DIWALI – A FESTIVAL OF LIGHTS
The flare sparked up, whizzes high into the slate-black sky of the night and within a moment blossoms into a fountain of colors – resulting in a heavenly display of radiance that lit up the darkness of the night. Down earth, wherever the vision travels, one finds a spectacular illumination of tiny flickering lamps adorning in rows and coming out of every nook and corner – at homes, buildings and streets, glittering in its full vivacity.
Diwali – the name itself brings to mind the festival of joy, the festival that is celebrated for ages where the young and the old, all alike, enjoys the being of togetherness, the shine, glamour, and the endless enthusiasm for living that suddenly grips everyone around this time. It recognizes no social or economic boundaries. But there is much more to Diwali than feasting and merrymaking. Diwali is a holy tradition which symbolizes the victory of light over darkness. Celebrated joyously all over the country, it is a festival of wealth and prosperity.
Held on the fourteenth day of the waning phase of the moon in the month of Kartik (October – November), the night of Diwali is the darkest night of the darkest period of the year, and yet it is the celebration of light. Mythological, it is believed that Diwali marks the homecoming of the illustrious King Rama, who returned after defeating the evil Ravana in a battle that lasted for 14 years. The cities and far-flung boundaries of Ayodha, where Ram lived were lit up with rows of lamps, glittering on dark nights to welcome home the divine king.
At a metaphysical level, Diwali is a festival signifying the victory of good over evil where the evil is destroyed and reduced to ashes by fireworks is the belief of the people. It symbolizes the aspiration of all Hindus to vanquish the ignorance that subdues humanity and to drive away the darkness that engulfs the light of knowledge.
There are a number of customs and traditions related to Diwali. People visit the places of their relatives and friends to wish them on the occasion of Diwali and exchange gifts. Sweets are an indispensable part of Diwali celebration. Feasts are arranged and gaily-dressed men, women and children go to temples and fairs, visit friends and relatives. Diwali Melas are held. Diwali parties are arranged in homes. Everybody adorns new and bright clothes; especially ladies get decorated in the best of ornaments. Homes are thoroughly cleaned, Rangolis are done and windows are opened to welcome Lakshmi, goddess of wealth. Decorated Diyas, candles and lamps are lit as a greeting to Lakshmi. Thousands of lamps are lit in and outside every home on the day.
All over the world Diwali is celebrated predominantly by the Hindus with a great deal of joy and optimism, as it is a period that marks a new beginning. It is hence, of no wonder, that the festival gets its biggest draw in India. Of all the festivals celebrated in India, Diwali is by far the most glamorous and important. Enthusiastically enjoyed by people of all cross-section of the society, its magical and radiant touch creates an atmosphere of joy and festivity. Owing to the socio-cultural, demographic and geographic diversity of India, Diwali is celebrated in various forms, though the underlying theme remains the same.
Like in Bengal, the night before the Diwali is celebrated as “Kali Puja”, where Goddess kali – the manifestation of Ma Shakti is worshipped with pomp and grandeur. Among the business communities of Gujarat, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra, Diwali is the festival when the new business year begins. All business establishments and families perform muharat pujan or veneration of their books. Stock brokers do mahurat trading or symbolic auspicious business deals to mark the occasion.
A couple of days prior to Diwali is celebrated all over the India, esp in the North and West Indian belts as “Dhanteras”, where people believe that it is auspicious to buy metal (esp. silver) for the house or in the form of jewellery.
In various parts of the country including Punjab, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Bengal, the subsequent day to the Diwali is known as ‘Tikka’ or “Bhai Dooj”- when sisters make a paste with saffron and rice and place an auspicious mark on their brother’s foreheads as a symbolic gesture to ward off all harm.
These days, apart from India, Diwali is celebrated worldwide. The Hindus in other Asian countries, Africa, USA, Europe and Australia are known to celebrate Diwali with enthusiasm and verve.
For the Non-resident Indian Hindus of USA, Diwali is the most important festival. The Hindu community makes every possible effort to celebrate the occasion just as they would have done it in India. Lamps are lighted here in rows, at their homes as well in community halls and local temples. The expatriates assemble at these halls and held cultural programs. They light up fireworks distribute sweets and enjoy the occasion in their own way. The Indian student communities at different American universities also mark the occasion with characteristic fun and frolic. It indeed becomes a social gathering and a get together of sorts for the Indian Diaspora.
In Britain, where one can find a large number of expatriate Indians, Diwali invariably becomes an occasion to celebrate with the maximum vigor. The occasion is marked by visit to the local temple to worship the shrine of Lakshmi. Eating special sweets, burning of incense sticks, lighting the home and surroundings with earthen lamps and the blowing of the conch shell follows the prayer session in the Lakshmi temple.
In other countries of the West like Mauritius, Kenya and South Africa in Africa; Guyana and Trinidad & Tobago in South America; Australia and elsewhere wherever one can find Non Resident Indians or people of Indian origin, celebrating the Diwali is a certainty. In all such places, Diwali is marked by lighting up of lamps, burning the fire crackers, worship of Goddess Lakshmi and distribution of sweets among friends and relatives.
The fervor is observed more in Asian countries like Nepal, where it is 5-day festival beginning with the worship of Lakshmi and ending on the 5th day with Bhai Dooj; Malaysia – where small earthen lamps with coconut oil are lit at the doors and windows, and rooms are decorated with colorful papers; Indonesia – the island of Bali being famous for celebrating the festival of Diwali, as a majority of the population here is that of Indians, whose mode and way of the celebration and rituals of the festival is mostly similar to that celebrated by their counterparts in India.
Despite the wide geographical diversity, in spite of the multifariousness of Hindu rituals, practice and beliefs, Diwali binds all Hindus of the world together with its symbolic power and the festive frenzy of its celebrants. Diwali is a period of hope as well as of thanksgiving. It is a time of optimism, of renewal, of sharing and of joy.
Epitomizing the triumph of good over evil, of righteousness over treachery, of truth over falsehood, and of light over darkness Diwali is just not a festival, it is an integral part of our being, of our life-cycle and of our very existence in this beautiful world.