Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Diwali - Festival of Lights

One of the biggest festivals of Hindus, Deepawali or Diwali in India is celebrated with lots of enthusiasm and happiness. This festival is celebrated for five continuous days, with the third day being celebrated as the main Diwali or as 'Festival of Lights' a more appropriate significance is "the new year of luck and wealth". Fireworks are always associated with this festival. The day is celebrated with people lighting diyas, candles all around their house. Lakshmi Puja is performed in the evening to seek divine blessings of Goddess of Wealth. Diwali gifts are exchanged among all near and dear ones.

The auspicious day of Diwali is decided by the moon position & according to the Hindu calendar, Amavasya or the "no moon day" is considered the perfect day for Diwali. The dark night comes after every fortnight & in the Hindu month of Kartik (October/November), it marks the festive occasion. The Diwali date holds an imperative meaning among the Hindus, since, the day is reckoned with Lord Rama's coronation ceremony as the King of Ayodhya after his return to the kingdom from 14 years of exile along with his wife Sita & brother Laxman after killing the demon, King Ravana.

Jainism marks Diwali as the nirvana of Lord Mahavira, which occurred on 15 October, 527 BCE.

Among the Sikhs, Diwali came to have special significance from the day the town of Amritsar was illuminated on the return to it of Guru Hargobind (1595-1644) who had been held captive in the Fort at Gwalior under the orders of the Mughal emperor, Jahangir (1570-1627). As the sixth Guru (teacher) of Sikhism, Guru Hargobind Ji, was freed from imprisonment - along with 53 Hindu Kings (who were held as political prisoners) whom the Guru had arranged to be released as well. After his release he went to the Darbar Sahib (Golden Temple) in the holy city of Amritsar, where he was welcomed in happiness by the people who lit candles and diyas to greet the Guru. Because of this, Sikhs often refer to Diwali also as Bandi Chhorh Divas - "the day of release of detainees."

We Hindus have several significant events associated with it:

  • Return of Lord Ram to Ayodhya: Diwali also celebrates the return of Lord Ram, King of Ayodhya, with his wife Sita and brother Lakshmana to Ayodhya after a 14 year exile, and a war in which he killed the evil and demonic king Ravan. It is believed that the people of Ayodhya lit ghee lamps along the way to light their path in the darkness. Since Lord Ram traveled from South India to his kingdom in North India, he passed through the south earlier. This is the reason why the festival is celebrated a day earlier in South India.
  • The Killing of Narakasura: Celebrated as Naraka Chaturdasi, two days before Diwali day, it commemorates the killing of Narakasura, an evil demon who created havoc, by Lord Krishna's wife Satyabhama. This happened in the Dwapar Yuga during this time of Lord Krishna's avatar. In another version, the demon was killed by Lord Krishna (Lord krishna provokes his wife Satyabhama to kill Narakasura by pretending to be injured by the demon. Narakasura can only be killed by a woman) himself.Before Narakasura's death, he requested a boon from Satyabhama (believed to be an Avatar of Bhudevi), that everyone should celebrate his death with colorful light.
  • Austerities of Shakti: According to the Skanda Purana, the goddess Shakti observed 21 days of austerity starting from ashtami of shukla paksha (eighth day of the waxing period of moon) to get half of the body of Lord Shiva. This vrata (austerity) is known as kedhara vrata. Deepavali is the completion day of this austerity. This is the day Lord Shiva accepted Shakti into the left half of the form and appeared as Ardhanarishvara. The ardent devotees observe this 21 days vrata by making a kalasha with 21 threads on it and 21 types of offerings for 35 days. The final day is celebrated as kedhara gauri vrata.
  • Birth of Goddess Lakshmi: According to the Puranas, the goddess of Wealth, Prosperity and Luck Lakshmi was born from the churning of the Milk Ocean, along with other magical beings and objects including Amrit, Kamadhenu,Chintamani, Halahal aka Poison, etc. She was sought by both the Devas(Gods) and Danavas(Demons) but she chose Vishnu as her husband.
  • Krishna defeating Indra: Govardhan Puja is celebrated the day after Diwali. It is the day Lord Krishna defeated Indra, the deity of thunder and rain. As per the story, Krishna saw huge preparations for the annual offering to Lord Indra and questions his father Nanda about it. He debated with the villagers about what their 'dharma' truly was. They were farmers, they should do their duty and concentrate on farming and protection of their cattle. He continued to say that all human beings should merely do their 'karma', to the best of their ability and not pray for natural phenomenon. The villagers were convinced by Krishna, and did not proceed with the special puja (prayer). Indra was then angered, and flooded the village. Krishna then lifted Mt Govardhan and held it up as protection to his people and cattle from the rain. Indra finally accepted defeat and recognized Krishna as supreme. This aspect of Krishna's life is mostly glossed over but it set up the basis of the 'karma' philosophy later detailed in the Bhagavat Gita.

People celebrated this occasion by lighting diyas to drive away the darkness of amavasya.

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