Diwali or Deepavali is the Hindu festival known as ‘The Festival of Lights’. It is one of the major Hindu festivals or perhaps the biggest one in terms of energy and participation. It’s a festival for all - every Hindu around the world and even the non-Hindus in India participate in its celebrations. The salient feature of the Diwali festival is the use of lamps. The term Deepavali or Diwali meaning ‘collection or row of lights’ was derived from the Sanskrit words ‘deep’ which means lamp, lantern or light and ‘avali’ which means a row or array. During this celebration, the houses, temples, shops and offices are illuminated with a collection of oil lamps. People also celebrate this festival with a variety of fireworks.
The Festival of Lights is known as Diwali in Northern India and Deepavali in Southern India. The festival in many parts of India, lasts for five days among which the third day is considered as the main day. The main day of Diwali 2018, in most parts of India, is on 7th November whereas, in the southern states of Karnataka, Tamil Nadu and Kerala, it will be celebrated on 6th November.
Diwali 2018 is an official holiday in India as well as in countries viz. Fiji, Guyana, Malaysia, Mauritius, Myanmar, Nepal, Singapore, Sri Lanka, Suriname and Trinidad and Tobago. This year the festival will be observed on November 7 except for Malaysia and Singapore where Deepavali 2018 will be celebrated along with the South Indian states on November 6.
The day of Diwali falls during the autumn in the northern hemisphere (spring in southern hemisphere). It is celebrated on the Amavasya (New Moon day) of the Hindu lunisolar month Kartika which in the Gregorian calendar falls between mid-October and mid-November. The Amavasya or 15th day of the Kartika month also coincides with the darkest night in the Hindu lunisolar calendar and the ‘festival of lights’, Diwali is celebrated on this night. The Deepavali festival is a celebration of the victory of light over darkness which is symbolic to the victory of knowledge over ignorance, good over evil and purity over impurity.
The festival of Diwali falls on the autumn harvest time and is associated with a variety of Hindu deities and traditions. This differences in tradition could be attributed to the various local autumn harvest traditions combined into one pan-Indian festival with a common significance. The myths or legends behind Deepavali vary with various regions across India, yet all share a common spiritual significance that focuses on knowledge and righteousness. Following are some of those myths that simply remind us that ‘good ultimately wins over evil’.
One of the legends behind Diwali is associated with the epic Ramayana. It is believed that Diwali is the day in which Rama, Sita, Lakshmana and Hanuman reached Ayodhya after their exile and the victory over Ravana.
Some of the myths are associated with Lakshmi- the Goddess of wealth and affluence. Some people consider it as a celebration of her birth from the Samudra Manthan (churning of the cosmic ocean of milk) while some others believe it as the day of marriage of Lakshmi to Lord Vishnu.
As Diwali is the festival intricating victory of good over evil and wisdom over ignorance, some Hindus associate this festival with Goddess Durga or her fierce avatar Kali and with Lord Ganesha—the elephant-headed God of wisdom and auspiciousness.
For some Hindus in the Braj region in northern India, parts of Assam in eastern India and Tamil and Telugu communities in southern India, Deepavali is the day God Krishna overcame and destroyed the demon king Narakasura.
In many areas, Diwali is a festival lasting 4-5 days, the height of which is celebrated on the third day (Amavasya/New Moon day) coinciding with the darkest night of the lunar month. The festival days include the 13th (Trayodashi), the 14th (Chaturdashi) and the 15th (Amavasya) day of the dark fortnight of the Hindu lunar month Kartika and extend to the next 2 days. Each of these festival days of Deepavali is marked with a different tradition too.
The 1st day of Diwali (Trayodashi) is known as Dhanteras or Dhanatrayodashi which is regarded as a festival of wealth. The day marks the beginning of the celebrations with people cleaning their houses and laying floor decorations such as Rangoli. The business people worship their treasuries on this day and Ayurvedic practitioners (Vaidyas) worship Dhanvantari deity on this day.
The 2nd day of Diwali is known as Naraka Chaturdashi which is believed to be the day in which Sri Krishna slew the evil demon Narakasur. This day is known as Choti Diwali (small Diwali) in North India, the day before the main celebrations; while, in South India, the major Deepavali celebrations are observed on this Chaturdasi night.
The 3rd day – Amavasya is the day for major Diwali celebrations for the most part of India. Rituals worshipping Goddess Lakshmi are observed on this day. In the western, central, eastern and northern regions of India, major Diwali celebrations are observed on this day and the celebrations are highest at the night which is the darkest night of the month.
The 4th day – the day after the Amavasya (New Moon) is known as Diwali Padva or Balipratipada. It is the first day of the bright fortnight and is celebrated to symbolise God Vishnu’s conquest over the demon king Bali. This day is also dedicated to celebrating the bond between husband and wife.
The 5th and the last day of Diwali is observed as Bhai Dooj (Bhaubij or Yamadwitiya). This is the 2nd day of the bright fortnight and is dedicated to celebrating brother-sister relationship. Also, for some Hindu Sikh craftsmen communities, this is the day for Vishwakarma Puja.
Diwali is the festival of lights and lighting the oil lamps is a salient feature of this celebrations. The lamps lit on this day are not just to decorate homes but are also meant to communicate a great truth about life which is ‘when the darkness within us is expelled through the light of wisdom; the good in us wins over the evil’. Every story or myth behind Deepavali emphasizes this fact - the victory of good over evil. It is an occasion to kindle the light of wisdom/goodness in our hearts.
Diwali values family and social relationships and helps to strengthen these bonds. There is a practice of forgetting and forgiving the past wrongs deeds of others and organizing family and social get-together. The days of Diwali are always marked by an air of love, joy, friendliness and unity.
On the day of Deepavali, people would wake up during the Brahmamuhurta (at 4 am, or 1 1/2 hours before sunrise) which is a practice having great significances from the perspectives of health, discipline, efficiency and spiritual advancement. Ancient sages might have instituted this Deepawali custom to let their descendants realize its benefits and make it a habit.
Thus, all Diwali customs and practices have some higher purposes and scientific significances. The lighting of lamps and fireworks produces fumes which can repel the insects including mosquitos. As the festival befalls on a period after the monsoon, this practice would prevent the insects which would otherwise come in plenty at that time.
Diwali is a day of religious significance to Jain, Sikh and Buddhist communities. Each of these communities celebrates this occasion with their own respective beliefs and traditions.
For the Jains, it is the day in which Mahaveer - their most famous Tritankara attained Nirvana or liberation. They celebrate this day with a lot of devotion and enthusiasm.
The Sikhs observe Diwali for their own various reasons. They celebrate this occasion as Bandi Chhor Divas marking the release of Guru Hargobind from Mughal Empire prison. The day was also announced as important by their third guru named Guru Amar Das. Diwali is the occasion when the Sikhs get blessed from their Gurus and it also marks the day when the foundation stone of the Golden Temple was placed in the year 1577.
Diwali is important in the Buddhist tradition too. The Newar Buddhists observe this festival by worshiping Lakshmi. In Nepal, it is a multi-day festival with the climax being called as Swanti festival by Buddhists and Tihar festival by Hindus.
Diwali can be linked to Christianity too. On this day in 1999, the then pope John Paul II performed a very special Eucharist in an Indian church where the altar was decorated with lamps. The pope had a Tilak on his forehead and he made some references on how Diwali is linked to Christianity.
The night of Diwali illuminates every corner of India and an air of happiness and togetherness can be felt everywhere. People celebrate this festival mainly with oil lamps and fireworks. Decorating floors with Rangoli, preparing sweets, buying new clothes and organizing get-togethers, fairs, parades etc. are also parts of Deepavali celebrations. But the true spirit of this festival is deeper than what it seems. Nowadays, it is observed without making any efforts for spiritual advancement and the festival has merely turned into an occasion causing air and noise pollutions and an event for pompous celebrations.
Diwali signifies the victory of light (goodness/wisdom) over darkness (evil/ignorance). With every lamp we light, we should illuminate our inner self; we should kindle the good qualities in us, refine ourselves and try to become a better human. On this occasion of Deepavali 2018, let’s promise to keep in our mind the true meaning of the festival and resolve ourselves to celebrate it in the true spiritual way.