Diwali: The Festival of Lights

Diwali The Festival of Lights

Diwali is a festival of lights and one of the major festivals celebrated by Hindus, Jains, Sikhs, and some Buddhists, notably Newar Buddhists. The word Deepawali comes from the word the Sanskrit word deep, which means an Indian lantern/lamp. The festival usually lasts five days and is celebrated during the Hindu lunisolar month Kartika (between mid-October and mid-November). Diwali symbolizes the spiritual “victory of light over darkness, good over evil, and knowledge over ignorance”. The festival is widely associated with Lakshmi, the goddess of prosperity.

Rituals and preparations for Diwali begin days or weeks in advance, typically after the festival of Dusshera that precedes Diwali by about 20 days. The festival formally begins two days before the night of Diwali and ends two days thereafter. Each day has the following rituals and significance.

Dhanteras or Yama Deepam (Day 1)

Dhanteras, derived from Dhan meaning wealth and teras meaning thirteenth, marks the thirteenth day of the dark fortnight of Kartik and the beginning of Diwali. The day also marks a major shopping day to purchase new utensils, home equipment, jewelry, firecrackers, and other items. On dhanteras Hindus lights a Diya, ideally made of wheat flour and filled with sesame oil, that faces south in the back of their homes. This is believed to please Yamraj, the god of death, and to ward off untimely death.

Naraka Chaturdashi or Hanuman Puja ( Day 2)

Naraka Chaturdashi also known as Chhoti Diwali, is the second day of festivities coinciding with the fourteenth day of the second fortnight of the lunar month. The term “chhoti” means little, while “Naraka” means hell, and “Chaturdashi” means “fourteenth”. The day and its rituals are interpreted as ways to liberate any souls from their suffering in “Naraka”, or hell, as well as a reminder of spiritual auspiciousness. For some Hindus, it is a day to pray for the defiled souls of one’s ancestors and light their way for their journeys in the cyclic afterlife.

Lakshmi Pujan, Kali Puja (Day 3)

The third day is the height of the festival and coincides with the last day of the dark fortnight of the lunar month. This is the day when Hindu, Jain, and Sikh temples and homes are aglow with lights, thereby making it the “festival of lights”. On this day, rituals across much of India are dedicated to Lakshmi to welcome her into their cleaned homes and bring prosperity and happiness for the coming year.

 Govardhan Puja (Day 4)

The day after Diwali is the first day of the bright fortnight of the lunisolar calendar.  It is regionally called Annakut (heap of grain), Padwa, Goverdhan puja, and other names. According to one tradition, the day is associated with the story of Bali’s defeat at the hands of Vishnu. This day ritually celebrates the bond between the wife and husband, and in some Hindu communities, husbands will celebrate this with gifts to their wives.

Bhai Duj, Bhau-Beej, (Day 5)

The last day of the festival is called Bhai Duj or brother’s day. It celebrates the sister-brother bond, similar in spirit to Raksha Bandhan but it is the brother that travels to meet the sister and her family.

Diwali has increasingly attracted cultural exchanges, becoming an occasion for politicians and religious leaders worldwide to meet Hindu or Indian origin citizens, diplomatic staff, or neighbors. Every year during Diwali, Indian forces approach their Pakistani counterparts at the border bearing gifts of traditional Indian confectionery, a gesture that is returned in kind by the Pakistani soldiers who give Pakistani sweets to the Indian soldiers.

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