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Diwali, or Deepavali, is one of the most important religious festivals of Hindus across the world. Also known as the festival of lights, Diwali is celebrated in countries such as India, Nepal, Malaysia, Mauritius, Pakistan, etc. It falls on the day of ‘amavasya’ or new moon. This year, Diwali will be celebrated on October 30.
It is a grand affair for people in India, who start preparing for the festival at the onset of the autumn season. The celebrations include five-day-long festivities, with each day having a significance of its own. It starts with Dhanteras on the first day and ends with Bhai Dooj on the fifth. On the third day, that is, Diwali, the entire country lights up with lights, diyas, crackers and happiness.
What is the origin of Diwali?
Since the festivities start at the end of cropping season, and a good harvest means prosperity and happiness, Diwali came to be celebrated as a harvest festival celebrating the arrival of wealth and blessings. In many rural areas where agriculture is the primary occupation, people still celebrate Diwali as the harvest festival.
The festival is known to be mentioned in Sanskrit scriptures such as Skanda Purana and Padma Purana. The former text has a mention of diyas or tiny lamps and are said to be symbolic of parts of the sun — the light and energy giver to all. According to popular mythology, Diwali is associated with Yama and Nachiketa on Karthik Amavasya or the new moon night of Diwali. The story is revered from ages as that about right versus wrong, true wealth and knowledge. Probably this is why, people celebrate Diwali as the festival of light (which also signifies knowledge), prosperity and wisdom.
In a seventh century Sanskrit play, King Harsha mentions Deepapratipadutsava, when lamps are lit and newly married couples are given gifts, in remembrance of the god Vishnu and goddess Lakshmi’s marriage. In the ninth century Kayvamimamsa, Rajasekhara referred to Deepavali as Dipamalika, which sees the tradition of homes being cleaned and streets and markets being decorated with lights in the night.
Many celebrate Diwali in remembrance of the return of Rama and Sita after 14 years of exile, while others celebrate it as the return of Pandavas after 12 years of vanvas and a year of agyatavas.
How is Diwali celebrated?
From the onset of the autumn, people start gearing up to celebrate the festival. People buy gold, silver and utensils for home, clean and furnish their houses and decorate them with colourful rangolis and bright diyas.
People worship Lakshmi — the goddess of wealth and prosperity, and Ganesha, the remover of all obstacles, on Diwali.
The five-day celebrations start with the festival of wealth, Dhanteras, followed by Naraka Chaturdashi on the second day, Deepavali on the third day, Diwali Padva celebrating the husband-wife bond on the fourth day and the festivities end with Bhai Dooj dedicated to the sister-brother relationship on the fifth day.
Before the night of Diwali, people clean, renovate, and decorate their homes and offices. They dress up in new clothes, light up lamps and candles and participate in pujas worshipping Lakshmi. After puja, fireworks follow, and a family feast that includes the exchange of sweets and gifts between family members, friends and loved ones.
For many businessmen, this is also the day when they start a new financial year with the adoption of a fresh ‘bahi khata’ or accounts book, after offering it to goddess Lakshmi. They believe that with her blessings, it will be a profitable year for them.
Kali Puja on Diwali
An interesting aspect of Diwali night is also Kali Puja. This is celebrated predominantly by Bengalis, and is relatively a recent addition. This puja is said to have been introduced in the eighteenth century by the king of Navadveep, Raja Krishnachandra. The festival reportedly started gaining popularity in the nineteenth century when it was patronised by the local kings and land lords in Bengal. Over the past two centuries, the festival has gained much ground in the region of Bengal and is now celebrated with equal fanfare, if not more, as Diwali.
One unique aspect of the celebrations is the prasad offered to the Devi. Unlike most pujas, wherein the offering is strictly vegetarian in nature, often the offering during Kali Puja is that of mutton.