Diwali (also known as Dipavali or Deepavali) is a great Hindu festival which signifies victory of good over evil, light over darkness,true wealth versus transient wealth, knowledge over ignorance, and hope over despair. Nowadays, Diwali is a more of a festival of sounds and sights with fireworks and rangoli designs. It has now became a major celebration of flavors with feasts and numerous mithai (sweets, desserts), as well as a festival of emotions where it ritually brings family and friends together every year. This year Diwali is on 30 October, 2016 (Sunday). Last year it was on 11 November, 2015.
Meaning of Diwali
The word Diwali derived from Sanskrit word Deepavali or दीपावली (dīpāvali) literally meaning “series of lights” which is a union of two words – दीप (dīpa) meaning “light, lamp” and आवलि (āvali) meaning “series, line, row”. That’s why Diwali is also known as दीपोत्सव (dīpotsava) “festival of lights”.
When is it celebrated ?
Earlier, Diwali was celebrated as a festival after the harvest of summer in the Hindu calendar Kartika month. So basically this festival occurs on Kartik Amavasya (New Moon Day). It is the darkest night at the end of the Hindu lunar month of Ashvin and the start of the month of Kartika. According to Common Era calendar Diwali lies between Middle October and Middle November. The Persian traveller and historian Al Biruni in his 11th century memoir on India, wrote Deepavali being celebrated by Hindus on New Moon day of the month of Kartika. An important point to note is that Diwali occurs after 20 days of Dussehra or Vijaya Dashmi (another famous Hindu festival).
Diwali and the series of festivals
The days around Diwali are all so auspicious that a chain of festivals happen centering Diwali as primary. It is a seven-day festival in total which is celebrated differently in different regions of India, with Diwali night focusing on new moon.
Given below is a list of a 7 days (commonly it’s 5 day festival) (left) with their respective festivals (right). The days are mentioned according to what they are called in Hindu Lunar Calendar. And festivals are mentioned according to what they are called in different regions of India and world.
- Ekadashi – Govatsa Dwadashi, Vasu Baras
- Dwadashi – Dhantrayodashi, Dhanteras, Dhanvantari Trayodashi, Yama Deepam
- Trayodashi – Kali Chaudas, Hanuman Puja
- Chaturdashi – Narak Chaturdashi, Tamil Deepavali, Bengal Kali Puja
- Amavasya – Lakshmi Puja, Diwali Puja, Kedar Gauri Vrat, Chopda Puja, Sharda Puja, Diwali Snan, Diwali, Devpuja
- Pratipada – Govardhan Puja, Annakut, Bali Pratipada, Dyuta Krida, Gujarati New Year
- Dwitiya – Bhaiya Dooj, Bhau Beej, Yama Dwitiya
Diwali has a great spiritual significance. It is a celebration of inner light over spiritual darkness, of knowledge over ignorance and right over wrong. It is a festive way of restating the Hindu belief that the good ultimately triumphs over evil.
The religious significance of Deepavali varies regionally within India, depending on the school of Hindu philosophy, regional, legends, and beliefs.
- Hindus all around the world celebrate Deepavali in honor of the return of Lord Rama (also written as Raama), his wife Sita and his brother Lakshmana from exile of 14 years after Rama defeated Ravana. To honor the return of Lord Rama, Sita and Lakshmana from Lanka and to illuminate their path, villagers light Diyas (small lamps handmade out of clay) to mark victory of good over evil.
- For some people,Deepavali also celebrates the return of Pandavas after 12 years of Vanvas and one year of “Agyatavas” in Mahabharata.
- Deepavali is linked to the celebration of Lakshmi, who is venerated amongst Hindus as the goddess of wealth and prosperity and is the wife of Lord Vishnu. The 5-day festival of Diwali begins on the day Goddess Lakshmi was born from the churning of cosmic ocean of milk by the Devas (gods) and the Asuras (demons). While the night of Deepavali is the day Lakshmi chose Vishnu as her husband and they were married. Along with Lakshmi, devotees make offerings to Ganesha who symbolizes ethical beginnings and fearless remover of obstacles, Saraswati, who embodies music, literature and learning and Kubera who symbolizes book-keeping, treasury and wealth management.
- Other Hindus believe that Deepavali is the day Vishnu came back to Lakshmi and their abode in the Vaikuntha. So those who worship Lakshmi receive the benefit of her good mood, and therefore are blessed with mental, physical and material well being during the year ahead.
- Hindus in India’s eastern region, such as Odisha and West Bengal, worship the goddess Kali instead of Lakshmi, and call the festival Kali Puja.
- In India’s Braj and north central regions, the god Krishna is recognized. People mark Mount Govardhan, and celebrate legends about Krishna. In other regions, the feast of Govardhan Puja (or Annakoot) is celebrated, with 56 or 108 different cuisines prepared, offered to Krishna, then shared and celebrated by the local community.
- 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. Deepavali is associated with wealth and prosperity in many ways, and the festival of Dhanteras (‘dhan’ = wealth; ‘teras’ = 13th) is celebrated two days before the festival of lights.
- In West and certain Northern parts of India, the festival of Diwali marks the start of a new Hindu year.
How to celebrate Diwali ?
Diwali is one of the major festival in India. Just like other festivals – Holi, Eid, Rakshabandhan, Dussehra, Navratri, Janamashtmi, Muharram, etc., Diwali too shakes the sales in Indian markets. All major MNCs and local shops goes on giving discount to people during Deepavali period. Purchasing new clothes, luxury items, cars, kitchen and household items are nowadays became a big part of celebrating Diwali.
Some days beforehand, people starts cleaning their homes and purchasing sweets. A night before Deepavali, people decorate their houses. Different Rangoli designs are made in front of houses and doors. In morning, different dishes are cooked to celebrate it. People distribute and exchange sweets, snacks and gifts with their near and dear ones, mostly neighbours, relatives and friends. Thus, Deepavali becomes an excuse to become more social, celebrate happiness and clean houses. On Deepavali night, people dress up in either new clothes or their best outfit. They then light up diyas (lamps and candles) inside and outside their home. Kids and Young Children also light up fireworks.
After lighting of diyas and placing then in every corner and roof of house, people sit together for evening prayers. The time for prayer is decided by Hindu religious customs. Generally, all main Hindu gods are worshipped by singing their respective Aarti(s) and Chalisa(s). The prayers are centered around two main Hindu God and Goddess – Ganesh and Laxmi (also written as Lakshmi). People pray for blessings of Bhagwan (in English as God) Ganesh who removes obstacles in future and Mata (in English as Mother Goddess) Lakshmi (sometimes written as Laxmi) who provides fortune and bring luck and prosperity in the house. The house is all kept lighted up with electrical lights and diyas the entire night so that Goddess Lakshmi comes to their houses in nights and gently rests (This is a belief in Hindu religion that Goddess Laxmi arrives in homes on Diwali night). Sweet offerings are made to idols of Gods and Goddesses. After prayers, all members of family sit quietly for dinner. Delicious food items are prepared to mark this special day. After eating dinner, especially young kids burn firecrackers in presence of elders. The entire night, sky is all lighted up in different color patterns of rockets, skyshots, etc. Due to crackers, this enjoyment comes with a big price – Air, Noise and Light pollution.
Spiritual insight behind Diwali : Return of Rama in Ayodhya
The concept of Diwali is based of epic work Ramayana by Maharishi Valmiki. Diwali marks the victory of good over evil. On this day, Lord Rama returned to Ayodhya with his wife Sita and his brother Laxman. So, ss per Vedantic symbolism, Lord Rama (Supreme lord – ‘That One‘ who is revelling in every form – ‘sarve ramanti yasmin iti Raamaah‘) returned to Ayodhya, (yudhdha means conflict, Ayodhya means where there is no conflict) on Kartik Amavasya night which is now celebrated as Diwali night with Mata Sita (She was found from Mother Earth. She represents our Lower Self. She’s someone who came from no-cause and goes back to no-cause, and this is called, in vedaanta, as ‘Maaya‘). Thus Raama, the Atman, the self, gets wedded to Maaya. Once ‘Self’ gets wedded to Maaya, the Ego, ‘I‘ can not remain in Ayodhya. Conflict must necessarily start. Thus he goes to jungle with Sita. Jungle means the forest of pluralities, conflicts, in which you and I live today.
Sita, the ego, when comes face to face with Rama, the Self, the ego disappears. So spritually, our ego is destroyed on this day of Diwali. The Self meets the Spirit. Thus there is a spiritual background to the entire story of Ramayana. That is the reason why it is so popular.
The average man is happy with the story. To the mediocre man, the idealism that Rama stands for is a great education. But even the man of Realisation enjoys Ramayana , because he sees in and through the story , the entire Vedantic Wisdom, echoing and re-echoing as a melody Divine.
Major Concerns on Diwali
- Air Pollution – The biggest concern that comes with Deepavali is that of air pollution caused by burning of crackers on this day. Due to excessive burning of crackers, cracker gun/pistol, rockets, chakris, anars, hunters, phooljaris, sky shots, Hydro bombs, etcetra, the air in lower atmoshphere becomes so polluted that it becomes difficult for a common man to breathe. And those people who have Asthma and other breathing ailments are the biggest sufferers. Due to excessive air pollution, sky becomes dull and no star can be seen even in the capital of India.
- Noise Pollution – The sound of bursting crackers, rockets and sky shots disturb the peace of mind of people. The noise is so loud that it can damage the ear drums. Not only the people with hearing defects suffer but normal human beings are also affected.
- Light Pollution – Excessive lighting is done in houses. This is quite odd. On a regular day, even the street lights aren’t working properly and the whole of streets are dwelled in darkness. But on Diwali occasion, people cover their entire houses with artificial electronic lights. They contain small LEDs in series, thus giving a similar impression of lights that is obtained by rows of lamps in earlier days. The excessive wastage of light resources and it’s over exploitation is totally useless. But due to competitiveness and money power, people overdo lighting to show off. They thinking Diwali decoration as a chance to show their money power and high lifestyle which they actually don’t have. And so they end up covering their entire house in all sorts of lights, lamps, projector lights, designs and patterns.
- Wastage of electricity – This is a very serious concern as far as we live in India. Because majority of people use elctronic lights on Diwali decoration and so they just waste and expliot resources which were used to produce electricity. The overlighting on houses, hotels, markets, shops, restraunts and dhabas simply waste electricity. In India, electrical energy is very limited and one cannot think of wasting it as people do. And may people keep the lights on for the entire night which has no sense at all. The govt. of India should take a serious step in this regard and try to spread a word in public to reduce this wastage.
- Excessive sale of imported goods – On would think that how come sale of imported goods is a concern. But people doesn’t understand this very fact that excessive sale of imported items like that of chinese lights, lamps, toys and crackers simply reduce GDP of India. It in turn help other countries to develop and making India more poor. On the other hand, India should export as much as possible to develop and increase rupee value. The Diwali of people in India simply becomes a major loss for Indian Government due to sale of chinese lights. Actually, Chinese items are”use and throw” and so they cost less, thus are sold more. This in turn affect indigenous producers & sellers and creates loss for Government.
- Cruelty towards animals – The stray dogs and cows are harmed in many ways. Firstly, due to excessive cracker pollution, they feel choked and no fresh air is left in streets. Secondly, just like humans, they too cannot tolerate these excessive noise of burning crackers, bombs, sky rockets, etc. Thirdly, some naughty kids use to tease animals by placing and burning cracker in their vicinity. This create burn injuries and skin damages to animals. This is cruelty towards animals. Fourthly, the waste packets, card boards, boxes, plastic bags, create, and crackers covers and packets are thrown on streets. The animals like cows, thinking it as a food item tries to eat. If they digest materials and stuff like this, certainly they will die. These packets contain cracker powder which is made up of materials like sulphur, gun powder, lead which are harmful for animals.
Sources & References
About this article
- Author : Rohan Kumar Vashisht
- Published on : 12 October, 2016
- Last Updated on : 12 Ocober, 2016