Diwali: A Festival of Lights, Happiness, Hope and New Beginning

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Diwali is one of the biggest and most anticipated festivals in India. The festival of lights—Diwali is an important festival associated with the beliefs of the Hindus. However, followers of different faiths also celebrate this festival for business prospects. Markets and businesses get a boost during this festival. People shop new clothes, clean and decorate houses to welcome goddess Lakshmi—the goddess of wealth and prosperity. Amid the gloomy times of this year due to the pandemic, people have high hopes from this festival of lights to get happiness back in their lives. Overall, Diwali is a festival of new beginning.

Deepawali or Diwali is a series of festival of mainly five days. It starts from Dhanteras, followed by Naraka Chaturdashi (Choti Deepawali), Lakshmi Puja (Badi Deepawali), Goverdhan Puja (Varsha Pratipada) and ends on Bhai Dooj. It is usually celebrated during the Hindu Lunisolar month Kartika (between mid-October and mid-November). This year Diwali is being celebrated on 14th November, 2020.

Reasons for celebrating Diwali:

People celebrate Diwali for different reasons in every part of India. In North India, the legend of returning of Lord Rama to his motherland Ayodhya after defeating Ravana is the prime reason to celebrate as Diwali. In Western India, people celebrate this festival to mark the day when Lord Krishna sent the demon King Bali to rule the nether world. People in the Southern part of India, celebrate this day to mark the occasion of defeat of demon Narakasura by Lord Krishna. Diwali is a national festival and almost everyone cherishes it.

People light clay lamps inside and outside their homes. The word ‘Deepawali’ comes from the word ‘deep’ which means clay lamp. This lighting of lamps or candles symbolizes the victory of good over evil. People also light candles and oil lamps to represent the power of knowledge over ignorance. This lighting also represents one’s inner light that protects them from spiritual darkness. This year amid the COVID-19 crisis, this Diwali symbolizes the fighting strength of people against the pandemic.

History and Significance of Deepawali Celebration

In the Hindu religion, Diwali marks its celebration since several centuries. Every festival has a story or reason that explains how differently it is celebrated among different communities. Here we discuss the legends or stories behind each day of the Diwali festival.

Dhanteras:

Dhanteras consists of two words ‘Dhan’ meaning wealth and ‘Teras’ meaning 13th day (Trayodashi as in Sanskrit).  This day marks the beginning of Diwali where people clean their homes and business premises. On this day, many people buy new utensils and jewellery made of silver and gold as a symbol of auspiciousness. Nowadays, people also bring new vehicles, electrical appliances and other household items to their homes. Then they start the preparation to welcome goddess Lakshmi and Kubera (God of treasure).

Legends behind Dhanteras:

People associate this day with a story about King Hima’s 16-year-old son whose horoscope predicted his death by snake bite. However, because of intelligence of king’s wife, Yama (god of death) blessed the King’s son with long life and left. To mark this occasion, this day is celebrated as Dhan Teras. The following day is called Yama deepdaan, also known as Choti Deepavali. Another legend related to Dhan teras is of Dhanvantari who appeared with Amrita Kalash that was churned from the cosmic ocean.

Naraka Chaturdashi or Chhoti Diwali:

It is the second day of Diwali and the fourteenth day of the second fortnight of the lunar month. The term Naraka means hell, people interprets this day and its rituals as a way to liberate any souls from suffering in hell. People of North India celebrate this day as Chhoti Diwali.

The legend behind Naraka Chaturdashi:

The famous legend behind this day is of demon King Narakasura. He snatched away the magnificent earrings of Aditi by defeating Lord Indra (king of gods). Lord Krishna killed the demon and saved Aditi’s precious earrings and freed 16,000 imprisoned princesses kidnapped by Narakasura. 

Lakshmi Puja/Badi Deepavali:

It is the main day when Hindu, Jain and Sikh temples and homes glow with lights. This is the last day of the dark fortnight of the lunar month. On this day people worship the goddess Lakshmi and Lord Ganesh.

As the evening approaches, family members start the preparation for puja and women and girls draw colourful designs on the floor (rangoli) with different colours and flowers. After the puja, all family members share sweets and play games for enjoyment. Children and some adults burst different types of fire crackers. Shopkeepers in North India make new account books and start using it from this day.

Goverdhan Puja/Varsha Pratipada:

Goverdhan Puja or Padwa or Varsha Pratipada is the fourth day of Deepavali. On this day a meal called Annakut is prepared. In Gujarat, people celebrate Padwa as their new year. Ritually, this day is celebrated to strengthen the bond between husband and wife in some regions.

The legend behind Padwa/Goverdhan Puja:

According to a tradition, Lord Krishna saved the cowherds and farming communities from incessant rain and flood caused by Indra’s anger by lifting the Govardhan mountain on his little finger. In another interpretation, the day is associated with the story of Bali’s defeat by the hands of Lord Vishnu. People also connect this day to another story of Parvati and Shiv, in which they played a game of dyuta (dice). Goddess Parvati won the game and Lord Shiv surrendered all his clothes to her.

Bhai Dooj:

Bhai Dooj is celebrated as the last day of Diwali. People celebrate Bhai Dooj festival to honour the relationship between brother and sister. On this day, sisters put tilak on their brother’s forehead and pray for their long life and well-being. Later sisters offer sweets to them and in return brothers give gifts to their sisters.

Legend behind Bhai Dooj

According to the legend, people believed that on this day Yamaraj visits his sister and she put auspicious tilak on his forehead and prays for his well-being. They believe that on this day if a brother receives blessings of his sister, then he would never be sent to hell.

Changes in ways of celebrating Diwali over time:

In this ever-changing world, Diwali celebrations have also changed and have become modernized.

Earlier people used to spend hours in markets for shopping. But nowadays because of a busy lifestyle, there has been a shift in preference to online mode of shopping to buy gifts for their relatives. These days, people try different items to send as gifts such as books, mobiles, laptops, etc. As everything is going the virtual way, method of wishing or greeting is also becoming virtual. Earlier people used to write original wishes but in modern times, the ‘forwarded messages’ trend.

People love to post everything on social media no matter what they do. Similarly, people share their every activity related to festivals on social networking sites to celebrate it with others. In sweets, laddu and gujia’s place has been replaced by chocolates packs, dried fruits and gift hampers, etc. But the young generation is more aware of environmental degradation. So, as compared to old time, bursting crackers have become less popular.

COVID-19 and Diwali:

Preparations for the most-awaited festival started before months. Diwali is almost here. But due to the COVID-19 pandemic, we won’t be able to celebrate the festival in the same way as pre-COVID-19 times. However, the number of active cases of Coronavirus has been lessened but it does not reduce the risk of infection. (To get detail in the fall of active cases click here). As per the norms of the government, several large events and gatherings have been canceled to control the spread of the virus. During the celebration of Diwali, people burst firecrackers which increase air pollution. This increase of air pollution poses a long-term threat to the environment.

Despite all these hurdles, people do not get demotivated. People have opted new ways of celebrating Diwali in this ‘new normal’. Many health experts have advised everyone to stay indoors and celebrate the festival. So, some precautions need to be taken while celebrating this year’s Diwali to avoid spreading of the virus. Use sanitizer before and after exchanging gifts but don’t use it before lighting diyas as it may be dangerous. Always wear a mask. Maintain physical distancing by meeting with relatives virtually.  The important thing is to avoid burning crackers. The government has also banned burning of firecrackers in some states of India. So, this year celebrate happy, safe and cracker free Diwali.

Happy Diwali! Stay Safe and Healthy!

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