It’s Diwali once more. Say ‘Diwali’ and what comes to mind is the celebration with all its vibrancy of fun, fireworks, feasting and laughter. This is one festival that is celebrated in all parts of India be it in different ways. As the lit lamps dispel darkness, it teaches us to uphold the true values of life.
‘Diwali’ is a corruption of the older ‘Deepavali’ which literally means ‘lamps in a row’. On Diwali evening placing little clay lamps, ’diyas’ filled with oil and lighted wicks around the homes is the prettiest sight ever. As dusk spreads its dull hues of orange and yellow and the light and chilly breeze wafts by, these diyas throw their soft light all around spreading the magic of a warm glow to set the tenor of the celebrations to come.
Ahead of Diwali, houses and business offices are renovated, spruced up and decorated. Goddess Lakshmi is to be welcomed. Colourful, intricate Rangoli motifs are made outside homes as a symbolic sign of welcoming. Often lamps are lit around the Rangolis and kept burning to drive away evil spirits. Two days before Diwali, ‘Dhanteras’ is celebrated in North India. On this auspicious day gold, silver or at least one or two new utensils are purchased.
Diwali is celebrated on the new moon night [Amavasya] in the month of Kartik. It is generally believed to have started as a celebration welcoming Lord Rama after his 14 year exile. Lamps were lit all the way to light up the path as Rama, Sita and Lakshmana returned home after vanquishing Ravana. Thus began the tradition of lighting diyas and bursting crackers as part of the celebration. It lives on even today.
In some parts of India the main focus is on worship of Goddess Lakshmi, the Goddess of wealth and prosperity. Lakshmi Puja forms the main puja of the festival. It is performed on Diwali day evening with all the family members in attendance. Traditional sweets, flowers and fruits are offered to the Goddess in abundance. It is only after the puja that sweets and gifts are exchanged and all the fun with fireworks and the ensuing feasting commences. Gambling is a common tradition in the northern states. A curious practice, but has many enthusiastic followers all over.
In Kerala, Deepavali is slightly different from the rest of India. While some worship Goddess Lakshmi some others celebrate it to mark the victory of Lord Krishna over the demon Narakasura. On this day Lord Krishna is welcomed back to Dwaraka with festivities. In Kerala and some parts of other Southern states a unique ritual of an oil bath with warm water before sunrise is taken. This is born out of the belief of some that Krishna after killing Narakasura took an oil bath with warm water. Deepavali is celebrated with light and splendour in the districts of Thiruvanthapuram and Palghat as well as in clusters where North Indians live, especially by Gujaratis in the State.
On the second day after Diwali, ‘Bhai Dhooj’ is celebrated. A beautiful ceremony between brother and sister, where the latter prays for her brother’s well being and the brother in return gives her expensive gifts and reaffirms loving and protecting her.
Many are the customs associated with this auspicious festival. The appeal of Diwali is such that it puts everyone into a celebratory, festive mood. Young and old deck up in finery and enjoy this wonderfully colorful Festival.