What is India without festivals? As the world’s largest democracy, it is the amalgamation of major faiths. Each faith adds its distinct flavour to prepare a more tasteful concoction. Festivals are an excuse to come together and celebrate the good life and thank the fellow humans and primarily, ‘The One’ for the luxuries you enjoy. As major festivals in India aim to foster prosperity, Diwali is all about fighting the inner demons to attain a higher spiritual level.
According to Hindu mythology, Diwali was first observed when Lord Shri Rama returned To Ayodhya with his better half, Sita and his brother Lakshmana after spending 14 years in exile and slaying the King of Lanka — Ravana. The entire Ayodhya and the surrounding villages glittered in light. This was done to light up the path so Lord Rama could easily navigate his way home in the dark.
As deep means earthen lamps and avali means row, the literal meaning of the term Deepavali is the ‘row of lamps’. People across India and the Indian diaspora, celebrate this day with much fervour. And it is not restricted to a date. The preparation or the celebration begins a few days in advance to the actual festival.
Residents thoroughly clean their homes, selling away or discarding immobile items. Hoi polloi begin to shop for plush crafts to decorate their dwellings. Another theory is that the monsoon ends throughout India except for the Southern region, by the Kartik new moon. So to ring in the Hindu New Year or Diwali on a fresh note, our ancestors introduced the idea of painting and cleaning our homes afresh to get rid of the dampness and to mend what’s broken. A favourable weather, during these days, makes the housecleaning less Herculean. Seedlings of wheat and barley, whose seeds were sown five to seven days in advance in an earthen pot, are worshipped on this day. Deepavali or Diwali is celebrated for days in continuation. Once Dussehra is over, the reverse countdown to the biggest Hindu festival begins.
The first day is Dhanteras; a day of fortune. Dhanteras also celebrates, Dhanwantari, the Ayurvedic Physician of Gods. According to legends, on this day, Dhanwantari emerged out of the river during the samudra manthan or the ocean of milk during the churning of sea by Lord Vishnu with a pot of elixir. Dhan means wealth or money and Teras means the thirteenth day of the Krishna Paksh; the dark aspect of the lunar month Kartik. Hence, at some places it is also known as Dhanwantari Trayodashi.
People believe that a new form of metal is a sign of good luck. People prefer to invest on this day. A prospective profitable expenditure is made on things such as gold or land (property). People prefer to purchase property or make bigger business deals on this day as it is considered very auspicious. This is the reason the gold rates constantly shoot up the entire day as jewellers are flooded with customers throughout Dhanteras.
There is a strong belief that if one purchases gemstones, jewellery or products of metals for their household, then the following year brings prosperity and happiness into their lives. Thus, Indian community prefers to buy something valuable on Dhanteras. It is a good day to consider your health without ignoring the spiritual wellness of your being. A spiritual cleansing and fertile thoughts that leads your soul to incarnation is what one should seek on this day.
Naraka Chaturdashi is celebrated a day before Diwali. It is also called Kali Chaudasi or simply Chhoti Diwali. It symbolises the day of knowledge. Owing to the diverse beliefs that Indians proudly inherit, this day is celebrated with much fervour in the Southern India. As the legend goes, the demon king Narakasura captured 16,000 princesses. Lord Krishna defeated Narakasura by slaying him, rescuing the princesses and freeing the world from fear. But the princesses’ chastity could be called into question. So, to avert this taboo, Lord Krishna married them all. It is thus maintained, that God forever and by all means protects those devoted to him in all respects and trusts him unquestionably.
The day is utilised to decorate homes with colourful festoons, clay lamps and by making rangoli at the doorstep with coloured powder or rice. People tend to visit their friends and relatives to greet them and gift something as a token of their love. It is believed that one should massage the body with oils to relieve the tiredness one must be experiencing due to the thorough housecleaning. It is also done to regain the vitality of the body so that the festival can be thoroughly enjoyed.
Diwali is observed on the third day of this five-day festivity. It marks the last day of the Hindu year in many regions. Diwali is a celebration of the triumph of good over evil. People worship Lord Ganesha and Goddess Lakshmi. Lord Ganesha is known to remove all obstacles from ones life and bless the devotee in all initiatives. Goddess Lakshmi blesses the worshipper with wealth or economic well-being. In many communities, people place a lamp on their windowsill, to guide Goddess Lakshmi into their homes. It is one festival where the entire family comes together to offer prayers to the deities. People dress up in new ethnic wear and light the earthen lamps to decorate the entire premises of their homes. Prayers are then offered to Lord Ganesha and Goddess Lakshmi, to invoke their blessings. Mahalakshmi stotram, Ganesha stotram, Ganesha aarti, Lakshmi aarti are recited after sunset by the family members. Before offering prayers, families place a small hut made of clay that may signify a home, shop or a temple, according to the region and the religious beliefs. This signifies the desire for a shop or a home the devotee seeks. Post the prayer, people offer sweets to the family members and the neighbours and light firecrackers.
Interestingly, the fourth day is observed differently in different states of India. As it marks the first day of the Hindu New Year, delectables are prepared to offer Lord Krishna at temples in Northern India. The delectables are piled up in a way that it is symbolic of Govardhana Hill. Going by the Hindu mythology, Lord Krishna lifted the Govardhana Hill to shelter the villagers from the wrath of Lord Indra — the King of Heaven. Known as Annakuta, some people observe this day as Govardhan Puja. To commence the New Year on a good note, people worship cows and seek blessings by offering it food and touching its feet. It is considered highly auspicious if a cow enters the premises of your home.
Some people also celebrate the fourth day as Vishwakarma Day. On this day, people worship machineries, arms and instruments, due to which major business establishments such as factories, remains closed. It is done to offer respect and to thank Lord Vishwakarma, the provider of the means of living to every human. The same day is celebrated with great pomp and fervour in the state of Gujarat as Bestu Baras.
This day marks the last day of the five-day festivity. This day is celebrated as Bhai Dooj or Bhai Teeka throughout the country and denotes the love between the siblings. On this day, brothers visit their sisters with gifts to ensure their well-being. Sisters on the other hand, prepare sweets for their loving brothers. This is done to strengthen the bond between the two and to signify that some relations are timeless. Traditionally, the brothers were supposed to gift some piece of jewellery to their sisters as a gesture of respect and to protect her from destitution in adverse circumstances. Sisters pray for the long life of their brothers and wish them success and prosperity in life.
Diwali is celebrated by millions of Hindus, Sikhs and Jains across the world every autumn. The display of fireworks, distribution of sweets and decoration of abodes are mere by-products of the undying spirit of happiness and the positive energy that prevail our mind during these days. The days have a higher transpersonal music to them, than the cacophony of firecrackers. The auspicity of these days lies in invoking the inner light that protects one from spiritual darkness. This is why it is known as the Festival of Lights.