Diwali Festival Significance, History, Story & Importance

      The tradition of celebrating fairs and festivals, runs almost through out the year, in this country of festivities. Out of the main five festivals; the Festival of Lights: Diwali has a special importance, which has come up through the last 5000-7000 years. It is the gayest of the festivals; an occasion of great excitement and rejoicing. It is an occasion in honour of Rama's victory over Ravana; of Truth. Illuminations are arranged as welcome to Rama in Ayodhya. It is observed since then.

The tradition of celebrating fairs and festivals, runs almost through out the year, in this country of festivities. Out of the main five festivals; the Festival of Lights: Diwali has a special importance, which has come up through the last 5000-7000 years. It is the gayest of the festivals; an occasion of great excitement and rejoicing. It is an occasion in honour of Rama's victory over Ravana; of Truth. Illuminations are arranged as welcome to Rama in Ayodhya. It is observed since then.

      The original form of Diwali is Deepawali, which literally means a row of lights. During Diwali, the feast of lamps, every house is lit with little earthenware vessels containing oil and a lighted wick, and groups of men and women assemble along the river bank setting these little lanterns afloat on tiny rafts and watching with intense interest the frail craft, as they float down streams. The festivity is in honour of Goddess Lakshmi, the consort of Vishnu, one of the trinity. The fate of the little lamps placed on the breast of Mother Ganges, is pregnant with auguries of the future fortunes of the pious Hindus, who assign them to the stream, and that during the illuminations, the bankers and the merchants counted their money and worshipped it as symbols of the Goddess, who is the patron of prosperity and whose influence guides the commercial ventures of the virtuous votaries.

      Initially, perhaps this festival was on account of the arrival of the cold season, after scorching heat of the summer. Later it was a festival of the farmers, who enjoyed the fruit of their Kharif crop. After the rains, the traders set sail to other countries and started worshipping Goddess Lakshmi, because of their gains and profits, so the farmers and the traders started celebrating the festival emergence, out of the churning of the ocean, also appeared in legends of the Puranas and this festival began to be celebrated as the birthday of Lakshmi.

      As to why Diwali is celebrated, depends on different prevalent legends in different parts of India. The most popular is the one of Northern India, where people believe that this was the day, when Lord Rama, the seventh incarnation of Lord Vishnu, returned to his kingdom Ayodhya after 14 years of exile, in which he put an end to the demon Ravana. Ravana of Sri Lanka, was a great Pundit, highly learned, expert in politics, but still evil dominated his mind. He was not enlightened by the beams of knowledge. A person, devoid of knowledge, may be a learned scholar and very strong, but may still be a great devil. It was the devil in Ravana, which wish to procure all beautiful things of the world, including Sita, the beautiful sublime consort of Rama. Though Ravana kidnapped Sita, yet he did not coerce her or forcibly pushed her into his harem. This was due to his religious learning, being the son of a great saint, although his mother was a Rakshas woman. On the other hand, Rama though he conquered Sri Lanka, yet he neither occupied it nor levied any tax on it, but gave the kingdom to Bhabhesan, the brother of Ravana. It was a victory of righteousness over devilish. Diwali, the festival of lights, is the festival of spiritualism of such symbols and virtues. The illumination is only symbolic; just as images are worshipped as symbols of Gods. It is the festival of lighting the most dark night Amavasya; enlightenment of the darkness.

      In the Western part of India, the legend relates to a demon monarch Bali, who performed such penance that the gods in the heaven began to feel threatened. So Lord Vishnu, in heaven, then assumed the form of a dwarf Vamana and came down to earth as the fifth incarnation. At that time, the demon king was performing a great sacrifice on the earth, in the true Vedic traditions. It was believed that he satisfied all those, who came to him, by giving them promised gifts. Vamana went to him. Bali said that Vamana was late and that he had very little to give him. Vamana asked for just three steps. The demon king felt reassured. He laughed and granted the request. The dwarf measured the earth with his first step, growing enormously in size as he did so. With another he measured the heaven. "Where do I keep my third step?" Bali realized that was none other than the Lord himself and so bowed and offered head for his third step. When Bali vanquished, the Lord also released prisoners of Bali, among which were Lakshmi, the Goddess of wealth and Ganesha, the remover of obstacles. When Lakshmi and Ganesha came down to earth, they brought great prosperity to the people. In the Southern part of India, the myth is that Lord Vishnu in his eighth incarnation as Krishna, destroyed the demon Narakasura, who was causing great unhappiness amongst the people of the world. Diwali or Narakachaturthi celebrates the end of this evil. In some parts of India, Diwali marks the beginning of a new year, because it is believed that the legendary king Vikramaditya, known for his wisdom, was crowned on this day at Ujjain.

      On the night of Diwali, while the rest of India worships Lakshmi, Eastern India, particularly West Bengal worships Kali, the Goddess symbolic of strength (described later).

      Tantrics started worshipping Lakshmi under the name of Tripura Sundari, Maha Lakshmi, Lalita, etc., because they think that they can acquire supernatural powers (Siddhi), easily be enchanting hymns and Mantras, on this night. Philosophical thinkers gave the festival the form of the philosophy in Vaishnavism, according to which Sri and Lakshmi (beauty and divine prosperity) are the consorts of Vishnu. Vishnu is symbolic of all visible creation, Sri and Lakshmi are integrated with this visible creation and therefore in poetics, are described as the consorts of Vishnu. They are both essential elements of creation, therefore Jains and Buddhists have also adopted them. Sri and Lakshmi, who are one now, are worshipped in one form in Jainism and Buddhism. Lakshmi, is the embodiment of knowledge, power and prosperity; so the learned recognized her as the Goddess of light, the guide of enlightenment from the darkness of ignorance.

      Diwali is a festival in reverence to Lord Rama, Krishna, Kali. Usually festival is in honour of one deity, but this festival of Diwali, is unique in this respect. In the Puranas, there is a detailed description of Deepawali. Bhavishya Purana, Skanda Purana, Narada Purana and Jataka stories have narrated the ritual of Deepawali in details. On inscriptions of ancient India, there are figures of Lakshmi inscribed. Gupta Kings worshipped Lakshmi, as their Goddess of their dynasty. Pallava, Satevahana kings of Southern India had coins with Lakshmi figure inscribed thereon. Diwali is a festival, which has religious importance, social and economic influence and has been in celebration in India, since antiquity. The Hindus observe certain rituals on the day of Diwali and each carries a spiritual significance. They start cleaning the house (body) which signifies purifying the body through meditation, wearing new clothes represents attiring the inner self with newness i.e., desist from the five vices in life namely lust, anger, greed, attachment and ego; and start creating and entertaining clean thoughts, Words, actions and relationships. Illuminating the house with colourful lights means that the mind should be decorated with spiritual accessories such as peach, love, tolerance, generosity, etc. The earthly lamps called Deyas (Deep) represent the body, which is a combination of the five elements i.e., fire, water, air, space and earth. It is perishable and is only lent to us for a period of a time ash to ash, dust to dust. The Flame of the deep represents the soul, which if connected with the supreme soul God constantly, will give bright and sparkling rays. The Oil represents the priceless ingredient spiritual knowledge. To keep the flame alight means to be always conscious. "I am light, being connected always with the supreme light." On this festival, it is imperative for all to be awakened from that deep sleep of ignorance and be connected with the Supreme light through meditation. Experience light, feel light, spread light, for you are the light of the world.

      Diwali is also a time for settling of accounts, of both a business and Karmic nature. It is a time of special worship, house cleansing, exchanging new clothes and utensils, and in particular cleaning the body. A bath in starlight, before sunrise is accepted as a bath in the holy Ganges, so purifying soul and body and auspicious way to begin the day. Such cleaning and focus on newness are symbolic of the casting off of the last year's sins and hope for a fresh new year. Gold threaded saris are often exchanged, symbolic of the golden Age in the Hindu cycle of time, a time of purity and harmony. Old clothes are cast off as a reminder that the old world, now in the Iron Age, will end and make way for the new.

      Deepawali (Diwali) festival is a four day festival, which includes Dhanteras, Narak Chaturdashi, Deepawali and Bhai Dooj. Dhanteras is the day, earlier, when people buy new utensils. Narak Chaturdashi is known as Chhoti Diwali (minor Diwali) when in every household 5-7 deep (Deyas) are lit on the door and comers. Diwali falls on the day of Amavasya, the next day of which is called Pratipad, when every kind of transaction, receipt or payment and business is postponed. On this day, many people try the their luck of gambling.

      Bhai Dooj or Bhratri Ditya fails on the next day, when the brothers visit their sisters, out of love and affection. As the time of Diwali approaches, there are grand preparations by young, old, rich, poor; weak and strong. The buildings, trees, animals, man kinds and statues are all adorned with colourful lights and costumes. This festive mood fills the air with great excitement, joy and happiness. Twenty days after Sudsehra, every house is illuminated on the day of Diwali, to commemorate the return of Rama after 14 years in exile. Cultural programmes and night long fire works mark the occasion. Crackers and cacophony; colour and colourful mood, crowd and chaos, and celebrations. The, dazzle of the occasion ushers in an all pervading and overpowering spirit of happiness and laughter and an inescapable feeling of joining in.

      During such time, the business men close their books of old accounts and start new ones. This denotes the giving up of bad habits and cultivating new attitudes. Exchanging cards and gifts means to share the most elevated teachings (Godly teachings, knowledge) and have good wishes and pure feelings for all—love the neighbour as thyself.

      Distribution of sweets signifies that my words should be soft, sweet and essenceful. Praying and performing Puja (rituals of burning incense, sprinkling holy water and offering sweet fragrant flowers signify that I am in readiness to offer all my weaknesses, burning them through the fire of yoga. 

      The people fast on this day i.e., they abstain from eating meat, drinking alcohol, smoking of even having sexual contact. They eat sweet food, soft and light drinks. Fasting here, signifies that I should abstain from telling lies, having revengeful feelings or committing any abominable act. I must remember that what section I perform, to that extent, I will reap their fruits.

      The night of Diwali is also be jewelled with millions of flickering candles and an explosion of fire works and fire crackers, so it is known as the Festival of Lights.

      Lighting of lamps (Deya: earthen small pot) is one of the most beautiful aspects of Diwali. It is the festival of Row of Lights. It is always celebrated on the darkest night of the year. The lamps signify enlightenment or upliftment of the mind and edification of the spirit. Historians say it was perhaps a Jain practice, that the came to be adopted by all. The Jains began lighting lamps to symbolize the immortality of the spirit. One the day of Diwali, the whole house is lighted with oil lamps. In addition to lighting the facade and the sides of the house, one lamp is always placed in areas which are dark, however far they may be. No corner of the area around the house and the house itself, if left dark. Traditionally oil wick lamps were lit. accommodated candles in place of lamps, since they were easier to manage. Today, even the plush electric fitting shops call a sale and people buy lamps of various kinds to light up their house. Terra-cotta lamps have also made a comeback and some lovely designs in lamps are available. Some even have Goddess Lakshmi and Lord Ganesha, carved out on them.

Diwali in Different States of India

      Kumaon: On the day of Diwali, soaked rice is powdered and designs are made out of that. At night time, the young girls worship these designs with grass and camphor. At some places, a figure of Lakshmi is made with sandalwood in a copper plate and a mandav (Canopy) of sugarcanes is made over it. Lakshmi is worshipped.

      Rajasthan: In Rajasthan, the cat is recognized as a form of Lakshmi. Delicious food is cooked and is placed for the cast, which is fully consumed, is considered to be very auspicious.

      Gujarat: Diwali is called Badhavsar. Alpana (door decoration) is done with powdered rice. Purchase of salt on this day is considered lucky.

      Bihar: The adivasis (aboriginals) of Bihar worship Kali on this day. Eating unripe coconut and taking a beetle is considered auspicious. In Chhota Nagpur, the men circumambulate their village with a basket full (earthenware vessel) of paddy and grass.

      Mysore: Diwali in Mysore is reputed. The women apply a cosmetic paste on the forehead of the men and the children and then narrate the story of the massacre of Narkasur. The bath after this, is recognized as equivalent to a dip in the Ganges.

      Andhra: In Hyderabad, there is the tradition of giving a bath to the buffaloes, on the day of Diwali. There is also a custom of decorating paper figures.

      Maharashtra: There is the tradition of worshipping Yama (God of the house) thoroughly, there is also the system of worshipping the male members of the house, with Aarti, by the women.

      Bengal: The festival of Diwali is known as Mahanisha in Bengal. It is believed that Maha Kali appeared on this day; accompanied by 64,000 yoginis.

Diwali Outside India

      Sri Lanka: As in India, Diwali is celebrated here in all pomp and shown. The decoration is done on a high scale, whereas, toys made out of earthen paste are sold in India, in Sri Lanka, toys of enameled were sold. Figures made out of crystal sugar (misri) are sold in great numbers. The sweets are not taken, instead sugar crystals are consumed. Like India, illumination is done throughout the night.

      Japan: The Japanese believe that the festival of Deepawali, awards happiness, progress, prosperity and longevity in life. Diwali is celebrated here in the month of September, when the people go out into the orchards and gardens and hang lanterns and paper made hanging structures, on the branches of trees. Dance and music are kept open throughout the night. Next it is observed by putting on new clothes and going for boating. Broom cleaning of the house, on this day, is considered inauspicious. All houses of worship are decorated with wall papers on this day.

      Mauritius: The people of this country believe that Diwali is a festival, which has been celebrated, much before the coronation of Lord Rama took place. To make the festival more important, it has been inter related with Rama. Earthenware lamps are lit on this day; which are arranged in rows, making figures thereof. As in India, Lakshmi is worshipped on this occasion in Mauritius. Crackers are also used.

      Thailand: Diwali is celebrated under the name of Lam Kriyongh, which is celebrated in October-November. Deyas (lamps) are made out of banana leaves, in which candles are placed, along with a coin and incense. These are then set afloat on a river. These lit banana leave lamps, floating on the surface of the river, present a marvelous look. The people send greetings to each other and wish them well with congratulations. Sweets are distributed.

      Nepal: Diwali, known as Tihar, in Nepal, is celebrated for five days, a period of great festivities observed with great pomp and show. On the first day, Nepalese cook rice and feed them to the crows. They worship and pray that Lakshmi should come to them. The next day is known as "swan day". Swan is considered as the conveyance of Bhairava. Delicious food is cooked on this day and is placed before the swan (Dog) for eating. The dog is worshipped with arti, having garlanded it and after applying tilak on its forehead. An effort is made to please the swan (dog). Third day is the day of illumination, as in India. Earthenware lamps are lit all over. It is considered as the victory of Light over Darkness. They also believe it to be a celebration in honour of righteous. Rama's victory over Sri Lanka and his return to Ayodhya. The Goddess of wealth Lakshmi is worshipped. Illumination, fireworks and crackers are widely used. Fourth day is devoted to the worship of Yama, the God of death. The Nepalese invoke Yama and pray for long life. The fifth final day is observed as Bhai Dooj, as in India. 

      Myanmar: The festival of Diwali, is observed here, just as in India. The people prostrate in front of the images of the Gods. Delicious food, new garments, dancing and music are traditionally performed. The night is lit with bright lights.

Diwali in Modern Times

      As long as this country observed the Dharma in its strict sense, it remained a great country and the mine of wealth, known as "Sone Ki Chidya" (the sparrow of gold). It remained as heaven on earth with peace and prosperity; but having departed from its basic teachings, we have led ourselves into a life of darkness. This day of Diwali, Kartik Krishna Chaturdashi, is the day, when 2,500 years back, the great pioneer of Truth and Non-violence Lord Mahavira was enlightened and it is on this day that Swami Ram Tirath and Swami Dayananda, gave the light of Knowledge to India. This festival, being celebrated for centuries now, is ushered in, not with flickering light but by the eardrum shattering fire works and sale screaming advertisements. Gone is much of the warmth that was associated traditionally with the festival of lamps, and in its place, is a celebration where cold hard cash rules the roost. Today the festival has become symbolic with the rich and exuberance has become its hall mark. If you are wealthy and willing to make a show of your money, then there is no better season and reason than this. Starting with expensive gifts to crackers, there is no dearth of items on which you can blow all that extra money and flaunt your festive attitude.

      To conclude, we may say, that from scientific, psychological and philosophical point of view, Deepawali (Diwali) festival reminds every person, once in a year; that in the midst of spreading darkness, as that of Amavasya, the tiny lit lamps are a pointer towards that light, on the path of which, a man can cross the road to happiness, peace and progress, getting rid of darkness (evil) in his mind, one can lead a happy life.

      The aim of Diwali, the symbol of Indian progressive culture is, to remove the evil (darkness) from your mind, to enlighten yourself with knowledge; to share the light and on Deepawali, the symbol of the source of divine energy and knowledge, we should search for Truth according to our traditions and history.

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