Diwali which leads us into Truth and Light is celebrated on a nation-wide scale on Amavasya -the 15th day of the dark fortnight of the Hindu month of Kartik (October/November) every year. It symbolizes that age-old culture of our country 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 to-day in this modern world, projects the rich and glorious past of our country and teaches us to uphold the true values of life.
The word "Diwali" is from the Sanskrit word "Deepavali" – Deepa meaning light and Avali meaning a row. It means a row of lights and indeed illumination forms its main attraction. Every home - the hut of the poor or the mansion of the rich - is alit with the orange glow of twinkling diyas-small earthen lamps - to welcome "Lakshmi", Goddess of wealth and prosperity. Multi-colored Rangoli designs, floral decorations and fireworks lend beauty and grandeur to this festival which heralds joy, mirth and happiness in the coming year.
This festival is celebrated on a grand scale in almost all the regions of India and is looked upon mainly as the beginning of a New Year. As such the blessings of Lakshmi. the celestial consort of Lord Vishnu are invoked with prayers. Wherever Hindus are, this festival is celebrated in great pomp and revelry. The festival of Diwali, it is surmised dates back to that period when perhaps history was not written. and in its progress through centuries it lit the path of thousands to attain the ultimate good and complete ecstasy.
Diwali or more aptly Deepavali is very enthusiastically celebrated for five continuous days and each day has its significance with a number of myths, legends and beliefs. The First day is called DHANTERAS or DHANTRAYODASHI. It falls on the thirteenth day of the month of Kartik. The word "Dhan" means wealth. As such this day is of great importance for the rich mercantile community of Western India. Houses and Business premises are renovated and decorated. Entrances are made colorful with lovely traditional motifs of Rangoli designs to welcome the Goddess of wealth and prosperity. To indicate her long-awaited arrival, small footprints are drawn with rice flour and vermilion powder all over the houses. Lamps are kept burning all through the nights. Believing this day to be auspicious women purchase some gold or silver or at least one or two new utensils. "Lakshmi-Puja" is performed in the evenings when tiny "diyas" of clay are lit to drive away the shadows of evil spirits. "Bhajans" in praise of Goddess Lakshmi are sung and "Naivedya" of traditional sweets are offered to the Goddess. In villages cattle are honored, their being the main source of income to farmers throughout India.
The SECOND day is called NARKA-CHATURDASHI or CHOTI DIWAL which falls on the fourteenth day of the month of Kartik. The story goes that the demon king Narakasur ruler of Pragjyotishpur after defeating Lord Indra had snatched away the magnificent earrings of Aditi, the Mother Goddess and imprisoned sixteen thousand daughters of the gods and saints. On the day previous to Narakachaturdashi, Lord Krishna killed the demon and liberated the imprisoned damsels and also recovered those precious earrings of Aditi. Lord Krishna returned home on Narakachaturdashi day and was given a good bath to wash away the filth from his body. Since then the Custom of taking bath before sunrise on this day has become a traditional practice specially in Maharashtra.
One legend is about King Bali of the nether world, who due to his mighty powers had become a threat to the gods. In order to curb his powers Lord Vishnu in the guise of a Batu Waman- a small boy- visited him and begged him to give him only that much land which he could cover with his three steps. Known for his philanthropy King Bali proudly granted him his wish. That small boy transformed himself into the all-powerful Lord Vishnu. With his first step Lord Vishnu covered the entire heaven and with the second step the earth and asked Bali where to put his third step. Bali offered his head. Putting his foot on his head Vishnu pushed him down to the underworld. At the same time for his generosity Lord Vishnu gave him the lamp of knowledge and allowed him 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. This Narakachaturdashi day therefore is dedicated to lights and prayers heralding a future full of joy and laughter.
The THIRD day of the festival of Diwali is the most important day of "LAKSHMI-PUJA", it is entirely devoted to the propitiation of Goddess Lakshmi. This day is also known by the name of "CHOPADA-PUJA". On this very day the sun enters its second course and passes Libra which is represented by the balance or scale. Hence, the design of Libra is believed to have suggested the balancing of account books and their closing. Despite the fact that this day falls on an Amavasya day it is regarded as the most auspicious.
The day of Lakshmi-Puja falls on the dark night of Amavasya. The strains of joyous sounds of bells and drums float from the temples as man is invoking Goddess Lakshmi in a wondrous holy "pouring-in" of his heart. That impenetrable darkness is pierced by innumerable rays of light for just a moment and the next moment a blaze of light descends down to earth from heaven as golden-footed Deep-Lakshmi alights on earth in all her celestial glory amidst chantings of Vedic hymns. A living luminance of Universal Motherhood envelopes the entire world in that blessed moment of fulfillment of a long-awaited dream of the mortal. A sublime light of knowledge dawns upon humanity and devotion of man finally conquers ignorance. This self enlightenment is expressed through the twinkling lamps that illuminate the palaces of the wealthy as well as the lowly abodes of the poor. It is believed that on this day Lakshmi showers her blessings on man for plenty and prosperity. When the sun sets in the evening and ceremonial worship is finished all the home-made sweets are offered to the goddess as "NAIVEDYA" and distributed as "PRASAD". Feasts and fairs are arranged and gifts are exchanged on this day.
One of the most curious customs which characterizes this festival of Diwali is the indulgence of gambling. It is believed that goddess Parvati played dice with her husband Lord Shiva on this day. She decreed that whosoever gambled on Diwali night would prosper throughout the ensuing year. This tradition continues even today.
On this auspicious day Lord Shri Krishna around whom revolved the entire story of our great epic Mahabharat, and who taught Karmayog through his Geeta to Arjun on the battlefield of Kurukshetra discarded his body. Bhagwan Mahavir. the Jain prophet attained "Nirvan" on this day. Swami Ramtirth, the beloved "Ram Badshah" of millions of Indians was not only born on this day and took "Sanyas" but also took "Samadhi" on this day. Swami Dayanand Saraswati, founder of the Brahma-Samaj with his superb yogic powers freed his soul from his body and mingled with divinity on this auspicious day of Diwali. We kindle innumerable lights on this day to immortalize the sacred memories of those great men who lived to brighten the lives of millions of their fellow beings.
The FOURTH day is PADWA or VARSHAPRATIPADA which marks the coronation of King Vikramaditya and Vikaram-Samvat was started from this Padwa day. Govardhan-Puja is also performed in the North on this day. As per the Vishnu-Puran the people of Gokul used to celebrate a festival in honor of Lord Indra and worshipped him after the end of every monsoon season but one particular year the young Krishna stopped them from offering prayers to Lord lndra who in terrific anger sent a deluge to submerge Gokul. But Krishna saved his Gokul by lifting up the Govardhan mountain and holding it over the people as an umbrella.
This day is also observed as Annakut meaning mountain of food. In temples specially in Mathura and Nathadwara, the deities are given a milkbath, dressed in shining attire and ornaments. After the prayers and traditional worship innumerable varieties of delicious sweets are ceremoniously raised in the form of a mountain before the deities as "Bhog" and then the devotees approach the Mountain of Food and take Prasad from it. Goddess Lakshmi is worshipped in every Hindu household and her blessings sought for success and happiness. This day is looked upon as the most auspicious day to start any new venture. In many Hindu homes it is a custom for the wife to put the red tilak on the forehead of her husband, garland him and do his "Aarathi" with a prayer for his long life. In appreciation of all the tender care that the wife showers on him, the husband gives her a costly gift. This Gudi Padwa is symbolic of love and devotion between the wife and husband. On this day newly-married daughters and their husbands are invited for special meals and given presents and brothers went to fetch their sisters from their in-laws home for this important day.
The FIFTH and final day of Diwali is known by the name of "BHAYYA-DUJ" or "BHAV-BIJ" or "BHAI-TIKA". As the legend goes Yamraj, the God of Death visited his sister Yami on this particular day. She put the auspicious tilak on his forehead, garlanded him and fed him with special dishes. Both ate the sweets, talked and enjoyed themselves, on leaving Yamraj gave her a special gift as a token of his love and in return Yami also gave him a lovely gift which she had made with her own hands. That day Yamraj announced that anyone who receives tilak from his sister will never be thrown. That is why this day of Bhayyaduj is also known by the name of "YAMA-DWITIYA" Since then this day is being observed as a symbol of love between sisters and brothers.
In today’s world when pressing everyday problems are teaming, the celebrating of this day has its own importance in continuing to maintain the love between brothers and sisters for it is the day of food-sharing, gift-giving and reaching out to the inner most depths of the hearts.
Diwali on the whole has always been a festival with more social than religious connotations. It is a personal, people-oriented festival when enmities are forgotten. families and friends meet, enjoy and establish renewed closeness. As a festival of light and beauty it encourages artistic expressions through home-decorations stage plays. elocution competitions singing and dancing programmes, making gift items and making delectable sweets thereby discovering new talents of younger people. As a result innumerable communities with varying cultures and customs mingle together to make Diwali celebrations a very Happy occasion for all.
Rabindranath Tagore has so aptly put forth the true significance of Diwali in these beautiful lines:
"The night is black - Kindle the Lamp of LOVE With thy Life and Devotion"
Source: Internet - Our special thanks to Dilen Kumar - Youth Volunteer for the Research.