Diwali

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Diwali, or Divali, is a festival celebrated by Hindus, Sikhs in India and worldwide, which celebrates the victory of good over evil in the human spirit, symbolized by the lights that characterize the festival. In fact, it is called the "Festival of Light," and reflects the belief the world over in the importance of the human soul, and the battle between good and evil for the minds of the faithful.

The name "Diwali" is a variation of the Sanskrit word "Deepavali", with Deepa meaning light and Avali meaning a row. It is celebrated on Amaavasya, the fifteenth night of the dark fortnight of the month of Kaartik, which falls during October and November.[1]

Traditionally, it is marked by the lighting of clay, oil or ghee-filled deeyas (lamps). Devotees also use the festival to clean their homes and surroundings, wear new clothing and give charity to the needy.

The Message of Diwali

Diwali is a very special occasion for Hindus worldwide, with the many ceremonies signifying a devotee's journey through life and the qualities that one should fostered to attain self-enlightenment. Devotees are encouraged to wake from the slumber of ignorance and pursue knowledge; just as light dispels darkness, so should knowledge dispel ignorance.

Through learning, man is expected to advance to the stage of enlightenment in which he realizes that God is the Light of lights, and that God brings warmth, love and illumination to all beings and therefore there can be no light greater than God.

The aim of the Diwali celebrations is to get man moving on the spiritual path and ultimately attain illumination by becoming one with God. As they light the lamps in their houses, those celebrating Diwali are reminded to light the lamps of wisdom, goodness and God-consciousness in themselves.[2]

Origins of Diwali

Many legends surround the origins of this festival, of which some of the more widely accepted are:[3][4]

The Story of Rama and Sita

One of the most common stories surrounding the origins of Diwali is related in the Ramayana (i.e. the Story of Rama) and concerns the return of Lord Rama and his wife Sita to Ayodhya after their fourteen-year exile. It tells the story of how Lord Rama, aided by the monkey-warrior, Hanuman, vanquished the evil King Ravana of Lanka, and rescued his imprisoned wife.

After this victory, the entire city of Ayodhya was decorated with garlands to celebrate Lord Rama’s return. The surroundings were cleaned and fragrant. Throughout Ayodhya, devotees fasted, anxiously waiting for the arrival of Lord Rama. His arrival, together with Sita was greeted with joy and great celebrations, with the people lighting rows of clay lamps to welcome him. This signified the triumph of good over evil and the coming of God-consciousness into the life of the devotee. The day Lord Rama destroyed Ravana was called Dussehra, and the day on which he returned to Ayodhya was called Divali.

The Defeat of Narakaasura by Lord Krishna

Another story behind the evolution of Divali concerns the slaying of the evil King Narakaasura by Lord Krishna on Diwali day. Narakaasura used to kidnap and imprison beautiful young women and on one occasion, some 16,000 celestial princesses were unfoertunate enough to fall into his hands. Their cries for help were heard by Lord Vishnu, who, in the form of Krishna, came and destroyed the evil king.

The Story of King Mahabali and the Dwarf

Some texts suggest that it is King Mahabali (or King Bali) who is remembered during the festival of Diwali.[5] Depending on the version of the legend, he is seen as being either a demon king or a benevolent ruler. However, all the stories agree that he was ambitious and controlled heaven and earth. In addition, he never refused a request. Some of the gods pleaded with Lord Vishnu to check King Mahabali's power.

Vishnu came to earth and took the form of a dwarf (vamana), dressed as a priest. The dwarf approached King Mahabali and asked if the king would grant him the space that he could cover with three strides. King Mahabali agreed to the dwarf's request and at this point, the dwarf changed back into Lord Vishnu and his three strides covered first the Earth, then the Skies and finally the entire Universe. King Mahabali was sent to the underworld, but because of his magnanimous nature, . Lord Vishnu granted him one wish . Thus, Mahabali is allowed to visit the earth for one day a year on Diwali.

The Goddess Lakshmi

Lakshmi is one of the most important figures of Hindu mythology associated with Diwali. The legends state that Lakshmi emerged from the ocean of milk after it was churned by the devas (gods) and the daanavas (demons). This is seen a happy event, as Lakshmi is considered to be the embodiment of loveliness, grace and prosperity. Diwali also represents the day Lord Vishnu (the Preserver) married Goddess Lakshmi (the Goddess of wealth and prosperity). Thus, this marriage of Lord Vishnu to Goddess Lakshmi denotes the connection between preservation and wealth.

The Five Days of Diwali

Diwali, being the festival of lights, means devotees should light the lamp of knowledge within themselves, in order to understand and reflect upon the significant purpose of each of the five days of festivities. These thoughts should then be carried forward into their daily lives.[6][7]

Day 1 - Dhanvantari Triodasi or Dhanteras

This day falls on the thirteenth day of the month of Kaartik, thus two days before Diwali proper. The word Dhan means "wealth". This day is in honour of the "Physician of the Gods" and incarnation of Lord Vishnu, Dhanvantari Vaidya. Dhanvantari is the father of medicine and Ayurveda, or "the science of medicines" is attributed to him. In celebration of this day, Hindu homes are cleaned and renovated and women purchase some gold or silver or at least one or two new utensils in reverence of this day.

Day 2 - Narak Chaturdashi

The second day of the five-day period is when Hindus acknowledge the slaying of the demon King Narakasura by Lord Krishna. Hindus also pay homage to the Lord Yama or Yamraaj, the God of Death on this day. A small deeya is lit and placed at the entrance to the home, facing south, where they then worship him, in order to prevent premature death. The single deeya is also a reminder of the lamp lit by Bharat to welcome his brother, Lord Rama. home after fourteen years of exile. This day is also called “Little Diwali” or chhotee diwaali.

Day 3 - The Festival of Lights

This day is the highlight of the whole Diwali festival, and there are widespread celebrations. In the days leading up to this celebration, the home and its surroundings are cleaned, washed and painted. Places of worship are decorated with flowers and coloured paper. As evening falls, Lakshmi Puja is performed to welcome Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth and prosperity. Following this, devotees break their fast and light the first deeyas. People use the day to ask each other’s forgiveness for wrongs committed knowingly or unknowingly, relationships are reinforced and gifts and sweets are exchanged.

Day 4 - Goverdhan Puja

On the fourth day of Diwali, the Goverdhan Puja is performed, in remembrance of the salvation of the people of Vrindaavana by Lord Krishna. Its significance is retold in the story of the villagers of Mount Goverdhan, who once prayed to the God Indra, believing that Indra sent the rains, which made their crops grow.

Lord Krishna then persuaded the people to worship the mountain Govardhan, because it was the mountain's fertile land that caused their crops to grow. This angered Indra, who unleashed thunder and torrential rain on the villagers as they slept. Krishna saved the villagers by lifting the top of the mountain with his finger, allowing the villagers to shelter underneath until the storm passed.

The day is also observed as Annakoot, meaning "Mountain of Food". In temples, the deities are bathed with milk, dressed in new attire, adorned with dazzling ornaments. After prayers and traditional worship, sweets are offered to the deities and then devotees can partake of the Prasad.

Day 5 - Bhaiya Dooj

Bhaiya Dooj or "Brother’s Protection Day" honours the special relationship between brothers and sisters. Sisters place the tilak, a sacred mark, on their brothers’ forehead as a symbol of protection and tie a protective rakshaa around their brother's wrists, feed them sweets, perform their aartee and pray for their continued health and happiness. In their turn, brothers give their sisters gifts, as a sign of their love and protection.

References

  1. Bridgnath, S., and R. Parikh. Hindu Religious Festivals. Middlesex, U.K.: Authors, 1996.
  2. Sookoo, P. Deepavali: A Philodophical Interpretation. Princes Town, Trinidad: Sri Ramrattan Sookoo, 1988.
  3. Seereeram, H. Fundamentals of Hinduism: A Basic Text. Dehli, India: Gaurav Prakashan, 1992.
  4. Maharaj, M., and N. Maharaj. Jyotir Vigyaan the Light of Knowledge: A Daily Guide to Hindu Worship, Philosophy and Symbolism. M. Maharaj, 1999.
  5. Maharaj, M., and N. Maharaj. Lakshmi Ganesh. Bonne Adventure Hindu Temple, 2001.
  6. Sanatan Dharma Maha Sabha. Divali: Festival of Lights. St. Augustine, 1985.
  7. Gosine, R. Hinduism in the Caribbean: Text, Symbols, Rites, Rituals, Customs and Beliefs of Hindu Sects and Groups. Trinidad: Premier Printing Co. Ltd, 1997.