. By T.V. Antony Raj
Glow of joy! Women lighting traditional lamps on the eve of Deepavali (Photo: K.C. Sowmish)
India, being a culturally diverse and fervent society, celebrates various holidays and festivals. States and regions have their own local festivals depending on prevalent religious and linguistic demographics.
To the Hindus, Deepavali (also known as Diwali, Dīvali, Dīpāwali, Dipabali, etc.,), is one of their most sacred festivals. The name “Diwali” or “Dīvali” is a contraction of “Deepavali”. I will use the longer word “Deepavali” in this article.
Deepavali is a “festival of lights,” symbolizing the victory of righteousness over spiritual darkness. All over the world, the Hindus celebrate Deepavali jubilantly with their families in their homes, performing traditional spiritual activities. In India, Sri Lanka, and Malaysia, people belonging to other religions too join the Hindus in the celebrations.
Goddess Lakshmi is the most significant deity during Deepavali Puja. Several other gods and goddesses are also worshipped. Various religious rituals are followed during the five-day festivities.
Deepavali is celebrated as a five-day festivity that starts on Dhanteras, celebrated on the thirteenth lunar day of Krishna paksha (dark fortnight) of Ashwin and ends on Bhau-Beej, celebrated on the second lunar day of Shukla paksha of the Hindu calendar month Kartik. However, in the states of Maharashtra and Gujarat, the Deepavali festivity begins one day earlier on Govatsa Dwadashi, and is a six-day festivity.
The month of Ashvin begins with the Sun’s exit from Virgo in the solar religious calendar. In the Sanskrit language ‘Ashvin’ means light. It is the seventh month of the lunisolar Hindu calendar.
In many cultures, people use the lunisolar calendar where the date indicates both the moon phase and the time of the solar year.
In the Tamil sidereal solar calendar, used by Tamils all over the world, Ashvin is known as Aipassi (ஐப்பசி). In the Bengali sidereal solar calendar, officially used by the Bengali people in West Bengal and Bangladesh, it is the sixth month and is called Ashbin (আশ্বিন).
The Five/Six Days of Deepavali
Deepavali celebrations is a five-day festivity spread over from Dhanteras to Bhau-Beej. In some places like Maharashtra and Gujarat the celebrations begin with Govatsa Dwadashi. All the days except Deepavali are named according to their designation in the Hindu calendar. The days are:
Govatsa Dwadashi or Vasu Baras (27 Ashvin or 12 Krishna Paksha Ashvin):
In Sanskrit, Go means cow and vatsa means calf, Dwadashi or Baras means the 12th day. On this day the cow and calf are worshiped.
King Prithu chasing Prithvi.
According to Hindu mythology, Prithu was a king, from whom the earth received her name Prithvi. The epic Mahabharata and the Hindu text Vishnu Purana describe him as a part Avatar (incarnation) of Vishnu.
Prithu was the son of King Vena, a tyrant. Due to the lawless rule of Vena, an appalling famine engulfed the earth making it barren. King Prithu went after Prithvi, the earth goddess, who fled from him transforming herself into a cow. After being caught, Prithvi agreed to yield her milk as the world’s grain and vegetation that brought prosperity to the world once again.
Dhanatrayodashi or Dhanteras or Dhanwantari Trayodashi (28 Ashvin or 13 Krishna Paksha Ashvin):
In Sanskrit, Dhana means wealth and Trayodashi means 13th day. This day falls on the 13th day of the second half of the lunar month Ashvin, and usually eighteen days after Dussehra.
Dhanventari, physician of the Devas, and god of Ayurvedic Medicine.
According to Hindu mythology, Dhanvantari is an Avatar of Vishnu. He appears in the Vedas and Puranas as the physician of the gods devas, and is the god of Ayurvedic medicine. He is depicted as Vishnu with four hands, holding medical herbs in one hand and a pot containing rejuvenating nectar called amrita in another.
In the myth of the Samudra or Sagar manthan (Churning of the Ocean of Milk), Dhanavantari emerged bearing the pot of nectar after the Devas (demi gods) and Asssuras (demons) churned the ‘Ocean of Milk’ using the Mount Mandarachala, also known as Mount Meru, as the churning rod and Vasuki, the king of serpents, as the rope.
The Hindus pray to Lord Dhanvantari seeking his blessings for good health for themselves and others, especially on Dhanteras, his Jayanti (Birth Anniversary), along with Goddess Lakshmi, the provider of prosperity and well-being.
Lakshmi and Kuberan (Source: amritsartemples.in)
Lord Kubera, the God of assets and wealth is also worshiped on this day by the Hindus. Dhanteras is very significant among business communities since it is customary to buy precious metals on this day.
Naraka Chaturdashi (29 Ashvin or 14 Krishna Paksha Ashvin):
Chaturdashi is the 14th day (Tithi) of the waxing phase or waning phase of the moon.
This day signifies the victory of good over evil and light over darkness, because on this day the demon Narakasura was killed by Krishna, an incarnation of Vishnu. . This day is also known as Kali Chaudas, Roop Chaudas or Choti Diwali.
In one source in Hindu mythology, Narakasura is the asura son of the earth goddess Bhūmī-Devī (Earth) and Lord Vishnu in his Varaha (boar) Avatar. In other sources, he is said to the son of the asura Hiranyaksha. It was foretold that he would be destroyed by a later incarnation of Vishnu. So, his mother, the earth, sought a boon from her consort Vishnu for a long life for her son, and that he should be all powerful. Vishnu out of love for Bhūmī-Devī granted these boons.
Narakasura, knowing himself to be unrivalled in prowess became evil, and subdued all the kingdoms on earth and brought them under his control. Next, he set his eyes on Swargaloka (the heavens), the abode of the devas. Unable to withstand the powers of Narakasura, the mighty Indra, the lord of the devas, fled from Swargaloka. Narakasura became the overlord of both the heavens and earth. Intoxicated by power, he stole the earrings of Aditi, the heavenly mother goddess, and usurped some of her territory, while also kidnapping 16,000 women.
The devas, led by Indra appealed to Vishnu, asking him to deliver them from Narakasura. Vishnu promised them that he would help them when he would be incarnated as Krishna.
Narakasura was allowed to enjoy a long reign because of the boon granted by Vishnu.
When Vishnu incarnated as Krishna, he married Satyabhama, an Avatar of Bhūmī-Devī. Aditi, being a relative of Krishna’s wife approached her for help. On learning about Narakasura’s ill treatment of women and his behaviour with Aditi, Satyabhama was enraged. Shr approached Lord Krishna for permission to wage a war against Narakasura.
As promised to the Devas and Aditi, Vishnu in his Krishna avatar, riding his mount Garuda with wife Satyabhama, attacked the great fortress of Narakasura. The battle was fierce. Narakasura unleashed all his army on Krishna. However, Krishna slew them all. He also killed Mura, Narakasura’s general. Thus, Krishna is called ‘Murāri ‘(the enemy of Mura).
Krishna hurling the Sudarshana Chakra.
The desperate Narakasura launched his great weapon, sataghini, a thunderbolt, and then his trident on Krishna, but these weapons did not harm Krishna. Eventually, Krishna beheaded Narakasura with his Sudarshana Chakra, a spinning, disk-like super weapon with 108 serrated edges.
Before dying, Narakasura requested a boon that his death anniversary should be celebrated by all people on earth. This day is celebrated as ‘Naraka Chaturdashi’.
In southern India, this is the actual day of festivities.
On this day, the Hindus, all over the world, wake up before dawn, have a fragrant oil bath and dress in new clothes. In Tamilnadu, after the bath, a home-made medicine known as “Deepavali Lehiyam” is consumed, which is supposed to aid to overcome digestive problems that may ensue due to feasting that occurs later in the day. They light small lamps around their homes and draw elaborate kolams or rangolis in front of their houses. They perform a special pooja with offerings to Krishna or Vishnu, for liberating the world from the demon Narakasura on this day. The Hindus believe that bathing before sunrise, when the stars are still visible in the sky, is equal to taking a bath in the holy river Ganges. After the pooja, the devotees burst firecrackers heralding the defeat of the demon. As a day of rejoicing, housewives prepare elaborate breakfasts and lunches and meet with family and friends.
Lakshmi Puja (30 Ashvin or 15 Krishna Paksha Ashvin):
Amavasya, the new moon day, is the most significant day among the five days Deepavali festivities and the ceremonies followed on that day are known as Lakshmi Puja, Lakshmi-Ganesh Puja and Deepavali Puja. The Hindus worship Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth, and Ganesh, the God of auspicious beginnings also known as the banisher of obstacles.
Deeyas (little clay pots) are lit in the homes and streets to welcome prosperity and well-being.
On this day, ink bottle, pens and new account books are worshipped. Ink bottle and pen, are sanctified by worshipping Goddess Maha Kali. New account books are sanctified by worshipping Goddess Saraswati.
Govardhan Pooja and Bali Pratipada (1 Kartika or 1 Shukla Paksha Kartika):
In North India, this day is celebrated as Govardhan pooja, also called Annakoot.
Krishna holding Govardhan Hill to save his people.
According to Hindu mythology, Lord Krishna taught people to worship Govardhan, the supreme controller of nature, a manifestation of himself and to stop worshiping Lord Indra, the Lord of Swargaloga and also the god of Rains. Indra was furious and directed his wrath on the people by raining on them. Krishna lifted the Govardhana hill to save his kinsmen and cattle from rain and floods.
For Annakoot, large quantities of food are decorated symbolising the Govardhan hill lifted by Krishna.
In the states of Punjab, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, the Govardhan pooja is performed with great zeal and enthusiasm.
In Haryana Govardhan Puja forms an important part of the celebrations of Diwali. There is a tradition of building hillocks with cow dung, to symbolize the Govardhan hill. After making such hillocks, devotees worship them after decorating them with flowers. They move in a circle round the cow dung hillocks and offer prayers to Lord Govardhan.
In Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu and Karnataka, this day is celebrated as Bali-Pratipada or Bali Padyami. The day commemorates the victory of Vishnu, in his dwarf form Vamana, over the demon-king Bali.
In Maharashtra, it is called Padava or Nava Diwas (new day). Men present gifts to their wives on this day. In Gujarat, it is celebrated as the first day of the Vikram Samvat calendar.
Yama Dwitiya or Bhau-Beej (2 Kartika or 2 Shukla Paksha Kartika):
On this day, siblings meet to express love and affection for each other. Brothers visit their sisters’ place on this day and usually have a meal there, and also give gifts to their sisters.
Bhau-Beej – Siblings meeting each other on this day.
This tradition is based on a story when Yama, lord of Death, visited his sister Yami (the river Yamuna). Yami welcomed Yama with an Aarti and they had a feast together. Yama gave a gift to Yami while leaving as a token of his appreciation. So, the day is also called ‘Yama Dwitiya’.
Bandi Chhor Divas (Diwali), the Sikh celebration of the sixth Nanak Guru Har Gobind’s return from detention in the Gwalior Fort, coincides with Diwali. This coincidence has resulted in celebrating the day among many Sikhs and Hindus.
Many Buddhists in India celebrated the anniversary of Emperor Ashoka’s conversion to Buddhism around the time of Diwali.
Jains celebrate the anniversary of Mahavira’s (or Lord Mahavir) attainment of nirvana on October 15, 527 BC. Many Jains celebrate the Festival of Lights in his honor.