshmi, who would bless them with prosperity and wealth. According to legends, Lord Ram is believed to be the incarnation of Lord Vishnu himself.
Ways to Celebrate Diwali
Diwali is typically celebrated over a period of five days, and each day has its own significance with a number of beliefs, myths and legends. The five days are Dhanteras, Nakra-Chaturdashi, Lakshmi Puja, Govardhan Puja and Bhai-Dhuj.
Dhanteras – Day 1: This day usually falls on the fortnight of the month of Karthik. It is believed that Lord Dhanwantari rose from the seas with medications for severe ailment. This day marks the beginning of the Diwali celebrations. On this day, Hindus pray to Lord Yama (the God of Death) for protection. On this occasion offerings are made to the ‘Tulsi’ plant, accompanied by special prayers.
Narak-Chaturdashi – Day 2: It is believed that Lord Krishna destroyed the demon ‘Narakasur’ on this day and freed the world from the clutches of this demon’s darkness. Commemorating this legend, people massage their body with oil, take elaborate bathe and perform Pujas to eliminate darkness.
Lakshmi Puja – Day 3: Families get together and pray to Goddess Lakshmi, the Goddess of wealth and prosperity, to invoke her blessings and for better times ahead.
Govardhan Puja – Day 4: Govardhan Puja is performed on this day, and all the people get together and worship Mount Govardhan and honor the first Puja performed thousands of years ago by the people of Vraja.
Bhai-Dhuj- Day 5: This is the fifth, and the last day of Diwali, and is often known as ‘Bhai teeka’. On this day the sisters pray for their brothers’ safety, well-being and success, after making offerings to Lord Yama, remembering the ‘vardhan’ (boon) given to his sister on this day. As a custom, the brothers visit their sister, present them with gifts and spend the rest of the day with them.
Apart from the five days of Diwali, families get together, burst crackers, feast together, dress up for the occasion and exchange gifts on Diwali with each other. Traditionally, sweets are an integral part of this festival and symbolize prosperity and ‘sweetness’ for the year ahead. Houses and neighborhoods are festooned with string lights, ‘diyas’ and beautified with traditional floor designs ‘rangoli’ encompassing the festive spirit.
Diwali is a mammoth festival and is one that signifies splendor, happiness and prosperity. Today, the festival connotes a lot more than just religious significances. It is more of a colorful social fiesta that brings together communities, contributing to harmony, peace and love in the society.
Also known as: Diwali, Deepavali and Tihar.