Dīpăvali (also transliterated
Deepavali; Sanskrit: row of lights) or Diwăli
(contracted spelling) is the Hindu Festival of Lights and marks the
victory of good over the evil. Held on the final day of the
Vikram calendar, one type of a Hindu
calendar that is followed by North Indians. The following day, marking the
beginning of a new year, for North Indians, entitled
In South India, Diwali does not coincide with
the beginning of a new year as South Indians accordingly follow a
different calendar, Shalivahana calendar.
In South India, the new year, entitled Ugadi, is followed by persons in
Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka. Vishu and Varsha
Pirappu are celebrated in Kerala and Tamil Nadu respectively. These
festivals occur at about the same time, generally during April.
It is celebrated by Hindus all over the
world, every year. On the day of Dipavali, old and young, rich and poor
wear new dresses and share sweets. They also burn fire crackers. The North
Indian business community starts their financial new year on Dipavali and
new account books are opened on this day.
There are two mythological legends associated
with Dipavali. The first Dipavali was held to celebrate the return of the
Rama, King of Ayodhya, his wife Sita and brother Lakshmana to Koshala
after a war in which he killed the demon Ravana. It was getting dark, so
people along the way lit oil lamps to light their way. Second, it
commemorates the killing of Narakasura, an
evil demon by Lord Krishna. So Dipavali is a festival symbolising the
destruction of evil forces.
Deepawali or Diwali is certainly
the biggest an the brightest of all Hindu festivals. It's the festival
of lights (deep = light and avali = a row i.e., a row of lights) that's
marked by four days of celebration, which literally illumines the
country with its brilliance, and dazzles all with its joy. Each of the
four days in the festival of Diwali is separated by a different
tradition, but what remains true and constant is the celebration of
life, its enjoyment and goodness.
The Origin of Diwali
Historically, the origin of Diwali can be traced back to ancient India,
when it was probably an important harvest festival. However, there are
various legends pointing to the origin of Diwali. Some believe it to be
the celebration of the marriage of Lakshmi with Lord Vishnu. Whereas in
Bengal the festival is dedicated to the worship of Mother Kali, the dark
goddess of strength. Lord Ganesha, the elephant-headed God, the symbol
of auspiciousness and wisdom, is also worshipped in most Hindu homes on
this day. In Jainism, Deepawali has an added significance to the great
event of Lord Mahavira attaining the eternal bliss of nirvana. Diwali
also commemorates the return of Lord Rama along with Sita and Lakshman
from his fourteen year long exile and vanquishing the demon-king Ravana.
In joyous celebration of the return of their king, the people of Ayodhya,
the Capital of Rama, illuminated the kingdom with earthen diyas (oil
lamps) and burst crackers.
These Four Days
Each day of Diwali has it's own tale, legend and myth to tell. The
first day of the festival Naraka Chaturdasi marks the vanquishing of the
demon Naraka by Lord Krishna and his wife Satyabhama. Amavasya, the
second day of Deepawali, marks the worship of Lakshmi, the goddess of
wealth in her most benevolent mood, fulfilling the wishes of her
devotees. Amavasya also tells the story of Lord Vishnu, who in his dwarf
incarnation vanquished the tyrant Bali, and banished him to hell. Bali
was allowed to return to earth once a year, to light millions of lamps
to dispel the darkness and ignorance, and spread the radiance of love
and wisdom. It is on the third day of Deepawali — Kartika Shudda Padyami
that Bali steps out of hell and rules the earth according to the boon
given by Lord Vishnu. The fourth day is referred to as Yama Dvitiya
(also called Bhai Dooj) and on this day sisters invite their brothers to
The Significance of Lights & Firecrackers
All the simple rituals of Diwali have a significance and a story to
tell. The illumination of homes with lights and the skies with
firecrackers is an expression of obeisance to the heavens for the
attainment of health, wealth, knowledge, peace and prosperity. According
to one belief, the sound of fire-crackers are an indication of the joy
of the people living on earth, making the gods aware of their plentiful
state. Still another possible reason has a more scientific basis: the
fumes produced by the crackers kill a lot of insects and mosquitoes,
found in plenty after the rains.
The Tradition of Gambling
The tradition of gambling on Diwali also has a legend behind it. It
is believed that on this day, Goddess Parvati played dice with her
husband Lord Shiva, and she decreed that whosoever gambled on Diwali
night would prosper throughout the ensuing year. Diwali is associted
with wealth and prosperity in many ways, and the festival of 'Dhanteras'
('dhan' = wealth; 'teras' = 13th) is celebrated two days before the
festival of lights.
From Darkness Unto Light...
In each legend, myth and story of Deepawali lies the significance of the
victory of good over evil; and it is with each Deepawali and the lights
that illuminate our homes and hearts, that this simple truth finds new
reason and hope. From darkness unto light — the light that empowers us
to commit ourselves to good deeds, that which brings us closer to
divinity. During Diwali, lights illuminate every corner of India and the
scent of incense sticks hangs in the air, mingled with the sounds of
fire-crackers, joy, togetherness and hope. Diwali is celebrated around
the globe. Outside India, it is more than a Hindu festival, it's a
celebration of South-Asian identities. If you are away from the sights
and sounds of Diwali, light a diya, sit quietly, shut your eyes,
withdraw the senses, concentrate on this supreme light and illuminate
Mythical Origins of Diwali
There are various alleged origins attributed to this festival. Some hold
that they celebrate the marriage of Lakshmi with Lord Vishnu. In Bengal
the festival is dedicated to the worship of Kali. It also commemorates
that blessed day on which the triumphant Lord Rama returned to Ayodhya
after defeating Ravana. On this day also Sri Krishna killed the demon
Narakasura. In South India people take an oil bath in the morning and
wear new clothes. They partake of sweetmeats. They light fireworks,
which are regarded as the effigies of Narakasura who was killed on this
day. They greet one another, asking, "Have you had your Ganges bath?"
which actually refers to the oil bath that morning as it is regarded as
purifying as a bath in the holy Ganga.
Give and Forgive
Everyone forgets and forgives the wrongs done by others. There is an air
of freedom, festivity and friendliness everywhere. This festival brings
about unity. It instills charity in the hearts of people. Everyone buys
new clothes for the family. Employers, too, purchase new clothes for
Rise and Shine
Waking up during the 'Brahmamuhurta' (at 4a.m.) is a great blessing from
the standpoint of health, ethical discipline, efficiency in work and
spiritual advancement. It is on Deepavali that everyone wakes up early
in the morning. The sages who instituted this custom must have cherished
the hope that their descendents would realise its benefits and make it a
regular habit in their lives.
Unite and Unify
In a happy mood of great rejoicing village folk move about freely,
mixing with one another without any reserve, all enmity being forgotten.
People embrace one another with love. Deepavali is a great unifying
force. Those with keen inner spiritual ears will clearly hear the voice
of the sages, "O Children of God unite, and love all". The vibrations
produced by the greetings of love, which fill the atmosphere, are
powerful enough to bring about a change of heart in every man and woman
in the world. Alas! That heart has considerably hardened, and only a
continuous celebration of Deepavali in our homes can rekindle in us the
urgent need of turning away from the ruinous path of hatred.
Prosper and Progress
On this day, Hindu merchants in North India open their new account books
and pray for success and prosperity during the coming year. The homes
are cleaned and decorated by day and illuminated by night with earthen
oil-lamps. The best and finest illuminations are to be seen in Bombay
and Amritsar. The famous Golden Temple at Amritsar is lit in the evening
with thousands of lamps placed all over the steps of the big tank.
Vaishnavites celebrate the Govardhan Puja and feed the poor on a large
Illuminate Your Inner Self
The light of lights, the self-luminous inner light of the Self is ever
shining steadily in the chamber of your heart. Sit quietly. Close your
eyes. Withdraw the senses. Fix the mind on this supreme light and enjoy
the real Deepavali, by attaining illumination of the soul. He who
Himself sees all but whom no one beholds, who illumines the intellect,
the sun, the moon and the stars and the whole universe but whom they
cannot illumine, He indeed is Brahman, He is the inner Self. Celebrate
the real Deepavali by living in Brahman, and enjoy the eternal bliss of
The sun does not shine there, nor do the moon and the stars, nor do
lightnings shine and much less fire. All the lights of the world cannot
be compared even to a ray of the inner light of the Self. Merge yourself
in this light of lights and enjoy the supreme Deepavali.
Many Deepavali festivals have come and gone. Yet the hearts of the vast
majority are as dark as the night of the new moon. The house is lit with
lamps, but the heart is full of the darkness of ignorance.
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