Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Diwali - the festival of lights

28th October was a big Indian festival - Diwali or Deepavali - which is celebrated with great enthu and lights and firecracers back home.

The literal meaning of Deepavali in Sanskrit is 'a row of lamps.' That's why Diwali is called the festival of lights.

Before the Diwali season, houses are cleaned and white-washed. One of the main features of the festival is the worship of Lakshmi (Laxmi), the Goddess of Fortune, Beauty, Prosperity and Wealth. Deepawali is celebrated on Amavasya, the darkest night of the month, and houses, shops, places of work, etc., are lit all through the night, least Lakshmi turn her back on a house that is dark. Since she will not enter a dirty place, the residence or the place of work is thoroughly washed and cleaned.

This post is for my son - for him to read and re-read and acquaint himself with the rich mythological heritage that India has. This has been collected from numerous sources on the internet, and, some input from yours truly.

Compiling it made me realise how many aspects and legends there are to our festivals that even I am not aware of!

Day I
The festival begins with Dhanteras, which celebrates the birth of goddess Lakshmi from the bottomless ocean.

A very interesting story about Dhanteras Festival says that the son of King Hima was doomed to die by a snake-bite on the 4th day of his marriage. However on that particular day, his wife did not allow him to sleep. She sang to him, told him stories, and covered the entrance of his room with glittering jewels.

When Yamdoot, the God of Death, arrived to claim the young prince, he was blinded by the dazzle of the jewels, and, captivated by the melodious songs and fascinatings tories of the young princess, so much so that he forgot to claim the young prince and had to leave empty handed in the early rays of dawn.

Since then this day of Dhanteras came to be known as the day of "Yamadeepdaan" and lamps are kept burning throughout the night in reverence to Yam, the god of Death.

Day II
The second day is "Narak Chaturdhashi", which commemmorates the felling of the demon "Narakasura" by Queen Satyabhama with the help of Krishna.
The most famous legend behind the celebrations of Diwali is about the prince of Ayodhya, Lord Shri Ram Chandra, his defeating Ravana and his return from exile by lighting lamps on this darkest night of the year.

Exiled to the forest for 14 years, Ram waged a war against Ravan, the Kinf of lanka to rightfully claim back his consort who had been abducted by Ravana. The battle signifies the eternal struggle between the good and the evil, and Ram's victory a declaration of the victory of good over evil. His victory and turn to his kingdom from exile is celbrated by lighting lamps during Diwali.
Day IV
The fourth day of Diwali is devoted to Govardhan Pooja which celebrates Krishna's feat of lifting the Govardhan hill on his little finger. People organize a special puja on this day.

On seeing that the inhabitants of Vrindavan had neglected to worship him, lndra, the King of Heaven, decided to punish them by sending terrible rain clouds to inundate the land of Vrindavan. The inhabitants of Vrindavan approached Lord Krishna for shelter. Krishna immediately lifted Govardhana Hill with His left hand, and, held it up like an umbrella. Bringing all their household possessions, the inhabitants of Vrindavan, along with their cows, took shelter from the torrential rains under Govardhana Hill. For seven days they remained safe under the hill, not even disturbed by hunger and thirst. This was how he saved them from the wrath of Indra.

Day V
The five day festival is wrapped up by Bhai Duj, the time to honour the brother-sister relationship. There are many versions as to how Bhai Dooj originated. One version states that Yamraj, the Lord of Death, visited his sister Yami on this day. She welcomed him by applying a tilak (vermillion powder with raw rice grains) on his forehead. From there originated the parctice of bhai dhooj where a sister applies a tilak to her brother and prays for his long life.

Customs & Traditions of Diwali
Diwali is associated with many customs and traditions. Like the tradition of rangoli, tradition of burning crackers, tradition of lights, tradition of Diwali pujas and Diwali gifts.

Lights and diyas are lit to signifying the driving away of darkness and ignorance, as well as the awakening of the light within ourselves

Lighting of diyas is also an important part of Diwali celebration. Lighting diyas brings divine brightness and joy with the hope of finding light in darkness, achieving knowledge where there is ignorance and spreading love where there is hatred. It symbolizes the victory of good over evil and light over darkness.

The tradition of gambling on Diwali also has a legend behind it. It is believed that on this day, Goddess Parvati played dice with her husband Lord Shiva and she decreed that whosoever gambled on Diwali night would prosper throughout the ensuing year.

Rangoli is a traditional Hindu folk art; it is a kind of designs generally created on a floor on special festive occasions. Rangolis are a symbol of auspiciousness. It is believed that during Laxmi Puja, the Goddess Laxmi actually enters the household .The rangoli made at the entrance to a home, invites Goddess lakshmi into the household, and drives away the evil spirits. It is also created to please her, in the hope that she may bless the house and to ensure that she stays the full year.

Diwali is the joyous celebration of the triumph of good over evil. It is the popular belief that the fireworks that add splendor to the festivities actually reduces the evil to ashes.

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