Diwali – The Festival of Lights

Rangoli decorated by lamps during Diwali (photo courtesy of vancitybuzz.com)

By Chaitra Somasundar, Staff Writer

Diwali, also known as Deepawali, derives from the word diya/deepa, which means lamp. Diwali is a festival of lights that celebrates the victory of good over evil and light over darkness.

India as seen from space on the night of Diwali (photo courtesy of earthsky.org)
India as seen from space on the night of Diwali (photo courtesy of earthsky.org)

It is celebrated on the New Moon’s night of the month of Karthik (according to the Hindu calendar). In the Gregorian calendar, Diwali night falls between mid-October and mid-November. It is one of the largest and brightest festivals in India observed by Hindus, Sikhs, Jains and Buddhists. Before Diwali, people clean and decorate their houses. On Diwali night, people dress up in new clothes or their best outfits, light lamps inside and outside their homes, offer prayers with family and friends. Fireworks follow the prayers and then a feast including exchange of sweets and gifts among family members and friends. Diwali is an official holiday in Nepal, India, Sri Lanka, Mauritius and now, in the White House of United States of America!

The five-day festival:

Varanasi on Diwali (photo courtesy of adlabsimagica.com)
Varanasi on Diwali (photo courtesy of adlabsimagica.com)

Diwali begins with Dhanteras, where Lakshmi, the Goddess of wealth is worshiped to provide prosperity and well being. Dhanteras holds special significance for the business community due to the customary purchases of precious metals on this day. Naraka Chaturdasi the second day of the festival, also known as “Choti Diwali,” celebrates the death of the mythological demon, Narakasur at the hands of the gods Krishna, Satyabhama and Kali liberating 16,000 princesses the demon had held captive. The third day is the main festival offering prayers to Goddess Lakshmi also celebrating the return of Lord Ram to Ayodhya after 14 years of exile. The fourth day is known as Govardhana Puja/Balipadyami, celebrated in the honour of the first prayers offered by the people of Vraja to the sacred hill Govardhana. The mythological King, Bali’s defeat at the hands of Krishna (in the avatar of Vamanadeva, a dwarf) is also celebrated on this day. The fifth day is known as “Bhai Duj” is a day dedicated to sisters. According to the legend, Yama, the God of Death, visited his sister Yamuna on this day and gave her a boon that whoever visits her on this day shall be liberated from all sins to attain salvation. From then on, brothers visit their sisters on this day to inquire their welfare. Some people bathe in the holy waters of Yamuna on this day in the hope of attaining liberation.

History:

Fireworks on Diwali (photo courtesy of flickr.com)
Fireworks on Diwali (photo courtesy of flickr.com)

In ancient times, Diwali was celebrated as a harvest festival. Most of us celebrate Diwali as the return of King Ram to Ayodhya from 14 years of exile (the great epic Ramayana) after rescuing his wife Sita from the hands of the demon Ravan. However, there are many other stories associated with this festival. The birthday of Lakshmi, the Goddess of Wealth is celebrated on Diwali in various parts of India. In Bengal, devotees worship Kali, the Goddess associated with “Shakti” (strength). Another story that coincides with this celebration is the return of the Pandavas after their 13 years of exile (the great epic Mahabharata). People celebrated their return by lighting lamps and bursting crackers. Mahavir Tirthankar, the founder of Jainism is said to have attained “Nirvana”/salvation on the day of Diwali making it a significant occasion for Jains as well. The festival is often associated with gambling. It is believed that the Goddess Parvati played dice with her husband Shiv on this day. People believe that gambling on this day will bring wealth into their lives. All these mythological tales make Diwali the festival of joy, victory and prosperity.

The Indian Subcontinent Club (ISSC) is organizing several events this week to celebrate Diwali on campus. Sunday, November 15, rangoli making session at 3pm, pooja at 7:30pm, and Indian dance and food after that. RSVP

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  1. Celebrating a festival of lights: Diwali

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