Diwali

Diwali, also known as Deepavali, is a Hindu festival of lights.

Updated: June 17, 2020

Diwali, also known as Deepavali, is a Hindu festival of lights. It is one of the most popular festivals of Hinduism. Diwali symbolises the spiritual victory of light over darkness, good over evil and knowledge over ignorance. Diwali or Divali is from the Sanskrit dipavali which means row or series of lights. The conjugated term is derived from the Sanskrit words dipa, means lamp, light, lantern, candle which glows, shines, illuminates or knowledge and avali, means a row, range, continuous line, series.


The five day celebration is observed every year in early autumn after summer harvest and coincides with the new moon, known as the amasvasya, and the darkest night of the Hindu lunisolar calendar. The festivities begin two days before the night of the new moon, on Dhanteras, and extends two days after, the second day of the first fortnight of the month of Kartik. This year it will be celebrated on 27th of October.

Significance of Diwali:

Diwali celebration signifies inner light over spiritual darkness, knowledge over ignorance and right over wrong. On this day people worship God Ganesha and Goddess Lakshmi for getting wealth and prosperity in their life. They perform puja on main Diwali with lots of rituals. After puja, they get involved in the fireworks activities and then distribute gifts to each other among neighbors, family members, friends, offices, etc. People celebrate Dhanteras on first day, Naraka Chaturdasi on second day, Diwali on third day, Diwali Padva on fourth day, and Bhai Dooj on fifth day of the festival. It becomes official holiday in many countries on the day of festival.

The significance of Diwali varies region to region in India and is associated with a diversity of deities, traditions, and symbolism. According to the legends in the Hindu epic Ramayana, Diwali is the day when Rama, Sita, Lakshmana, and Hanuman reached Ayodhya after a 14 year period in exile and Rama's army of good defeated the demon king Ravana's army of evil in the Treta Yuga.

As per another legend, in the Dwapara Yuga Period, Lord Vishnu as incarnation of Krishna killed the Demon Narakasura. So Diwali is celebrated for victory of Lord Krishna over Narakasura. The day before Diwali is remembered as Naraka Chaturdasi, the day on which Narakasura was killed by Lord Krishna.

As per vedic legend that is also found in several Puranas such as the Padma Purana, the night of Diwali is when Lakshmi chose and wed Vishnu. Goddess Lakshmi was born from Samudra manthan, the churning of the cosmic ocean of milk by the Devas (gods) and the Asuras (demons). This is the start of  the 5-day Diwali festival.

In eastern India the festival is associated with the goddess Durga, or her fierce avatar Kali (Shaktism), who symbolises the victory of good over evil. Hindus from the Braj region in northern India, parts of Assam, as well as southern Tamil and Telugu communities celebrate Diwali as the day the god Krishna overcame and destroyed the evil demon king Narakasura. In western states such as Gujarat, and certain northern Hindu communities of India, the festival of Diwali signifies the start of a new year. The families of trade and merchant offer prayers to Goddess Saraswati, who embodies music, literature and learning and Kubera, who symbolises book-keeping, treasury and wealth management. Although the mythical tales on Diwali vary widely depending on region to region, Hindu celebrate this festival with the belief that good ultimately triumphs over evil.


Celebration of Diwali:

Diwali is usually celebrated eighteen days after the Dussehra festival with Dhanteras. This is marked as the first day of the festival when celebrants prepare by cleaning their homes and decorate the floor with rangoli. The second day is Choti Diwali, or equivalent in north India, while for Hindus in the south of India it is the proper day of Diwali. Western, central, eastern and northern Indian communities observe Diwali on the third day and the darkest night of the traditional month. 

In some parts of India, the day after Diwali is marked with the Goverdhan Puja and Diwali Padva, which is dedicated to the relationship between wife and husband. Some Hindu communities mark the last day as Bhai Dooj, which is dedicated to the bond between sister and brother, while other Hindu and Sikh craftsmen communities mark this day as Vishwakarma Puja and observe it by performing maintenance in their work spaces and offering prayers.
The festival of Diwali is an official holiday in most of the countries. The temples and buildings within the communities that observe Diwali are brightly illuminated during the celebration. The preparations, and rituals, for the festival typically last five days. The festival generally falls between mid-October and mid-November as per Gregorian calendar.

Preparation include cleaning, renovating and decorating their homes and offices. During the celebration, people adorn themselves in their finest clothes, illuminate the interior and exterior of their homes with diyas that could be lamps or candles, offer puja to Lakshmi, the goddess of prosperity, light fireworks, do family feasts, where sweets and gifts are shared. The festival is an annual homecoming and bonding period not only for families, but also for communities and associations. In urban areas, people organise activities, events and gatherings. Many towns organise community parades and fairs with parades or music and dance performances in parks. Some Hindus, Jains and Sikhs will send Diwali greeting cards to family near and far during the festive season, occasionally with boxes of Indian confectionery. Diwali is a post-harvest festival to thank Goddess Lakshmi for the recent harvests and seek her blessings for prosperous future crops. Lakshmi symbolises three virtues: wealth and prosperity, fertility and abundant crops, as well as good fortune. Merchants seek Lakshmi's blessings in their ventures and will ritually close their accounting year during Diwali.

The five days of festival formally begins two days before the night of Diwali, and ends two days thereafter. Each day has different rituals and significance. These are as below:


Dhanteras:

Day one is celebrated as Dhanteras. The word Dhanteras is derived from Dhan meaning wealth and teras meaning thirteenth. It marks the thirteenth day of the dark fortnight of Kartik and the beginning of Diwali. On this day, many Hindus clean their homes and business premises. The doorways within homes and offices are decorated with rangoli, colourful designs made from rice flour, flower petals and coloured sand. Diyas are installed near Lakshmi and Ganesha that light up for the next five days. The day also marks a major shopping day to purchase new utensils, home equipment, jewellery, firecrackers, and other items. On the evening of Dhanteras, families offer prayers to Lakshmi and Ganesha, and lay offerings of puffed rice, candy toys, rice cakes and batashas (hollow sugar cakes). Dhanteras is a symbol of annual renewal, cleansing and an auspicious beginning for the next year. The term "Dhan" for this day also refers to the Ayurvedic icon Dhanvantari, who is considered as the god of health and healing. He is believed to have emerged from the "churning of cosmic ocean" on the same day as Lakshmi. Some communities, particularly those active in Ayurvedic and health-related professions, pray or perform havan rituals to Dhanvantari on Dhanteras.


Choti Diwali, Naraka Chaturdasi:

Day two is celebrated as Choti Diwali, Naraka Chaturdasi. The term "choti" means little, while "Naraka" means hell and "Chaturdasi" means "fourteenth". It is day to do prayer and rituals to  to liberate any souls from their suffering in "Naraka", or hell, as well as a reminder of spiritual auspiciousness. It is also a day to pray for the peace to the manes, or deified souls of ancestors and light their way for their journeys in the cyclic afterlife. The day marks the the destruction of the asura (demon) Narakasura by Krishna, a victory that frees 16,000 imprisoned princesses kidnapped by Narakasura. Naraka Chaturdasi is also a major day for purchasing festive foods, particularly sweets such as laddus, barfis, halvah, kachoris, shrikhand, and sandesh, rolled and stuffed delicacies, such as maladu, susiyam, pottukadalai. Choti Diwali is also a day for visiting temples, friends, business associates and relatives, and exchanging gifts. This day is commonly celebrated as Diwali in Tamil Nadu, Goa, and Karnataka. Traditionally, South Indian Hindus receive an oil massage from the elders in the family on the day and then take a ritual bath before sunrise.


Diwali, Lakshmi Puja:

The third day is celebrated as Diwali, Lakshmi Puja which is the height of the festival.  The word Deepawali comes from the word the Sanskrit word deep, which means an Indian lamp. In the evening celebrants will wear new clothes or their best outfits and do Lakshmi puja. After the puja, people go outside and celebrate by lighting up patakhe (fireworks) together, and then share a family feast and mithai.


Annakut, Padwa, Govardhan puja:

The fourth day is celebrated as Annakut, Padwa, Govardhan puja. The day is associated with the story of Bali's defeat at the hands of Vishnu. It is also celebrated honouring the Hindu god Krishna saving the cowherd and farming communities from incessant rains and floods triggered by Indra's anger, which he accomplished by lifting the Govardhan mountain. Ritually this day is celebrated as the bonding between the wife and husband. Husbands will celebrate this with gifts to their wives. In some regions, parents invite a newly married daughter, or son, together with their spouses to a festive meal and give them gifts. The artisan Hindu and Sikh community celebrates the fourth day as the Vishwakarma puja. Vishwakarma is the presiding Hindu deity for those in architecture, building, manufacturing, textile work and crafts trades. On this day the looms, tools of trade, machines and workplaces are cleaned and prayers offered to these livelihood means.


Bhai Duj, Bhau-beej:

The fifth day is celebrated as Bhai Duj, Bhau-beej. It celebrates the sibling bond between brother and sister, similar in spirit to Raksha Bandhan. This is a day in autumn when brothers travel to meet their sisters, or invite their family to their village to celebrate the bonding between them with the bounty of seasonal harvests.

The Diwali celebration also varies for different communities.


Jainism:

In Jain tradition, Diwali is celebrated in observance of 'Mahavira Nirvana Divas'. This is the day of physical death and final nirvana of Mahavira. Diwali celebrated by Jains in many parts of India which is similar to the Hindu Diwali. They also involve in lighting of lamps and the offering of prayers to Lakshmi. However, the focus of the Jain Diwali remains the dedication to Mahavira. According to the Jain tradition, this practice of lighting lamps first began on the day of Mahavira's nirvana in 527 BCE, when 18 kings who had gathered for Mahavira's final teachings issued a proclamation that lamps be lit in remembrance of the "great light, Mahavira". 

This is believed to be the origin of Diwali. The significance of this tradition is reflected in the historic artworks of Jains such as paintings.


Sikhism:

Sikhs celebrate Diwali as Bandi Chhor Divas in remembrance of the release of Guru Hargobind from the Gwalior Fort prison by the Mughal emperor, Jahangir, and the day he arrived at the Golden Temple in Amritsar.Diwali in the Sikh tradition is older than the sixth Guru Hargobind legend. According to sikh history, Guru Amar Das, the third Guru of the Sikhs, built a well in Goindwal with eighty-four steps and invited Sikhs to bathe in its sacred waters on Baisakhi and Diwali as a form of community bonding. Over time, these spring and autumn festivals became the most important of Sikh festivals and holy sites such as Amritsar became focal points for annual pilgrimages.


Buddhism:

Except for the Newar people of Nepal Diwali is not a festival for most Buddhists. The Newars revere various deities in the Vajrayana Buddhism and celebrate Diwali by offering prayers to Lakshmi. The worship of Lakshmi and Vishnu during Diwali, is not syncretism but rather a reflection of the freedom within Mahayana Buddhist tradition to worship any deity for their worldly betterment. Newar Buddhists in Nepalese valleys also celebrate the Diwali festival over five days, in much the same way, and on the same days, as the Nepalese Hindu Diwali-Tihar festival.

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