Diwali – Festivities, Fireworks and Folklore in India and beyond

Diwali, the festival of lights is here again. This is the much awaited time of the year when houses, shops, temples, and malls adorn the decorated look, lit up with lanterns, candles, earthen lamps (diya) and electric bulbs. While Diwali is the celebration of “good over evil”, “light over darkness”, “knowledge over ignorance”, and “right over wrong”, the festival has largely come to be equated with the bursting of crackers. So much so that Supreme Court’s ban on crackers in Delhi NCR region in view of the rising pollution levels has drawn a lot of flak, with some people even suggesting the ban as an anti-Hindu decision. Notwithstanding the pollution that follows, people have protested the ban by bursting crackers in front of Supreme Court.

For many people, crackers are a source of joy, and some people believe that loud bursting sounds and lights would ward off and scare evil and notorious spirits away. If this is the case, then I would say that the spirits return the very next day in the form of pollution to harm our environment and our health.  In the row over the firecrackers, we also tend to be forgetful of the different ways of celebrations, the myths, legends, beliefs, and festivities associated with Diwali, prevalent among the different communities in different parts of India and in some other countries as well.

Diyas

 

Dīwali is derived from the Sanskrit word Dīpāvali, meaning a “row” of lights”. In Northern India, Diwali is celebrated to mark the return of Lord Rama after 14 years of exile with his wife Sita and his brother Lakshman. To mark the joyous occasion, the citizens of Ayodhya decorated the entire city with the earthen lamps. Whether they burst crackers or not is hard to tell.

In Jainism, it is believed that on this occasion Lord Mahavira attained the eternal bliss of nirvana. Diwali also holds significance for Sikhs because on this day in the year 1619, Guru Hargobind, and 52 other princes, were released from prison where they were held captive by the Emperor Jehangir.

Diwali is also linked with the worship of Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth and prosperity. In North and Central India, the five day festival of Diwali begins with Dhanteras on the thirteenth lunar day of the month. On this day, Goddess Lakshmi emerged from the cosmic ocean after years of churning. People clean up their house and devotees worship Lakshmi to usher good luck and fortune in their life. Dhanteras also marks the birthday of Dhanwantri, the physician of gods, who also emerged during the churning of the ocean. The second day is celebrated as Choti Diwali in North India or as Narak Chaturdashi in South India.

The day of the new moon is the day of Diwali. On this day, people all across India, light diyas and candles in their homes, and the streets. Rangolis and marigold garlands (toran) are used to decorate the doorways of houses during Diwali. Sweets and gifts are exchanged with family, friends and neighbours. The next day is celebrated to symbolise God Vishnu’s conquest over the demon king, Bali. In some communities, the day is recognized as the Vishwakarma Day, when people worship their instruments, vehicles and machinery. ‘Bhai Duj‘ on the fifth day is meant to celebrate the love and bonding between brothers and sisters.

 

Narak Chaturdashi in South India

In South India, Diwali is celebrated to mark the victory of Lord Krishna over the demon Narakasur. Krishna killed Narakasur on the day of Chaturdashi (14th lunar day of the month or the day prior to new moon (Amavasya). Before his death, Narakasur requested that people celebrate the victory of good over evil with new clothes, lights etc.

 

Kali Puja in West Bengal

Kali Puja

In West Bengal, the day is allotted to the worship of Goddess Kali. Temporary pandals are set up where the idols of the Goddess are installed for community worship. Goats are sacrificed to appease the deity. On the day before Kali Puja, it is a Bengali tradition to light 14 lamps and eat “Choddo Shaak“, a preparation made of 14 different leafy greens.

 

Kaunriya Kathi in Odisha

In Odisha, a ritual known as Kaunriya Kathi is performed to pay homage to the ancestors by burning jute sticks while pointing them towards the sky. People decorate the house with rangolis made of thin rice batter and arrange diyas in every nook and corner of the house. Special sweet dishes such as ‘Kakara pitha’ and ‘manda pitha’ are prepared for the festival.

Also, Read: Baliyatra celebration in Odisha to commemorate the ancient maritime traditions

Tihar in Nepal

Other than in India, Diwali is also a major religious festival in Nepal, where it is celebrated by the name ‘Tihar’. The festival continues for five days in Nepal. Each day is dedicated to a specific ritual. The first day observes rice feeding the crows, the second day is dedicated to dogs, on the third-day food is offered to the cows and Laxmi, the goddess of wealth is worshipped. The festival ends with Bhai Tika, in which sisters pray for the progress, prosperity and longevity of their brothers.

Diwali is also celebrated in countries such as Mauritius, Trinidad and Tobago, Fiji, Guyana and Malaysia.

May the lights of Diwali illuminate our lives with happiness, good health, peace and prosperity. May we celebrate the divine festival in its true spirit by choosing awareness over ignorance and use the festive occasion to spread the happiness and lighten up someone’s life.

Wishing you all a very happy, prosperous and Green Diwali.

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    By: Somali K Chakrabarti

    Hi there! Welcome to Scribble and Scrawl! Here, I delve into themes related to positive lifestyle – from making smart-living choices, savvy financial decisions to nurturing the mind, body and soul. I share my travel experiences, explore facets of art and culture and highlight inspiring stories. Hope you enjoy reading my posts.

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22 thoughts on “Diwali – Festivities, Fireworks and Folklore in India and beyond

  • October 18, 2017 at 3:01 pm
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    Wonderful to read and I can not believe another year has so quickly flown Somali. And while I knew a little about this festival.. I learnt a whole lot more reading your post.. 🙂 So thank you

    Reply
  • October 18, 2017 at 5:43 pm
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    Great Post! Hello Somali, i Hope You are Doing Good, Thanks for the follow and all Likes!

    Reply
  • October 19, 2017 at 7:14 am
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    Wonderful write – up on Diwali – the Festival of Lights. Happy Diwali.

    Reply
  • October 19, 2017 at 12:29 pm
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    At the outset Somali wishing you a wonderful Diwali and lot of happiness and prosperity.

    The post is beautifully written as you have brought so many new dimensions to the occasion, across religions and different communities to even people outside our countries. Even the different flavours, the way it celebrated in the east to the west to the south and in the north it does occupy a significant value. Particularly the Odisha one, and also the way it is celebrated in Nepal.

    There is no doubt about the significance of this festival and the goodwill it augurs for the community at large but the issue of crackers in the backdrop of rising pollution has cast black clouds in the minds of people, it is not just about the celebration but there is strong commercial angle to the festival where certain section of community completely rely on the business of this occasion to make a life for the entire year. Though I am against the bursting of crackers which becomes the cause for health hazard but there is a place for small celebration of bursting crackers which we have being doing from our childhood but today with other (vehicle and industrial) pollution destroying the very fabric of our environment, even one day of cracker celebration our environment is not able to absorb…such is the heighten sensitivity.

    Thanks for sharing such a nuanced post and have a safe Diwali!!!
    😀

    Reply
    • October 19, 2017 at 4:21 pm
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      Wishing you and your family a very happy Diwali, Nihar. You have rightly pointed out the commercial angle behind the sale of crackers is mainly the cause of opposition. Somehow change is needed to the way in which the festival is celebrated and to the commercial aspects as well. Probably next year people will be more adjusted and receptive to the idea. This year the noise of crackers is somewhat less in Mumbai as well.
      Thank you for sharing your views. Wish you again a very happy Diwali.

      Reply
      • October 20, 2017 at 1:54 am
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        Thanks Somali, yes people have understanding the increasing pain of rising pollution and it has become so intense in places like Delhi, they are ready for accepting such drastic change, only that few want that time to prepare and be ready for alternative mode of business. Hyderabad also has reduced on the bursting of crackers this year, more light and less sound is the better way to keep the tradition of the celebration to continue…
        Have a lovely weekend.
        😀

        Reply
  • October 20, 2017 at 2:57 am
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    That’s a highly enlightening post Somali Ji. With heartfelt thaks, I wish you and your beloveds also a very happy and prosperous Diwali.

    Reply
    • October 20, 2017 at 5:40 am
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      Thank you Jitendra Ji. Here’s wishing you and your family too a very happy and prosperous Diwali. 🕯🕎🕯

      Reply
  • October 20, 2017 at 4:38 am
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    Nice to read_()_ Wishing you & your family a very Happy Diwali

    Reply
  • October 21, 2017 at 9:25 am
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    Such an informative post on Diwali, Somali. It is such a significant festival for so many in your part of the world – and all over the world really as you touched on there at the end. Interesting to read how different parts of India and different communities celebrate it. It also sounds like there are many deities of much significance, those of which fight hard for triumph and attainment – rich in history, rich in stories and important lessons.

    Interesting to hear there’s been a ban on crackers in the Delhi region due to pollution. Perhaps there’s some danger around crackers. But that said, crackers are such an important part of the occasion, just like how firecrackers are significant during the Chinese New Year. Maybe authorities will rethink it, or at least give a bit of leeway.

    Happy Diwali and Festival of Lights. wishing you all the best 🙂

    Reply
    • October 21, 2017 at 6:48 pm
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      Thank you for your wishes, Mabel. Yes, Indian mythology is full of gods, goddesses, demons, devils and there are so many stories associated with each of them. The same festive occasion has different interpretations and is observed differently in different parts of the country – with the underlying message of good winning over evil.
      Yes, firecrackers have their role in festivities, but the cumulative effect increases air pollution by a large extent.
      Actually, the ban on crackers did good because the festival was less noisy and the pollution levels were also under control. Though I think it should have come earlier so that businesses that depend on the sale of crackers had time to make alternate arrangements.
      Hope you are having a lovely and relaxed weekend. 😀

      Reply

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