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.
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
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.
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.