Dr. Avnish Jolly, 26 Oct : In years following, Holi declined and was eclipsed by Diwali. The ritual shift enacted a transformation of devotional attitudes, from transcendence-to a perfection-oriented devotionalism. The emerging sub discipline of historical anthropology must develop its understanding of the roles ritual can play in history.
Diwali which leads us into Truth and Light is celebrated across the world on Naraka chathurthasi day just on the dawn of Ammavaasa during the Hindu month of Aippasi Month in Tamil Language(Aaso/Aasvayuja/Asvina Months in Hindi langauge) (September/October) every year. It symbolises that age-old culture of South Asia which teaches us to vanquish ignorance that subdues humanity and to drive away darkness that engulfs the light of knowledge. Diwali, the festival of lights even to-day in this modern world projects the rich and glorious past of our culture and teaches us to uphold the true values of life. The Diwali traditions of lighting lamps, wearing new clothes and cooking delicious food to share are celebrated all across the world. Some countries over the years have developed local customs and ways of celebrating that are particular to that region. The word Diwali is derived from Sanskrit word "Deepavali" — Deepa meaning light and Avali, meaning a row.
It means a row of lights and indeed illumination forms its main attraction. Every home – lowly or mightly – the hut of the poor or the mansion of the rich – is alit with the orange glow of twinkling diyas-small earthen lamps – to welcome Lakshmi, Goddess of wealth and prosperity. Multi-coloured Rangoli (the design of the background of this page is of rangoli, also people drawn with rice flour on the grounds into their house, rangoli) designs, floral decorations and fireworks lend picturesness and grandeur to this festival which heralds joy, mirth and happiness in the ensuring year. This festival is celebrated on a grand scale in almost all the regions of Indian Sub Continent and is looked upon mainly as the beginning of New Year. As such the blessings of Lakshmi, the celestial consort of Lord Vishnu are invoked with prayers. Even countries like Kenya, Thailand, Trinidad, Siam and Malaya celebrate this festival but in their own ways.
Diwali in Nepal is known as Tihar. Festivities here continue for five days and every day has its special significance. In Malaysia Diwali is known as Hari Diwali. The South Indian tradition of an oil bath precedes the festivities. Celebrations include visits to temples and prayers at household altars. In Indonesia the majority of the populations follow Islam; however the Indonesian island of Bali is famous for celebrating the festival of Diwali. The festival of light is popularly known in Sri Lanka as Deepavali. This is derived from the Tamil words ‘Deepam’ meaning ‘lamp’ and ‘oli’ meaning ‘light’. The festival is marked by illumination, the making of enamel toys and figures made out of crystal sugar. Japan, the land of the rising sun, also celebrates Diwali as the day which awards happiness, progress, prosperity and longevity in life. People go out into the orchards and gardens and hang lanterns on the branches of trees. Diwali is celebrated in Thailand under the name of Lam Kriyongh. Diyas (lamps) made of banana leaves are made and candles are placed on them along with a coin and incense. These are set afloat on a river. In Kenya and Tanzania the major Hindu festivals are celebrated with the usual customs of illumination, worshipping of the God and Goddess of wealth and prosperity. In the Caribbean islands of Trinidad and Tobago Diwali is seen as an occasion to unify a nation that consists of Hindus, Muslims, Christians, Indo-Trinidadians and Afro-Trinidadians. The festival day is regarded as a national holiday and celebrations continue for over a week. The Co-operative Republic of Guyana in South America celebrates Diwali according to the Hindu solar calendar. The tradition of celebrating Diwali in this part of the world is believed to have been brought to Guyana in 1853 by the first indentured people from Indian sub continent.
This Diwali festival, it is surmised dates back to that period when perhaps history was not written, and in its progress through centuries it lighted path of thousands to attain the ultimate good and complete ecstasy. Diwali is very enthusiastically celebrated for five continuous days and each day has its significance with a number of myths, legends and beliefs.
Diwali, an auspicious and joyous festival, is enthusiastically celebrated by people, the festival of lights, creates a magical world of joy and festivity. It celebrates the victory of good over evil – and the glory of light over darkness. The word
Diwali denotes a row of lamps. Traditionally on this night, small clay lamps are lit in Hindu homes alongside the modern day use of coloured electric lights. Entire families come together to prepare delicious sweets and food offerings, exchange gifts, clean their homes and decorate them with brightly coloured floor patterns (rangoli), wall hangings (torans) and flowers. Families and friends visit each other to sing and dance through the night as Diwali brings joy for every one.
Diwali commemorates the triumphant return of the exiled Lord Rama, His consort Sita and younger brother Lakshmana to the kingdom of Ayodhya. Lord Rama returns after 14 years on the night of the new moon (amavasya) after defeating the demon Ravana in Sri Lanka who had abducted His wife. The people of Ayodhya joyfully celebrated His return and coronation by lighting tiny clay lamps placed around their houses and converted the dark night almost into day time. This tradition is still observed by people on Diwali night to mark the victory of good over evil and light over darkness. It also marks devotion to Lord Rama, who is worshipped as an incarnation of God. The story of Lord Rama is told in the holy book called Ramayana. It imparts a spiritual message about the Lord who through His own example taught us how to be the perfect son, perfect brother, perfect husband, perfect king and the perfect father. He conquered all evil with righteous conduct and spread the messages of justice, family values and faithful duty. The light of knowledge can dispel the darkness of ignorance – and similarly – the light of the Diwali lamps spreads its brightness all round and signifies the victory of light over darkness, friendship over hatred, good over evil, knowledge over ignorance and truth over falsehood. This meaning of Diwali is exemplified in an ancient Vedic prayer in Sanskrit:
Diwali also express joy at the return of the sixth Guru, Guru Hargobind Ji, to Amritsar in 1620. Emperor Jahangir had imprisoned him along with 52 Kings. The Guru was granted freedom but refused to leave until the kings were also released. To commemorate his determination and undying love for Sikhism, people lit the way to the Golden Temple in his honour.
Diwali as festival of light, a symbolic representation of the knowledge that was given by Lord Mahavira for the peace and welfare of all living beings. It marks the anniversary of the attainment of moksha by Mahavira in 527 BCE and achievement of omniscience by his chief disciple Gautam Indrabhuti.
Diwali over a period of five days:
Dhanvantari Trayodasi, Dhan Theras or Lakshmi puja:Hindu families offer prayers to the Goddess of wealth (Lakshmi) to remember that wealth is considered a benediction from God. Only clean or new vessels are used for worship to represent purified intellect, clean intentions and unalloyed devotion leading to the invocation of material and spiritual prosperity.
Naraka Chaturdasi or Kali Chaudas: This is the fourteenth night of the Krishna Paksha (the fortnight of the waning moon) and is the night before the new moonIt is associated with the defeat of the demon king Narakasura by Lord Krishna, who freed 16,000 captive women to emphasise the virtues of freedom and family values.
Diwali: This is the actual day of Diwali when all homes are lit by light to welcome Lord Rama. The lighting of the lamps is an invitation to the Supreme Lord to reside in their homes and hearts to drive away the darkness of ignorance and dispel all evil thoughts, actions and deeds from their consciousness. It is a time of sharing joy, sweets and love with friends and family.
Nutan Varsh or Govardhana Puja: This is the Hindu New Year and celebrates the day that Lord Krishna lifted the Govardhana Hill to protect His devotees from a torrential flood. Devotees offer thanksgiving to cows and worship Lord Krishna by sacred food offerings arranged in elaborate rows called ‘Annakuta’. It is a time for reconciliation, forgiveness and new beginnings.
Bhaiya Duj: this day is dedicated to the relationship between brothers and sisters. It is the day when every brother takes time to visit the home of his sister and her family to offer their affection and commitment to the family
Diwali is the most celebrated and largest gift giving and shopping festival. The tradition of exchanging gifts and shopping is quite prominent because Diwali is associated with prosperity. People go out of their way to splurge themselves and their loved ones as they celebrate Diwali. This tradition of shopping and exchanging gifts has been harnessed by marketers in recent times. Manufacturers launch their products or announce attractive schemes to lure the people who are very much eager to spend money at the time of Diwali. No wonder, corporate India sees a boom time as the nation goes on a shopping and gifting spree at the time of the festival.
The motive behind the tradition of exchanging Diwali Gifts is to accentuate the feeling of love and brotherhood in the society. Through gifts people convey their respect, good wishes, blessings, love and appreciation for a person and his family. As Diwali is a religious festival, sending Diwali Gifts also reflects one’s prayers to the almighty for the prosperity and good health of the recipient. For this reason religious gift like Lakshmi Ganesh coins, idols, puja thalis etc are quite popular on Diwali. Tradition of exchanging gifts on Diwali is not a recent phenomenon. It has perhaps been there ever since Diwali celebrations began. Earlier people used to exchange homemade sweets, farm produce or decoratives prepared at home. Such gifts were considered a token of love and good wishes and little importance was attached to the item that was gifted. Of course those were simple times and today people attach considerable importance to the price value of the gift.
The culture of exchanging Diwali Gifts has grown to new heights in present times. Today, it is considered socially mandatory to exchange Diwali Gifts will all near and dear ones. This includes friends, relatives, neighbours, colleagues and business associates. Great significance is laid on gift itself in this materialistic age unlike earlier times when feelings behind gifts were far more important. Also what has changed is the kind of gifts exchanged in present times. Today people exchange electronic gadgets, artifacts, jewelry, wrist watches etc. Even the traditionally accepted Diwali Gifts like sweets, dry fruits, chocolates, decoratives have undergone a transformation in present times. They come in stylish hampers and fancy Diwali packing.
In essence, Diwali marks new beginnings and a renewal of commitment to family values, and represents joy, love, reflection, resolution, forgiveness, light and knowledge.
“O God, lead me from untruth to truth, from darkness to light, and from death to immortality.”