Deepawali, also known as Diwali, is one of the biggest festivals that is celebrated in India and by Indians all over the world. In essence, Deepawali is the festival of lights where ‘Deep’ denotes light and ‘awali’ denotes a row, bringing out the meaning to be of a row of lights in unison. Marked by four days of heavy celebrations, Deepawali lights up the entire country with people reveling in its brilliance and joy. Much of India, and even Indians living abroad in different countries celebrate Diwali with a lot of fanfare and gusto, making it one of the most popular and widely celebrated festivals worldwide. For Hindus, the festival is indicative of how light triumphs over darkness, of how evil is always bested by good and so on. As such, it always falls on the day of ‘Amavasya’ or new moon during the month of November, which is of deep significance.
As a festival, Deepawali occurs either in late October or during early November, every year. Normally, it varies and isn’t on a fixed date because Deepawali is decided according to the Hindu calendar’s 15th day, of the month of Kartik. This causes the occasion to vary every year, with each bout of Diwali having four separate days, marked with different traditions and causes. For instance, this year’s Deepawali is being celebrated on the 7th of November. The only constant, which stays every year is that people celebrate life, enjoy and revel in the happiness and wellbeing of themselves, their families and their friends. People begin preparing for this festival days in advance, with ritually cleaning their house, decorating it with ‘rangolis’, adorning their homes and balconies with lights, colors and decorations. After Bhai Dooj and Dhanteras has concluded, the third day of this festive spell is when people collectively celebrate Diwali and partake in the revelries.
Similar to other festivals like Christmas or Eid, Diwali too has a long and ancient history that links it with history and culture much like any other. Historians and archaeologists suggest that Diwali as a festival began as an important harvest festival, with much of India being an agrarian state even back then. That with the cutting of harvests, burning of crop stubble and going of monsoons, people began to light lamps, light up their homes and surroundings with deeps and incense pots. Apart from this, there are various other interpretations of the festival, each linked with the various legends that seem to have fueled the origin of Deepawali as a festival.
There are many who believe Diwali to be significant of the marriage celebrations of Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth, with Lord Vishnu, who’s the supreme creator and destructor in Hindu religion. This day is also seen as the celebration of Goddess Lakshmi’s birthday, because she’s born on a New Moon in the Hindu month of Kartik.
In Bengal, Deepawali seems to signify the worship of Goddess Kali, to whom most Bengalis refer to as ‘Mother Kali’, portrayed as the dark and angry Goddess of Strength and fierceness. Also, they worship Lord Ganesha and Kartik, the two brother gods signifying auspiciousness and wisdom on this day of Diwali. Jains on the other hand, believe that Diwali signifies the great even of when Lord Mahavira had attained Nirvana or eternal bliss.
For the rest of India and many living abroad, Diwali also commemorates the day when Lord Rama returned from his 14 – year long exile after having vanquished the demon king known as Ravana. His joyous victory in returning with Ma Sita and his brother Lakshman was celebrated by the King and the people residing in the city of Ayodhya, which was the capital of Rama Kingdom. People rejoiced, lit earthen lamps filled with oil known as ‘Diyas’ and also set off firecrackers.
Much of the celebrations you see today, on and before the day of Deepawali, has some roots and traces of the culture it was founded upon, back from centuries of traditions and culture. They all revolve around how each bout of celebrations had originated and carried onwards by different groups and communities. Despite so many different origin stories and causes to celebrate it, Diwali unifies all communities in celebrating it in a single, uniform and almost unanimous way, following many prescribed norms and adding certain ones from their own cultures.
During the days of Dhanteras with the fun of gambling and merry making, and beyond the fun and enjoyment people have during lighting up their homes and work places with lights, there’s a deeper, almost spiritual significance to the entire occasion. These become customs for people to hold and cherish, for that day and rest of the year.
As you must have noticed, Diwali is a festival that is comprised of various interpretations that have stemmed from various cultures and traditions, all over India. Despite so, everyone agrees on what the other believes, and celebrate Diwali all the same, with people across different groups, communities and sects. Other than unifying people, Deepawali also brought others together, softening the hardest of hearts and making them mingle with each other, barring hate and anger of any sorts. This promotes cultural harmony and brotherhood, in a society that needs more of it, now more than ever.
Throughout the year, there are many instances during which people might incur the hatred of others, form rivalries and also stop behaving their best or talking properly with them. With the coming of Diwali, however large or petty the problem or issue might have been, people learn to forget the wrong that’s been done and forgive those who have wronged against them. This reaffirms the faith of many in the idea of Diwali during which people forget and forgive each other, spreading festivity and friendliness throughout their communities, their friends and families.
Perhaps one of the most widely recognized significance of Deepawali in Indian culture, is how it reaffirms people’s faith in progressing and prospering, all over again. Hindu merchants in north India open new account books, and pray to the gods for prosperity and for success. Employers give gifts and bonuses to their employees, people buy clothes and sweets for friends and family, bringing out the best in generosity in each and every one. People clean their homes in preparation for the celebratory processions, coloring and decorating their homes by day and illuminating it by night with lamps and lights. The fourth day of Diwali is also celebrated by ‘Govardhan Puja’, a ceremony during which people feed the poor and do a lot of charity work for the needy.
Thus you can see that all of the rituals that comprise Diwali, have a story behind them, a significance that stems from some culture or historical standpoint. People on this day illuminate their homes, fill the skies with firecrackers, dance, eat and revel as an expression of their respect to the gods, the heavens for giving them this knowledge, peace, health, peace and prosperity. Outside of India, people know and celebrate Deepawali as more than just a Hindu festival. It is celebrated with pride as a culmination of South – Asian identities, as something more than just remembering the History and Significance of Deepawali in India.
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