Meaning of Diwali :
Diwali or Deepavali is literally is the festival of lights. Deepa means lamp and it is a festival of lighting lamps. It is a special festival which is one of the longest festivals celebrated among all Hindus in India and all over the world.
This festival falls in the month of Ashwin of the Hindu lunar calendar and ends on the second day of the month of Kartik.
This year Diwali falls during the period of 14th to 19th October.
The Importance of the Festival Days :
There are a few important days of this festival they are as follows.
The first day of Diwali is the evening of Diwali, which is the 12th lunar day of the dark fortnight of the month of Ashwin. On this day a cow who has given birth to a calf is worshiped. This marks the beginning of this festival.
The Hindu believe that the Cow has all the Gods in her stomach and worshipping her ensures smooth progress of all that they start. Cow is also a mother figure and this also brings forth the importance of the worship of the feminine form of energy in the Hindu Ritual.
The second day which falls on the 13th day of Ashwin, is the Dhantrayodashi. This is the day when all the Gold and Jewelry in the house is worshipped. On this day Goddess Laxmi is worshipped to ensure prosperity all the year round. There is a custom to offer a mixture of coriander seeds and Jaggery as an offering to the gods.
The 14th day of the month is the Narkachaturdashi day. On this day people break a small fruit with their thumb as a symbol of killing the demon Narakasur and winning victory over evil. The day starts with this ritual and then people do their daily puja and share sweets with everyone. This is also the day when people do abhyangasna.
The final day of the month of Ashwin is the day of Amwasya. This is the darkest night of the year, and it is perhaps due to this reason that it was celebrated with the lighting of lamps everywhere. On this night people do Laxmi pujan. This is the day when people stay awake all night and worship the Goddess. This is the day when people worship their account books and ensure that they have the blessing of the Goddess throughout the year. There is a tradition to stay awake the entire night and sing the praises of the Goddess. There is a tradition among certain people to play cards or especially Rummy on this night and to earn some money through it as a shagun. Even the markets have a shagun trading at this time. So it seems that this particular day is extremely important in this entire festival.
Incidentally on the morning of this day, there is abhyangasnan, and then people prepare various types of sweets, some even make around 56 to 108 varieties and offer it to the God. It is called as a Bhog and then they partake of the same and share with their friends and relatives. This is the day of worshipping the mountain Govardhan, and hence it is a day called Govardhan pujan.
The 1st day of the month of Kartik is the day of Balipratipada. This is also called as the day of Padva. It is considered as a new year for the business people.
There is an interesting legend on this day. This day is very important in the lives of married people. There was a tradition that married daughters would return to their houses on this day to celebrate Diwali with their family.
On this day the wife worships the husband and gets gifts for her in return.
The final day of Diwali is the day of Bhau bij or yama dwitiya. On this day the brothers go to the sister�s place and the sister does puja of the brother. The brother in turn gives gifts to her. There is a tradition that the brother who visits his sister on this day is protected from all evil for the rest of the year.
The significance of Diwali :
Diwali basically falls on the darkest night of the year. Thus it seems that the elders who decided the date for this festival sincerely wished that people should enjoy the night by lighting lamps, which was symbolic of wiping out the darkness and sorrow out of our life by lighting lamps of love and joy and sharing with friends and relatives. There is another important reason for this particular period, which is irrespective of the legends. And that is this is the period when the farmer has just completed the first round of crops and the second round is just to be started. So this is the time he can expect to rest and enjoy with his family, before starting for the new harvest.
Legends of Diwali :
There are many legend about Diwali. The primary legend is about the homecoming of Rama with his wife Sita after conquering and killing Ravana. It was a return after 14 years, and hence the city of Ayodhya was very happy to receive their kind back. They expressed this happiness in the form of lighted lamps and flowery decorations and songs and dance. It was a long period of festivities and joys. In today�s world it can symbolically be said as a conquest of good over evil. This is the victory of Good and we all should celebrate it with joy.
There is a particularly interesting story about Dhanteras. This is a story where a young bride is told that her husband is scheduled to die on a particular day after marriage. The worried bride wondered what to do, and so she decides not to sleep. She keep awake with her husband the entire night singing bhajans and songs. While at the entrance of the room of her husband she keeps piles of gold and jewels from her house, so much that the room is sparkling with them. She also lights many lamps near it. At the scheduled time, the God of death, Lord Yam comes and he sees the huge pile of Gold in front of him. He sits over the mountain the entire night and listens to the songs of the bride. In the morning, he goes back without the man. Thus the young bride is successful in saving her husband, and so it is a day when Lord Yam is also worshipped and lamps are kept burning the entire night to mark this occasion. There is also a tradition of Deepa daan on this occasion.
There is an interesting legend about Narkachaturdashi also. This is the day when Narkasur the demon king of Pragjyotishpur was killed by Krishna�s wife Satyabhama in a war and then Lord Krishna released the 16000 daughters of Gods and saints, whom this demon had held captive.
The day of Amawasya is the day of Laxmi Pujan. This is the most active day during this week long festival. It is a day when Goddess Laxmi is worshipped. It is the day when Goddess Laxmi visits houses and blesses those who are awake and found worshipping her. It is believed that the Goddess visits only those houses which are clean and hence it is almost mandatory for every household to have a major cleaning spree before this day. On this day especially, the broom is worshipped. People draw rangoli and also light lamps and kandils. They print small footprints of the goddess coming into their house as a symbol of peace and prosperity.
Diwali can essentially be called the festival of the Goddess Laxmi because even with Ram, Sita was ultimately an incarnation of Laxmi while Lord Ram was an incarnation of Vishnu.
There is an interesting legend about Gowardhan pujan.
This is a small mountain in the city of Mathura, the land of Lord Krishna. There was a custom in that land to worship Lord Indra during the monsoon, but Lord Krishna stopped his people from offering cattle to Lord Indra. This enraged Lord Indra who sent a huge deluge to the city. In order to protect the people of Mathura, Lord Krishna picked up the mountain Gowardhan and protected his people and cattle under it. After this Lord Indra accepted the supremacy of Lord Krishna. In memory of this event people worship the mountain to this day and they offer Annakut in this period. The first day of the lunar month of kartik is the Balipratipada or Padva. It is said that on this day Lord Vishnu took the form of a Vamana or a dwarf and asked the then king Bali to give him 3 feet of land. Bali was a very egoistic King and felt that he was very virtuous and charitable. He felt that he could easily give 3 feet of land, and so asked Vamana to place his feet anywhere he liked. The 3 steps he takes, will be the amount of land he will get. So Lord Vishnu put his first step on prithvi and the second step on the sky. There was still one foot left. So he asked King Bali, now where do I place my third foot. So Bali asked him to place his feet on his own head. Lord Vishnu placed his feet on his head and pushed him down into the patal loka. However because of his virtuous deeds, Lord Vishnu stood as a fort guard for him and blessed him with the lamp of knowledge, and allowed him to return to earth to light the lamp for many people. Thus Bali pratipada is a day celebrated in memory of this event. The final day is the day of Bhai Duj. History says that on this day Lord Yam visited his sister and she welcomed him with lots of sweets and good things. He was delighted with the reception, and he said that on this day, which ever brother visits his sister, will be protected from all evil. Hence the ritual of the brothers visiting the sister�s house, and gifting her good things.
The importance of Items related to Diwali :
On killing the demon Narakasur wth the help of Lord Krishna Satyabhama declared that it should be an occasion of joy and celebration. But lord Krishna was drenched in warfare. So on this day after the war, he bathed with oil and scented water and flowers. This tradition continues to this day and people bathe with scented oils, and waters and flowers. They also use fragrant powders called Utna.
Rangoli is the design which people draw around their houses with a white powder and then fill various colors in it. It is often felt that Rangoli is done to express joy and spread happiness. But there is a deeper science in it. When rangoli is drawn at the entrance, it has the power the create joy in the mind of the person seeing it. Thus a person who enters your house, keeps his negative feelings outside and enters your house with lots of positivity and joy, thereby bringing you much happiness.
The most important flowers which are used around Diwali are the flowers of Zandu. These flowers have a strong ability to absorb the negativity in the air. They also tend to keep fresh for a long time. Hence it is a tradition to make a toran of Zandu flowers and mango leaves, which mark the beginning of new things and tie it in the house. These help to keep the atmosphere at one�s place happy and joyful.
Lights and Kandil
The tiny lamps are a symbol of lighting our souls to the inner joy and happiness which God offers to us. We all like to have happiness all the time. But there can be the darkness of amavasya also at times in one�s life. At that time, it is important to take efforts and to light a small lamp which will be sufficient to bring in a small glitter of Joy. Diwali basically teaches us to spread happiness and joy inspite of the shortcomings we may have in life. The kandil is like the star which is hung in the verandah and it shows a welcoming light to the guest who may be wary of a long journey. In this festival, it is used to welcome Mother Laxmi home to a house which is filled with brightness and warmth.
There are many sweets which people prepare in this period.
They are a mix of sweets and spicy ones, and the traditions differ from the north to the south of the country.
However the important thing is the offering of them given to God and then enjoying the same with friends and family.
It is a tradition to express joy with crackers, and it is a fun time for children too. In India, most of the schools and educational institutes are closed for 2-3 weeks, and children enjoy this aspect of Diwali the most. Besides wearing new clothes and eating lots of sweets, children love to burn crackers.
There are a variety of them available and you can choose to enjoy the ones with the loud sound or the ones with the bright colors. It is a way of expressing joy and happiness.
Basically Diwali is a way of expressing your joy and gratitude for the many little things God, and people around you have done for you. Although symbolically we light lamps it is utmost important to light the lamp of love and joy in at least one heart. If we do that this Diwali, it would certainly be a memorable one for years to come.