Diwali: The Festival of Lights
The festival of lights takes place towards the end of October or during the beginning of November. The date it is held changes each year, as it takes place on day 15 of the Kartik Hindu Month.
The festival lasts for four days and each day is signified with a different celebration and traditions. It is a celebration of life, a sense of goodness and enjoyment.
Deepavali, Deepawali, or Diwali is the largest and brightest of all of the Hindu festivals. The four days of celebration for Diwali dazzles the people with its joy and illuminates the whole country with its brilliance.
The History of Diwali
The history of Diwali goes back as far as ancient India. It is believed that the festival originally started as a very important harvest festival. There are a number of different legends regarding how Diwali originated.
Some people believe it is a celebration of Lakshmi’s birthday as she is thought to have actually been born on the Kartik new moon day. Others believe it to be a celebration of Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth’s marriage with Lord Vishnu.
The festival, in Bengal, is based around the worship of the dark goddess of strength, Mother Kali. Also worshiped on this day in the majority of Hindu homes is Lord Ganesha who is the elephant headed god and a symbol of wisdom and auspiciousness.
Deepawali, in Jainism, has the additional importance of acknowledging the time Lord Mahavira received the eternal bliss of Nirvana.
Also commemorated for Diwali is the return of Lord Rama (plus Lakshman and Ma Sita) from a fourteen-year exile and the vanquishing the demon king Ravana. To celebrate the return of their king, the people from Ayodhya the capital of Rama, used oil lamps, to illuminate the kingdom and let off firecrackers.
The Four Days Celebrated During Diwali
The four days of Diwali have their own story to revel. The festivals first day is known as Naraka Chaturdasi and acknowledges the removal by Lord Krishna and his wife Satyabhama of the demon Naraka.
The festivals second day is known as Amavasya and signifies the worshiping of Lakshmi while she is in her most benevolent mood and fulfilling the desires of her followers. The tale of Lord Vishnu is also told by Amavasya. Lord Vishnu, in his dwarf incarnation, removed the tyrant Bali and sent him to hell. Once a year Bali is given permission to return to earth to light lots and lots of oil lamps and dispel ignorance and darkness and spread the joy of wisdom and love.
The festivals third day is known as Kartika Shudda Padyami, and Bali leaves hell and rules earth based on the boon received from Lord Vishnu. The fourth and final day is called Yama Dvitiya (also known as Bhai Dooj) and the tradition for this day is for sisters to invite their brothers around to their homes.
Festival of Dhanteras
Some people consider Diwali to be a festival that lasts five days as they also include the festival of Dhanteras. The festival of Dhanteras takes place two days prior to the festival of lights and is a celebration of wealth and prosperity.
There’s a story to the tradition for gambling on this day of Diwali. Goddess Parvati and her husband Lord Shiva played dice. Goddess Parvati decreed that anyone that gambled on the night of Diwali would prosper for the duration of the following year.
The Meaning of Lights and Firecrackers
All of the Diwali rituals have a story and significance to them. Lights are used to illuminate homes and the skies are filled with firecrackers to express respect to the heavens for the achievement of peace, health, prosperity, wealth and knowledge.
One belief is that the noise from firecrackers is an indication of the happiness of the many people living on earth, and makes the gods aware of their abundant state. Another potential reason that has a more factual basis is that the fumes created by the firecrackers help repel or kill many insects.
Diwali’s Spiritual Significance
Diwali is an opportunity to reflect on daily life and make adjustments for the following twelve months. There are a number of customs that are of great importance to revelers annually.
Give and Forgive – During Diwali it is a common practice for people to forget and forgive any wrongs done by others.
Rise and Shine – Waking during Brahmamuhurta, which is at 4 am or 1 ½ hour before sunrise, is considered an excellent blessing from the point of view of spiritual advancement, health, efficiency in work, and ethical discipline.
Unite and Unify – The Diwali festival is a unifying event and can soften the hardest of hearts. It is a time for people to minge in joy and embraces each other.
Prosper and Progress – In North India, Hindu Merchants open new account books and pray for prosperity and success during the upcoming year. People purchase new clothes for their family. Employers also purchase new clothes for employees.
People clean and decorate during the day and illuminate their homes by night using earthen oil lamps. This festival encourages charity in people’s hearts that have performed positive deeds.
This includes Govardhan Puja, which is a celebration of Vaishnavites on Diwali’s fourth day.
During this day, people feed the poor on a massive scale.
Illuminate Your Inner Self – Diwali lights identify a time of inner illumination. Many Hindus consider the light of lights to be the one that steadily shines into the chamber of the heart.
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