Diwali, also known as Deepavali and Divali, is the Hindu festival of lights. Diwali translates as the “row of lights”. This five day festival is a spectacular display throughout India as dipas/deepas (clay oil lamps), brightening every windowsill. The festival honors the Hindu goddess Laksmi, the goddess of fortune, good luck, riches, and generosity. She visits every home during the festival. Diwali also celebrates the triumph of good over evil.
The date of this holiday varies each year according to the Hindu calendar. It is held on the 14th day of the dark half of Aashwayuja to the 2nd day of the bright half of Kaartik, which falls in October or November on the Gregorian calendar. The celebration comes just as the monsoon season ends and the weather is calm and mild.
There are many legends that describe the origin of this holiday. In the North, folklore tells of the homecoming of Lord Sri Rama to Ayudhya and the defeat of Rawana by Rama. The Hindu classic “Ramayana” chronicles this defeat in 5,000 verses. In the South, legend tells of the victory of Lord Krishna over the evil demon Naraksura. Lord Krishna was welcomed home by people and gods alike. There is yet another story that tells of the victory of Ram over Ravan. All the stories share a common aspect, that there was no moon present on the night of the homecoming so dipas were placed in every window and fireworks illuminated the sky. This tradition is followed every year.
Prior to the festivities houses are cleaned and fresh flowers are placed all around to adorn the home. A rangoli is drawn at the entrance of the home. Rangoli’s are intricate designs drawn with a mixture of rice flour and water. They are created for all special occasion but during Diwali they are filled in with bright colors. A dipa is placed on every windowsill and on each step of outside stairways.
Traditionally the day starts with an oil bath. New clothes are worn and the doorways are sprinkled with clean water. The first day of the festival includes a breakfast that has fourteen different dishes. Prayers are said either at the temple or at home. Friends and families visit each other and partake of various sweets. At night, brilliant firework displays take place sometimes lasting for hours. Cites by rivers float little boats with lighted candles on the water.
In Southern India, girls adorn their heads with flowers and wear anklets with little bells, while boys create elaborate mud castles.
Diwali is also the start of the new year. Businesses and households perform muharat pujan “to clean up the accounting”.
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image courtesy of Ashish Kanitkar, Wikipedia.org