By Malini Bisen
This Diwali which leads us into Truth and Light is celebrated on a
nation-wide scale on Amavasya - the 15th day of the dark fortnight of the
Hindu month of Ashwin (Aasho) (October / November) every year. It symbolizes
that age-old culture of our country which teaches us to vanquish ignorance
that subdues humanity and to drive away darkness that engulfs the light of
knowledge. Diwali, the festival of lights even today in this modern world
projects the rich and glorious past of our country and teaches us to uphold
the true values of life.
The word "Diwali" is the corruption of the Sanskrit word "Deepavali" -
Deepa meaning light and Avali, meaning a row. It means a row of lights and
indeed illumination forms its main attraction. Every home - lowly or
mightly - the hut of the poor or the mansion of the rich - is alit with the
orange glow of twinkling diyas-small earthen lamps - to welcome Lakshmi,
Goddess of wealth and prosperity. Multi-colored Rangoli designs, floral
decorations and fireworks lend pictures-ness and grandeur to this festival
which heralds joy, mirth and happiness in the ensuring year.
This festival is celebrated on a grand scale in almost all the regions of
India and is looked upon mainly as the beginning of New Year. As such the
blessings of Lakshmi, the celestial consort of Lord Vishnu are invoked with
prayers. Even countries like Guyana, Thailand, Trinidad, Siam and Malaya
celebrate this festival but in their own ways.
This Diwali festival, it is surmised dates back to that period when perhaps
history was not written, and in its progress through centuries it lighted
path of thousands to attain the ultimate good and complete ecstasy.
Diwali or more aptly Deepavali is very enthusiastically celebrated for five
continuous days and each day has its significance with a number of myths,
legends and beliefs.
The First day is called DHANTERAS or DHANTRAYODASHI which falls on the
thirteenth day of the month of Ashwin. The word "Dhan" means wealth. As such
this day of the five-day Diwali festival has a great importance for the rich
mercantile community of Western India. Houses and Business premises are
renovated and decorated. Entrances are made colorful with lovely
traditional motifs of Rangoli designs to welcome the Goddess of wealth and
prosperity. To indicate her long-awaited arrival, small footprints are drawn
with rice flour and vermilion powder all over the houses. Lamps are kept
burning all through the nights. Believing this day to be auspicious women
purchase some gold or silver or at least one or two new utensils.
"Lakshmi-Puja" is performed in the evenings when tiny diyas of clay are
lighted to drive away the shadows of evil spirits.
songs- in praise of Goddess Laxmi are sung and "Naivedya" of traditional
sweets is offered to the Goddess. There is a peculiar custom in Maharashtra
to lightly pound dry coriander seeds with jaggery and offer as Naivedya.
In villages, cattle is adorned and worshipped by farmers as they form the
main source of their income. In south cows are offered special veneration as
they are supposed to be the incarnation of Goddess Lakshmi and therefore
they are adorned and worshipped on this day.
A very interesting story about this day is of the sixteen year old son of
King Hima. As per his horoscope he was doomed to die by a snake-bite on the
fourth day of his marriage. On that particular fourth day of his marriage
his young wife did not allow him to sleep. She laid all the ornaments and
lots of gold and silver coins in a big heap at the entrance of her husband's
boudoir and lighted innumerable lamps all over the place. And she went on
telling stories and singing songs. When Yam, the god of Death arrived there
in the guise of a Serpent his eyes got blinded by that dazzle of those
brilliant lights and he could not enter the Prince's chamber. So he climbed
on top of the heap of the ornaments and coins and sat there whole night
listening to the melodious songs. In the morning he quietly went away. Thus
the young wife saved her husband from the clutches of death. Since then this
day of Dhanteras came to be known as the day of "YAMADEEPDAAN" and lamps are
kept burning throughout the night in reverential adoration to Yam, the god
The SECOND day is called NARKA-CHATURDASHI or CHOTI DIWAL which falls on
the fourteenth day of the month of Ashwin. The story goes that the demon
king Narakasur ruler of Pragjyotishpur ( a province to the South of Nepal)
after defeating Lord Indra had snatched away the magnificent earrings of
Aditi, the Mother Goddess and imprisoned sixteen thousand daughters of the
gods and saints in his harem. On the day previous to Narakachaturdashi, Lord
Krishna killed the demon and liberated the imprisoned damsels and also
recovered those precious earrings of Aditi. As a symbol of that victory Lord
Krishna smeared his forehead with the demon king's blood. Krishna returned
home in the very early morning of the Narakachaturdashi day. The womenfolk
massaged scented oil to his body and gave him a good bath to wash away the
filth from his body. Since then the custom of taking bath before sunrise on
this day has become a traditional practice specially in Maharashtra.
In South India that victory of the divine over the mundane is celebrated in
a very peculiar way. People wake up before sunrise prepare blood by mixing
Kumkum in oil and after breaking a bitter fruit that represents the head of
the demon King that was smashed by Krishna, apply that mixture on their
foreheads. Then they have an oil bath using sandalwood paste.
In Maharashtra also, traditional early baths with oil and "Uptan" (paste) of
gram flour and fragrant powders are a `must'. All through the ritual of
baths, deafening sounds of crackers and fireworks are there in order that
the children enjoy bathing. Afterwards steamed vermiceli with milk and sugar
or puffed rice with curd is served.
Another legend is about King Bali of the nether world mighty power had
become a threat to the gods. In order to curb his powers Lord Vishnu in the
guise of a Batu Waman- a small boy- visited him and begged him to give him
only that much land which he could cover with his three steps. Known for his
philanthropy King Bali proudly granted him his wish. That very moment that
small boy transformed himself into the all-powerful Lord Vishnu. With his
first step Lord Vishnu covered the entire heaven and with the second step
the earth and asked Bali where to keep his third step. Bali offered his
head. Putting his foot on his head Vishnu pushed him down to the underworld.
At the same time for his generosity Lord Vishnu gave him the lamp of
knowledge and allowed him to return to earth once a year to light millions
of lamps to dispel the darkness and ignorance and spread the radiance of
love and wisdom.
This Narakachaturdashi day therefore is dedicated to lights and prayers
heralding a future full of joy and laughter.
The THIRD day of the festival of Diwali is the most important day of LAKSHMI-PUJA
which is entirely devoted to the propitiation of Goddess Lakshmi. This day is also known
by the name of "CHOPADA-PUJA". On this very day sun enters his second course and
passes Libra which is represented by the balance or scale. Hence, this design of Libra is
believed to have suggested the balancing of account books and their closing. Despite the
fact that this day falls on an amavasya day it is regarded as the most auspicious.
The day of Lakshmi-Puja falls on the dark night of Amavasya. The strains of joyous
sounds of bells and drums float from the temples as man is invoking Goddess Lakshmi in a
wondrous holy "pouring-in" of his heart. All of a sudden that impenetrable darkness is
pierced by innumerable rays of light for just a moment and the next moment a blaze of light
descends down to earth from heaven as golden-footed Deep-Lakshmi alights on earth in
all her celestial glory amidst chantings of Vedic hymns. A living luminance of Universal
Motherhood envelopes the entire world in that blessed moment of fulfillment of a
long-awaited dream of the mortal. A sublime light of knowledge dawns upon humanity and
devotion of man finally conquers ignorance. This self enlightenment is expressed through
the twinkling lamps that illuminate the palaces of the wealthy as well as the lowly abodes of
the poor. It is believed that on this day Lakshmi walks through the green fields and loiters
through the bye-lanes and showers her blessings on man for plenty and prosperity. When
the sun sets in the evening and ceremonial worship is finished all the home-made sweets
are offered to the goddess as "NAIVEDYA" and distributed as "PRASAD". Feasts are
arranged and gifts are exchanged on this day gaily dressed men, women and children go to
temples and fairs, visit friends and relatives. Everything is gay, gold and glitter!
One of the most curious customs which characterizes this festival of Diwali is the
indulgence of gambling, specially on a large scale in North India. It is believed that
goddess Parvati played dice with her husband, Lord Shiv on this day and she decreed that
whosoever gambled on Diwali night would prosper throughout the ensuring year. This
tradition of playing cards- flush and rummy with stakes on this particular day continues
On this auspicious day Lord Shri Krishna around whom revolved the entire story of our
great epic Mahabharat and the philosopher, who preached Karmayog through his Geeta
to Arjun on the battlefield of Kurukshetra, discarded his body.
Bhagwan, Mahavir, the Jain prophet also attained "Nirvan" on this day.
Swami Ramtirth, the beloved "Ram Badshah" of millions of Indians was not only born on
this day and took "Sanyas" but also took "Samadhi" on this day.
Swami Dayanand Saraswati, founder of Brahma-Samaj with his superb yogic powers
greed his soul from his body and mingled with divinity on this auspicious day of Diwali.
We kindle innumerable lights on this day to immortalize the sacred memories of those
great men who lived to brighten the lives of millions of their fellow beings.
One very interesting story about this Diwali day is from Kathopanishad of a small boy
called Nichiketa who believed that Yam, the god of Death was as black as the dark night
of amavasya. But when he met Yam in person he was puzzled seeing Yam's calm
countenance and dignified stature. Yam explained to Nichiketa on this Diwali day of
amavasya that by only passing through the darkness of death, man sees the light of highest
wisdom and then only his soul can escape from the bondage of his mortal frame to mingle
with the Supreme Power without whose will not an at ton moves in the world. And then
Nichiketa realized the importance of worldly life and significance of death. Nichiketa's all
doubts were set at rest and he whole-heartedly participated in Diwali celebrations.
The FOURTH day is PADWA or VARSHAPRATIPADA which marks the coronation
of King Vikramaditya and Vikaram-Samvat was started from this Padwa day.
Govardhan-Puja is also performed in the North on this day. As per Vishnu-Puran the
people of Gokul used to celebrate a festival in honour of Lord Indira and worshipped him
after the end of every monsoon season but one particular year the young Krishna stopped
them from offering prayers to Lord Indra who in terrific anger sent a deluge to submerge
Gokul. But Krishna saved his Gokul by lifting up the Govardhan mountain and holding it
over the people as an umbrella.
Govardhan is a small hillock in Braj, near Mathura and on this day of Diwali people of
Punjab, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh and Bihar build cowdung, hillocks, decorate them with
flowers and then worship them.
This day is also observed as Annakoot meaning mountain of food. In temples specially in
Mathura and Nathadwara, the deities are given milkbath, dressed in shining attires with
ornaments of dazzling diamonds, pearls, rubies and other precious stones. After the
prayers and traditional worship innumerable varieties of delicious sweets are
ceremoniously raised in the form of a mountain before the deities as "Bhog" and then the
devotees approach the Mountain of Food and take Prasad from it.
Goddess Lakshmi is worshipped in every Hindu household and her blessings sought for
success and happiness. This day is looked upon as the most auspicious day to start any
new venture. In many Hindu homes it is a custom for the wife to put the red tilak on the
forehead of her husband, garland him and do his "Aarathi" with a prayer for his long life. In
appreciation of all the tender care that the wife showers on him, the husband gives her a
costly gift. This Gudi Padwa is symbolic of love and devotion between the wife and
husband. On this day newly-married daughters with their husbands are invited for special
meals and given presents. In olden days brothers went to fetch their sisters from their
in-laws home for this important day.
The FIFTH and final day of Diwali Festival is known by the name of "BHAYYA-DUJ"
in the Hindi-speaking belt "BHAV-BIJ" in the Marathi-speaking communities and in Nepal
by the name of "BHAI-TIKA". As the legend goes Yamraj, the God of Death visited his
sister Yami on this particular day. She put the auspicious tilak on his forehead, garlanded
him and led him with special dishes and both of them together ate the sweets, talked and
enjoyed themselves to their heart's content, while parting Yamraj gave her a special gift as
a token of his love and in return Yami also gave him a lovely gift which she had made with
her own hands. That day Yamraj announced that anyone who receives tilak from his sister
will never be thrown. That is why this day of Bhayyaduj is also known by the name of
"YAMA-DWITIYA" Since then this day is being observed as a symbol of love between
sisters and brothers. It became also imperative for the brother to go to his sister's house to
In today's world when pressing everyday problems are teaming as under all the tender
words of personal relationships, the celebrating of this day has its own importance in
continuing to maintain the love between brothers and sisters for it is the day of
food-sharing, gift-giving and reaching out to the inner most depths of the hearts.
Diwali on the whole has always been the festival with more social than religious
connotations. It is a personal, people-oriented festival when enmities are forgotten, families
and friends meet, enjoy and establish a word of closeness.
As a festival of light and beauty it encourages artistic expressions through
home-decorations stage-plays, elocution competitions singing and dancing programmes,
making gift items and making delectable sweets thereby discovering new talents of
younger people. As a result innumerable communities with varying cultures and customs
mingle together to make Diwali celebrations a very happy occasion for all.
Gurudev Rabindranath Tagore has so aptly put forth the true significance of Diwali in these
beautiful lines :-
The night is black
Kindle the lamp of LOVE
With thy life and devotion."