Deepawali or Diwali is the biggest and the brightest of all Hindu festivals. It is the festival of lights: deep means “light” and avali “a row,” or “a row of lights.” Diwali is marked by four days of celebration, which literally illuminates the country with its brilliance and dazzles all with its joy.
The Diwali festival occurs in late October or early November. It falls on the 15th day of the Hindu month, Kartik, so it varies every year.
Each of the four days in the festival of Diwali is separated by a different tradition. What remains true and constant is the celebration of life, its enjoyment, and a great sense of goodness.
THE ORIGINS OF DIWALI
Historically, Diwali can be traced back to ancient India. It most likely began as an important harvest festival. However, there are various legends pointing to the origin of Diwali.
Some believe it to be the celebration of the marriage of Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth, with Lord Vishnu. Others use it as a celebration of her birthday as Lakshmi is said to have been born on the new moon day of Kartik.
In Bengal, the festival is dedicated to the worship of Mother Kali, the dark goddess of strength. Lord Ganesha—the elephant-headed god, and symbol of auspiciousness and wisdom—is also worshiped in most Hindu homes on this day. In Jainism, Deepawali has the added significance as marking the great event of Lord Mahavira attaining the eternal bliss of nirvana.
Diwali also commemorates the return of Lord Rama (along with Ma Sita and Lakshman) from his fourteen-year-long exile and vanquishing the demon-king Ravana. In joyous celebration of the return of their king, the people of Ayodhya, the capital of Rama, illuminated the kingdom with earthen diyas (oil lamps) and burst crackers.
THE FOUR DAYS OF DIWALI
Each day of Diwali has its own tale, legend, and myth to tell. The first day of the festival, Naraka Chaturdasi, marks the vanquishing of the demon Naraka by Lord Krishna and his wife Satyabhama.
Amavasya, the second day of Deepawali, marks the worship of Lakshmi when she is in her most benevolent mood, fulfilling the wishes of her devotees. Amavasya also tells the story of Lord Vishnu, who in his dwarf incarnation vanquished the tyrant Bali and banished him to hell. Bali was allowed to return to earth once a year to light millions of lamps and dispel darkness and ignorance while spreading the radiance of love and wisdom.
It is on the third day of Deepawali, Kartika Shudda Padyami, that Bali steps out of hell and rules the earth according to the boon given by Lord Vishnu. The fourth day is referred to as Yama Dvitiya (also called Bhai Dooj) and on this day sisters invite their brothers to their homes.
DHANTERAS: THE TRADITION OF GAMBLING
Some people refer to Diwali as a five-day festival because they include the festival of Dhanteras (dhan meaning “wealth” and teras meaning “13th”). This celebration of wealth and prosperity occurs two days before the festival of lights.
The tradition of gambling on Diwali also has a legend behind it. It is believed that on this day, Goddess Parvati played dice with her husband Lord Shiva. She decreed that whosoever gambled on Diwali night would prosper throughout the ensuing year.
THE SIGNIFICANCE OF LIGHTS AND FIRECRACKERS
All of the simple rituals of Diwali have a significance and a story to tell. Homes are illuminated with lights and firecrackers fill the skies as an expression of respect to the heavens for the attainment of health, wealth, knowledge, peace, and prosperity.
According to one belief, the sound of firecrackers indicates 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 firecrackers kill many insects and mosquitoes, which are plentiful after the rains.
THE SPIRITUAL SIGNIFICANCE OF DIWALI
Beyond the lights, gambling, and fun, Diwali is also a time to reflect on life and make changes for the upcoming year. With that, there are a number of customs that revelers hold dear each year.
Give and Forgive. It is common practice that everyone forgets and forgives the wrongs done by others during Diwali. There is an air of freedom, festivity, and friendliness everywhere.
Rise and Shine. Waking up during the Brahmamuhurta (at 4 a.m. or 1 1/2 hours before sunrise) is a great blessing from the standpoint of health, ethical discipline, efficiency in work, and spiritual advancement. It is on Deepawali that everyone wakes up early in the morning. The sages who instituted this custom must have cherished the hope that their descendants would realize its benefits and make it a regular habit in their lives.
Unite and Unify. Diwali is a great unifying force and it can soften even the hardest of hearts. It is a time when you will find people mingling about in joy and embracing one another with love.
Those with keen inner spiritual ears will clearly hear the voice of the sages, “O Children of God unite, and love all”. The vibrations produced by the greetings of love, which fill the atmosphere, are powerful. When the heart has considerably hardened, only a continuous celebration of Deepavali can rekindle the urgent need of turning away from the ruinous path of hatred.
Prosper and Progress. On this day, Hindu merchants in North India open their new account books and pray for success and prosperity during the coming year. Everyone buys new clothes for the family. Employers, too, purchase new clothes for their employees.
Homes are cleaned and decorated by day and illuminated by night with earthen oil lamps. The best and finest illuminations can be seen in Bombay and Amritsar. The famous Golden Temple at Amritsar is lit in the evening with thousands of lamps placed all over the steps of the big tank.
This festival instills charity in the hearts of people and good deeds are performed everywhere.
This includes Govardhan Puja, a celebration by Vaishnavites on the fourth day of Diwali. On this day, they feed the poor on a most incredible scale.
Illuminate Your Inner Self. The lights of Diwali also signify a time of inner illumination. Hindus believe that the light of lights is the one that steadily shines in the chamber of the heart. Sitting quietly and fixing the mind on this supreme light illuminates the soul. It is an opportunity to cultivate and enjoy eternal bliss.
FROM DARKNESS UNTO LIGHT…
In each legend, myth, and story of Deepawali lies the significance of the victory of good over evil. 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 firecrackers, joy, togetherness, and hope.
Diwali is celebrated around the globe. Outside of 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.
DIWALI is now underway, with the five-day celebration being enjoyed by millions around the world.
The festival of light sees Hindu homes decorated with candles and lights and people sharing gifts – but what is the celebration all about?
When is Diwali 2017?
The date of the festival is calculated according to the position of the moon and the Hindu lunar calendar and is usually in October or November.
This means the date of Diwali changes each year and, in 2017, the main date is TOMORROW (October 19).
But Diwali itself began on October 17 – and celebrations continue for five days.
Diwali is observed by Hindus, Sikhs and Jains around the world and is often celebrated by street parties and fireworks.
What do the different dates of Diwali mean?
- Dhanteras (October 17): ‘Dhah’ means wealth – and this day is dedicated to celebrating prosperity.
- Naraka Chaturdasi or Chhoti Diwali (October 18): Known as ‘small Diwali’, Goddess Kali and Lord Krishna are believed to have destroyed the demon Narakasura on this day. Kali is worshiped in West Bengal, while demon effigies are burned in Goa.
- Amavasya (October 19): The new moon day, and the darkest day of the month, which is the most significant day of Diwali.
- The fourth day (October 20): This day has various meanings in different parts of India. In the north, it’s the day Lord Krishna defeated Indra. In Gujarat, it’s the start of the new year.
- Bhai Dooj (October 21): A feast and celebration of brotherly-sisterly love. Read more here.
Why is Diwali celebrated by Hindus?
The five-day festival, which coincides with Hindu New Year, is seen to be one of the most significant in the Indian culture.
Many people celebrate the legend of Hindu God Rama and his wife Sita’s returning to their kingdom in northern India after being exiled following the defeat of demon king Ravanna.
The word itself means “series of lights” and during the festival houses and shops are decorated with candles and lights.
This is meant to represent light over darkness and the Hindu belief that good will always triumph over evil.
For many Indians, Diwali honours Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth and people will start the new business year at Diwali and some will say prayers to the goddess for a prosperous year ahead.
What is the festival of light all about?
Diwali is marked by huge firework displays, which are supposed to reflect the celebrations of Lord Rama’s return.
Traditional earthen diyas or candles are lit, and houses are decorated with colourful rangoli artworks – patterns created on the floor using coloured rice or powder.
During the festival, families and friends share sweets and gifts and there is also a strong belief in giving to those in need. It is also traditional for homes to be cleaned and new clothes to be worn.
Indian sweets which come in a range of colours and flavours are also eaten during the celebrations, as well as various rich savoury and sweet dishes.
Inside the festival of Maha Shivaratri where thousands of Hindu pilgrims gather