Today is the eve of "Diwali"... and this year Diwali coincides with Kali Puja. Diwali or Dīpāvali (Sanskrit meaning: a row of lamps) is a significant festival in Hinduism, Buddhism, Sikhism, and Jainism. In Sanskrit, "Deepawali" is the amalgamation of two Sanskrit words - "Deepa" meaning "light" and "Avali", meaning "a row". People light diyas—cotton string wicks inserted in small clay pots filled with oil—to signify victory of good over the evil within an individual. Every home - from the huts of the poor to the mansions of the rich are aglow with the orange glow of the diyas. By lighting these small earthen lamps, the devotees welcome Lakshmi, the Goddess of wealth and prosperity. Multi-colored Rangoli designs, floral decorations and fireworks lend a vivid, colourful imagery and grandeur to this festival which heralds joy, mirth and happiness in the ensuring year.
This festival, it is surmised dates back to that period when perhaps history was not written, and in its progress through centuries it lighted path of thousands to attain the ultimate good and complete ecstasy. Diwali is very enthusiastically celebrated for five continuous days and each day has its significance with a number of myths, legends and beliefs.
Diwali, Dipavali, Divali or Deepawali, which is also known as 'the festival of lights', is the five-day long Indian festival that brings a series of festivals with it. The five days of Diwali:
This year (2009) Diwali is between October 17-21, 2009
Day 1: Dhanteras - Dhanatrayodashi or Dhan teras (28 Ashvin or 13 Krishna Paksha Ashvin). "Dhan" means "wealth" and "Trayodashi" means "13th day". Thus, as the name implies, this day falls on the 13th day of the second half of the lunar month. It is an auspicious day for shopping for utensils and gold. This day is also regarded as the 'Jayanti of God Dhanvantri' who appeared during the churning of the great ocean by the gods and the demons (Samudra manthan). Learn more about 'Dhanteras': HERE.
Day 2: Nakra-Chaturdashi or Choti Diwali - Naraka Chaturdashi (29 Ashvin or 14 Krishna Paksha Ashvin): Chaturdashi is the fourteenth day on which the demon Narakasura was killed by Lord Krishna (an incarnation of Lord Vishnu) and his wife Satyabhama in the Dwapara Yuga. It signifies the 'victory of good over evil' and 'light over darkness' (Gujarati: Kali Chaudas [Kali means Dark or evil and Chaudas - Fourteenth]; Rajasthan : Roop Chaudas).
In south India, this is the actual day of festivities. Hindus wake up well before dawn, as early as two in the morning (thebrahmi muhurta), have a fragrant oil bath and wear new clothes. Here, the oil signifies impurities/evil/negativities and the soap which washes the oil off the body is a metaphor for the good/positive things. They light small lamps all around the house and draw elaborate kolams/rangolis outside their homes. They perform a special puja with offerings to Lord Krishna or Lord Vishnu... as he liberated the world from the demon Narakasura on this day. It is believed that taking a bath before sunrise, when the stars are still visible in the sky is equivalent to taking a bath in the holy Ganges. After the puja, children burst firecrackers heralding the defeat of the demon. As this is a day of rejoicing, many will have very elaborate breakfasts and lunches and meet family and friends.
The legend of Narakasura: In Hindu mythology, Narakasura or Naraka is the asura son of the earth goddess Bhudevi (Bhumi) and Lord Vishnu in his Varaha (wild boar) avatar (incarnation). In other sources, he is the son of the asura Hiranyaksha. The Puranas have it that Naraka... after a severe penance ... acquired immense power from a blessing given by Lord Brahma - that he would die only in the hands of his mother, Bhudevi. He became evil, in association with another Asura named Bana. Drunk with power, as he knew himself to be invincible (since he could only be killed by his mother), he brought all the kingdoms on earth under his control. Next, he turned his eyes towards 'Heaven' [SvargaSwargaloka]. Even the mighty Indra could not withstand the assault of this son of Lord Vishnu and had to flee the heavens.
Narakasura ruled the kingdom of Pradyoshapuram/Pragjyotisha in Assam. Under his rule, the villagers suffered a lot of hardship as the demon tortured the people and kidnapped the women - as many as 16,000 - and imprisoned them in his palace. He stole the earrings of Aditi, the heavenly mother goddess, and usurped some of her territory. Unable to bear the tyranny of the demon, the celestial beings/Devas, led by Indra went to Lord Vishnu, and pleaded with him to deliver them from Narakasura. Vishnu promised them that he will do so... in his incarnation/avatar as Lord Krishna.
As promised to mother earth, Narakasura was allowed to enjoy a long reign. Finally, Lord Vishnu appeared in his eighth 'avatar'... as Lord Krishna. Aditi, who was a relative of Krishna's wife Satyabhama (believed to be an Avatar of Bhudevi - Narakasura's mother), approached her for help. When Satyabhama heard of Narakasuara's ill treatment of women and his behaviour with Aditi, she was enraged and approached Lord Krishna for permission to wage a war against the asura. Keeping Brahma's boon in mind - that he would face death only at the hands of his mother Bhudevi - Lord Krishna asked his wife Sathyabhama, the reincarnation of Bhudevi, to be his charioteer in the battle with Naraka.
When Krishna fell unconscious after being hit by an arrow of Naraka, Sathyabhama took the bow and aimed the arrow at Naraka, killing him instantly. Later Lord Krishna reminded her of the boon she had sought as Bhudevi. The 'Narakasura Vadh' by Sathyabhama could also be taken to interpret that 'parents should not hesitate to punish their children when they step in to the wrong path'. The message of Naraka Chaturdashi Parva is that 'the good of the society should always prevail over one's own personal bonds'. It is interesting to note that Bhudevi, mother of the slain demon Naraka, declared that his death should not be a day of mourning but an occasion to celebrate and rejoice. It is said that Lord Krishna had an oil bath to rid himself off the blood spattered on his body when Naraka was killed.
The tradition is followed and people offer prayers on the previous day of the Naraka Chaturdashi to the vessel in which water is being heated for having bath. People light fire crackers, which are regarded as the effigies of Narakasura who was killed on this day. Thus, this day is celebrated as the first day of Diwali, i.e., Chhoti (small) Diwali/Kali Choudas/'Naraka Chaturdashi'. Krishna's and Satyabhama's victory on Narakasura translated into freedom for all his prisoners and honouring of Aditi. Having rescued the 16,o00 women (who were held as prisoners), Krishna married them... in order to restore them to their former dignity.
Day 3: Laskhmi Puja or Chopada Puja (30 Ashvin or 15 Krishna Paksha Ashvin) - Lakshmi Puja marks the most important day of Diwali celebrations in North India. People worship Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth, and Ganesh, the God of auspicious beginnings, and then light lamps all across the streets and homes to welcome prosperity and well-being. Read more about this HERE. You can find the 'Ma Lakshmi Aarti' song here.
Day 4: Padwa or Varshapratipada or Govardhan-Puja - Bali Pratipada and Govardhan Puja (1 Kartika or 1 Shukla Paksha Kartika) : The day following the Amavasya is "Kartik Shuddh Padwa". According to mythology, Lord Vishnu - in his 5th incarnation... as the Vamana avatar - (i.e., in his dwarf incarnation) vanquished the tyrant demon King Bali, and banished him to the 'Pathal Loka' (the nether world). Bali was allowed to return to earth (Bhulok) 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 fourth day of Deepawali — Kartika Shudda Padyami that Bali steps out of the nether world and rules the earth according to the boon given by 'Batu Waman', Lord Vishnu. Hence, it is also known as "Bali Padyami" or "Bali-Pratipada"... and is celebrated in Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu and Karnataka.
This day also marks the coronation of the Emperor Vikramaditya and the 'Vikram-Samvat' was started from this Padwa day. The 'Vikram era', or 'Vikram samvat' is an Indian calendar starting in 57 BC. This calendar derives its name from the emperor Vikramaditya of Ujjain who started it following his victory over the Sakas in 56 BCE. The date is supposed to show when the Emperor Vikramaditya beat the Sakas, who had invaded Ujjain. A new calendar was started just to honor this time. It is a lunar calendar based on ancient Hindu tradition (see Hindu calendar and Vedic time keeping). The Vikram Samvat calendar is 56.7 years ahead (in count) of the solar Gregorian calendar. For example, the year 2056 BS began in CE 1999 and ended in CE 2000.
Gudi Padwa is symbolic of the love and devotion between the wife and husband. There is a custom in which on this holy day the wife applies the 'Tilak' on the forehead of her husband, garlands him, performs his 'Aarti' and also prays for his long life. In return, the husband gives her a gift in appreciation of all the tender care that his wife showers on him. On this day, newly-married daughters with their husbands are invited for special meals and given presents. In earlier times, brothers went to fetch their sisters from their in-laws home for this important day. In Maharashtra, it is called as 'Padava' or 'Nava Diwas' ("new day").
Govardhan-Puja is also performed in North India on this day. Govardhan is a small hillock situated at 'Braj', near Mathura and on this day of Diwali... the people of Punjab, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh and Bihar build cowdung hillocks (which symbolize the Mount Govardhan), decorate them with flowers and then worship them. This festival is in commemoration of the lifting of Mount Govardhan by Lord Krishna. As per the legend narrated in the Vishnu-Puran, the people of Gokul used to celebrate a festival in honour of Indra (for the rains) and worshipped him after the end of every monsoon season. They believed that it was he who sent the rains for their welfare. But one particular year the young Krishna stopped them from offering prayers to Indra and asked them to worship Mount Govardhan (Govardhan Parvat) instead... as it was the latter who caused the rains. Indra in a terrific anger sent a deluge to submerge Gokul.
The frightened people felt that the downpour was a result of their neglect of Indra... but Krishna assured them that no harm would befall them. He offered prayers to the mountain and then lifted the Govardhan Parvat with the little finger (of his right hand) - like an umbrella - so that everyone could take shelter under it. This earned him the epithet "Giridhari" or "Govardhandhari". After this, Indra accepted the supremacy of Lord Krishna. This day is also observed as 'Annakoot' meaning 'a mountain of food'. Devotees stay awake all through the night and cook fifty-six or 108 different types of food for the 'bhog' (the food offered to the deity) to Lord Krishna. In temples especially in Mathura and Nathdwara, the deities are bathed in milk and then dressed in shining attires with ornaments of dazzling diamonds, pearls, rubies and other precious stones. After the prayers and traditional worship innumerable varieties of delicious sweets are ceremoniously raised in the form of a mountain before the deities as the "Bhog" and then the devotees approach the 'Mountain of Food' and take 'Prasad' from it.
Day 5: Bhayya-Duj, Bhav-Bij, Bhai Tika or bhai phota. The fifth or the last day of diwali is 'Yama Dvitiya' or 'Bhaiya Dooj'... popularly known as 'Bhai Dooj'/'Bhathru Dwithiya'/'Bhatri Ditya'. The reason why this festival is known as 'bhai dooj' is that it falls on the second day after the new moon, that is the 'Dooj' day. And it is a day to pray for the long life of the brother, which is referred as "bhayya or bhai". On this day, brothers and sisters meet to express their love and affection for each other (Gujarati/Marathi/Konkani-speaking communities: "Bhai Bij"/"Bhaubeej"/"Bhav Bij", Bengali: "Bhai Phota", Nepali: "Bhai-Tika" and in the Hindi-speaking belt: "Bhaiyya-Duj"). It is a day of sharing delicious food and gifts... sisters' invite their brothers for a sumptuous meal often including their favorite dishes. Though the entire ceremony is simple in nature, it has a deep underlying meaning attached to it... it is symbolic of the sister's prayers to the divine... to provide a long and prosperous life for her brother and the duty of a brother to protect his sister. This festival is ancient, and pre-dates 'Raksha Bandhan' another brother-sister festival celebrated in the present times.
Legends: Bhai Duj finds its roots in mythology. You can read about them: HERE.
There are 10 mythical and historical reasons why Diwali is a great time to celebrate. And there are good reasons not just for Hindus but also for all others to celebrate this great "Festival of Lights". You can read about them HERE.
Leading us into Truth and Light, Diwali is celebrated on a nation-wide scale on Naraka Chathurthasi day on the dawn of Ammavaasa during the Hindu month of Aippasi (September/October) every year. Many wonder, what is Diwali? Why is Diwali celebrated and how do people in India observe and celebrate this five day festival. Diwali, also known as Deepawali, symbolizes the age-old culture of our country (India) which teaches us to vanquish ignorance that subdues humanity and to drive away darkness that engulfs the light of knowledge. Diwali, the "festival of lights" even today in this modern world projects the rich and glorious past of our country and teaches us to uphold the true values of life.
Celebrations across faith: In Hinduism, across many parts of India and Nepal, it is the homecoming of Lord Rama (along with his consort Sita and brother Lakshmana) to Ayodhya - after a 14-year exile in the forest and his victory over Ravana, the King of Lanka (who had abducted Sita and held her prisoner). According to the legend, the people of Ayodhya (the capital of his kingdom) welcomed Rama by lighting rows (avali) of (ghee) lamps (dĭpa), [thus its name: dīpāwali] - along the way to light their path in the darkness. Rama is considered as a symbol of good and a positive force while Ravan represents evil. Therefore, Diwali is considered as the festival, which establishes the 'victory of good over the evil'. More on this here. On the night of Diwali, people light diyas, which is again a symbol of positive energy... in order to conquer darkness, i.e., the symbol of negative energy. Since Ram traveled from South India to his kingdom in North India, he passed through the south earlier. This is the reason why the festival is celebrated a day earlier in South India. Diwali usually comes 19 or 20 days after Dasara/Dussehra. In South India, it marks the victory of Krishna over Narakasura. Over time, this word transformed into "Diwali" in Hindi and "Dipawali" in Nepali, but still retained its original form in the South and East Indian Languages. In the Dravidian languages it is called as Deepavali and the same is used in Malaysia and Singapore.
Diwali has been significant in Sikhism since the illumination of the town of Amritsar commemorating the return of Guru Har Gobind Ji (1595-1644), the sixth Guru of Sikhism, who was imprisoned along with 52 other Hindu kings at Fort Gwalior by Emperor Jahangir. After freeing the other prisoners, he went to the Harmandir Sahib (Golden Temple) in the holy city of Amritsar, where he was welcomed happily by the people who lit candles and divas to greet the Guru. Because of this, Sikhs often refer to Diwali also as Bandi Chhorh Divas - "the day of release of detainees."
Spiritual significance: While Diwali is popularly known as the "festival of lights", the most significant spiritual meaning is "the awareness of the inner light".
Central to Hindu philosophy is the assertion that there is something beyond the physical body and mind which is pure, infinite, and eternal, called the Atman. Just as we celebrate the birth of our physical being, Diwali is the celebration of this inner light, in particular the knowing of which outshines all darkness (removes all obstacles and dispels all ignorance), awakening the individual to one's true nature, not as the body, but as the unchanging, infinite, immanent and transcendent reality. With the realization of the Atman comes universal compassion, love, and the awareness of the oneness of all things (higher knowledge). This brings Ananda (inner joy or peace).
The gunas are the underlying forces or tendencies which one needs to have unaffected, direct relation with in order to find effectiveness and righteousness in life: they are lines of potential and illuminate thought and action, thus the inner meaning of Diwali being the festival of lights. Diwali celebrates this through festive fireworks, lights, flowers, sharing of sweets, and worship. While the story behind Diwali varies from region to region, the essence is the same - to rejoice in the inner light (Atman) or the underlying reality of all things (Brahman).
The Significance of Lights and 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.
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 the soul.
Before I conclude this post... let me wish you all a very happy, safe and prosperous Diwali... !!! May the festival of lights bring lots of happiness and colour into your life and a New Year blessed with prosperity!
Some info gathered, courtesy Wikipedia.
1. A collection of Diwali lamps or diyas.
2. Lord Shri Krishna and Satyabhama fighting Narakasura's armies - Painting from the Metropolitan Museum (Pic courtesy: Wikipedia)
3. Lord Shri Krishna lifting the Govardhan hill with the little finger of his right hand - like an umbrella - so that everyone could take shelter under it - from Smithsonian Institution's collections (Pic courtesy: Wikipedia).