By- Suhasi Khanna
Diwali is considered as one of the happiest and most celebrated festivals in India and in countries like Nepal as well. It is one of the few festivals that breaks all the boundaries of religions and unites people altogether, in celebration and festivities. Everyone celebrates Diwali in their own way, be it traditional poojas, cleaning and decorating homes, lighting diyas or just enjoying Diwali sales. It illuminates the whole country for around a week and fills everyone with sheer joy.
Diwali is celebrated around the new moon day marking the end of the month ‘Ashwin’ and beginning of the month ‘Kartika’. The main day varies every year regionally.
1. First Day– The first day is called Dhan Teras. On the night of DhanTeras, diyas are lit all through the night in honour of Goddess Lakshmi and Dhanvantari. Hindus consider this as an important day for making new purchases, especially that involves gold, silver or any other metal utensils.
2. Second Day– The second day is called Narak Chaturdasi. On this day, people wake up before sunrise and apply Ubtan on their body and take a holy bath, also known as Abhyanga Snan.
3. Third Day- The third day is Diwali. On this day, people worship Goddess Lakshmi, light diyas, eat and exchange sweets, burn firecrackers, make rangolis, etc.
4. Fourth Day– On the fourth day, Goverdhan Pooja, also known as Annakoot puja, is celebrated. People prepare Chappan bhog (56 varieties of food) and offer it to God.
5. Fifth Day– The fifth day is Bhai Dooj which is known for celebrating the brother-sister relationship.
It’s very common to see different people explaining their different ‘Diwali Stories’ or about legends, about how it evolved and why it is celebrated, as the theological history of Diwali is very dynamic. Let’s have a glimpse to some theological histories of celebrating Diwali below:
The victory of Lord Rama
According to the epic “The Ramayana”, Lord Ram, Sita and Lakshman returned to Ayodhya (their home) after avenging Ravana in Lanka who kidnapped her while they were exiled in the forest. They returned on an Amavasya (no moon night). It’s said that Ravana was aware of his impending death. He was known as one of the most intelligent Brahmin in one of his lives who gained the knowledge of all Vedas and the attention of Lord Shiva. So, it was one of his wishes to get his ‘Moksha’ from the hands of Lord Shiva himself and Lord Rama is considered as the reincarnation of Lord Vishnu in the hands of whom he found peace of his demon life.
Narakasur killed by Lord Krishna
According to Hindu Mythology, Lord Vishnu’s 8th incarnation, Lord Krishna killed the demon Narakasura. The demon king became arrogant, ruled with a reign of terror, abducted 16,000 daughters of the gods, and stole earrings of Aditi, mother of the gods. He was a giant who was often good but at times, behaved very badly. Lord Krishna killed him and granted him a last wish because of which this day is celebrated with joy by everyone.
Diwali is the celebration of Tirthnakar Mahavir’s contributions to humankind. It marks Mahavir’s attainment of Moksha or salvation which is said to have occurred on October 15, 527 B.C. Diwali is the celebration of Mahavir’s nirvana as well as a day that marks new beginnings, a kind of new year. Hence, members of the Jain Community celebrate it with utmost joy and beliefs.
It is believed that Goddess Lakshmi was rescued from prison by Lord Vishnu’s fifth incarnation in Vaman avatar. King Mahabali was a powerful demon king, considered invincible and whom devas failed to defeat in battles. Once, the righteous king couldn’t refuse Vishnu, disguised as a Brahmin and was tricked into giving up his kingship and wealth. This is the reason for worshipping Goddess Lakshmi on Diwali day. There’s another legend for Goddess Laksmi’s pooja on Diwali. It is said that Goddess Lakshmi incarnated from the deep ocean on the day of Diwali. It is said that the gods were mortal at one point of time, so to attain immortality, they had to churn the ocean to seek the nectar of immortality, also known as Samudra-Manthan. She rose from the sea on an Amavasya night and then married Lord Vishnu. Many lamps were lit and made the skies luminant, to celebrate the occasion.
Return of Pandavas
According to the epic “Mahabharata”, Diwali actually celebrates the return of the Pandavas after 12 years of Vanvas (exile). During a gambling game, the Pandavas lost the game and were banished to the forest for 12 years. They were welcomed home with lit earthen clay lamps by the people who loved them.
Coronation of King Vikramaditya King
Vikramaditya was one of the greatest kings who was well known for his valour and magnanimity. It is believed that he was crowned as King on Diwali day. He is considered as one of the greatest Hindu monarchs, and thus Diwali has a historical association with that as well. There are various myths around the festival. Two major of them are:
Myths behind lighting Diyas
Lighting diyas is considered one of the most important elements of Diwali. Diya symbolises goodness and purity, and lighting signifies banishing darkness with light. Diwali is celebrated on new moon day so it literally means getting rid of darkness (of the night) with light. It also stands for good luck. Traditionally, the diyas were lit with desi ghee as a sign of purity but today people usually use oil. These diyas also signify anger, greed and evilness which are supposed to be burned during Diwali. The diyas are usually bought two weeks prior to Diwali, on Ashwin Purnima, and soaked in water to make them ready for pooja.
Myths behind Firecrackers
Since the history of Diwali goes back a long time, one wonders if firecrackers even existed at that time. It is pointed out by an author, Anand Neelakantan that there is no mention of firecrackers in the Puranas and it is known that the firecrackers were first made in China with no reference till 1000 AD. It is said that Ramayana mentions only lamps and incense sticks for Diwali. Evidently, the tradition of firecrackers has not been around enough to be considered ancient. Traditions and rituals change and evolve over time so they might not have been a part of the tradition then, but it is now.
Diwali is celebrated around the globe. For some people, it is more than just a mere festival. We should focus on the positive significance of the festival that it teaches, and continue to improve it as an individual, society and country. These festivals are the strongest bond that we can have towards the unity of our country, where everyone comes forward every year to celebrate, and thereafter we should respect it equally.
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