Read this comprehensive paragraph on Diwali – The Festival of Lights!
The word Diwali is derived from the term ‘Deepavali’ means the cluster of lights. The festival is so called because of the illuminations that form one of the most significant features of the celebrations.
Diwali is a festival during which all the lamps of the household are lit to celebrate the reappearance of the sun which had been ‘hidden’ during the rainy season by the malevolent water-spirit.
In this Hindu festival of lights, every city, town, and village is turned into a fairyland with millions of electric lights, candles and oil lamps illuminating public and private buildings. About the genesis of Diwali festival, there are different viewpoints.
A legend handed down to us informs that Bali was deprived of his kingdom by Lord Vishnu on this day. In Maharashtra, women prepare effigies of Bali either in rice-flower or cow-dung, according to grade, worship them and repeat the blessing “May all evil disappear and Rajah Bali’s empire be restored.”
Thus, in some part of Western India, Bali is considered hero and pray that his reign may return. The day is observed by bathing and by the extremely useful practice of clearing away dirt and rubbish from houses; there is also much singing and playing of musical instruments.
The most popular belief is that Rajah Rama (after winning the battle) had returned from Lanka on this day and was crowned. The festival is, thus, celebrated in honour of his coronation. A story is that King Vikramaditya who might have found this day (being the day of Rama’s coronation) as most auspicious for his own coronation and thus the coincidence of the two important events. Thus also commence the New Year Day of the Vikrama Era.
There goes a story that on Diwali day, Lord Shiva gambled with his wife Parvati and lost everything and was driven in penury to the banks of the Ganges. Younger son Kartikeya seeing the sad plight of his fathers, learnt the art of gambling and challenged his mother to a contest, won everything from her and restored his father to his former state of opulence. Unable to bear the misery of his mother, elder son Ganesha, now, became well-versed in the art of gambling and defeated his brother.
There were some more reverses and domestic crisis, but finally there was reconciliation on account of which Shiva proclaimed this day as auspicious for gambling and the tradition is followed in many parts of India. Interestingly on this day, thieves are particularly active, as they consider a successful robbery committed then to be very auspicious and to promise good luck during the year just commenced.
As said earlier, it is the Hindu New Year’s Day. Baniyas, traders close their accounts for the year and get new ledgers and books, which are consecrated and worshipped. Thus, Hindu merchants renew their account books, white-wash their offices and houses and generally begin a new life on the New Year Day (according to Vikram Era of the Hindus). The goddess of wealth, Lakshmi is worshipped for prosperity in the coming year. Gifts and sweet meats are distributed to relatives, friends and subordinates.
The men, women and children wear new dresses and flock to fairs, temples and public parks. Children, in particular look forward to this as the festival of fireworks. On Diwali day, in some part of the Madras a mock-fight takes place between men and women. A women pickup a bundle of sheaves and ascends a tree and the men try to capture it, the women chases them in order to prevent them from doing so.
In South India, on Diwali day, people wake up at predawn hours, massage themselves in sesame oil and take fresh baths in hot water. They wear new clothes, eat sweets typical for the occasion, then initiate loud and colourful fireworks.
Like Vijaya Dashami Day, even on Diwali, in some parts of India effigies of Narakasura or Ravana are made and burnt. In Bengal, on Diwali, it is believed that the night of the Pitris begins at this time and lamps are lighted on long poles to serve as a guide to these benighted souls. Krishna and Govardhana mountain are also worshipped on this day. Akash Deep or sky lanterns can also be seen hung on bamboo poles on some of the ghats of Varanasi during the month of Kartik.
In Tamil Nadu, after the ceremonial oil bath, people wear new clothes. The newly married couples are specially honoured in the bride’s house on the first Diwali after wedding. In some communities, it may be in the groom’s house.
When people meet one another after bath, they ask whether they had the ganga snanam & symbolising the significance and holiness of the Diwali bath. In some communities of Tamil Nadu, the day following Diwali, libations of water with sesame (darpanam) is offered to the departed soul.