Thursday, October 15, 2009
Diwali / Deepavali - Festival of Lights
Coming back after a month long hiatus with a post on probably the most celebrated festival in Hinduism, Diwali.
As you know, people from all parts of the country celebrate Diwali with the same gusto and splendour. It is a time to visit friends and family, exchange wishes, interact and bond. It is also a time of great rejoicement and festivities. Diwali is a more general form of pronouncing Deepavali, which means an array of Deeps (lamps).
When I was young, Diwali for me was a day when I had a holiday from school (very important!), could wear new clothes and burst sparkling fire-crackers. Slowly, the concept has changed. Now Diwali has a deeper and more profound impact on me, and that is exactly what I would like to share. So let us look at the legends behind Diwali:
The first one is from Ramayan, which describes Diwali as the day when Lord Ram returned victoriously to his kingdom of Ayodhya after defeating the demon king Ravan of Lanka. Lord Ram was given an arousing welcome, and the entire city dazzled with Diyas. This was later celebrated as an annual festival called Deepavali or Diwali.
The second reference is related to Lord Krishna. Once there was an evil demon called Narakasura, who was a tyrant and was forever oppressing the common people. All of them prayed to Lord Krishna to relieve them from his clutches. Thus, Lord Krishna came and after an intense battle, he killed Narakasura using his Sudarshan Chakra. The people rejoinced, lit the city with lamps, and this incident came to be annually celebrated as Diwali.
If you look at the common thread between these 2 legends, it portrays the victory of good over evil, of light eclipsing the darkness, and of righteousness holding forth against all odds. Thus, the Diwali festival is a very symbolic one that extols us to kill our inner demons (negativities) and purify our soul by lighting it up with goodness.
Now let me give a brief description of the festival. Diwali is celebrated across 4 days, starting from the 13th day of the month of Ashwin. This day is called Dhanteras, literally translated into wealth-thirteenth. Interestingly, though the number 13 has negative connotations in some other religions, this day is considered a very auspicious one. It is an age-old tradition to buy gold and other ornaments on Dhanteras. Also, if one sees a house-lizard on that day, he/she is considered to be lucky. So do look out for those slippery creatures tomorrow!
Why is it good to buy jewelery on Dhanteras? I don't think there is any specific reason, apart from instilling a sense of savings in the family. If you consider the price of Gold, it is forever on the rise. If one has cash, there will be a tendency to spend it even for wasteful/useless purposes. But on the other hands, a solid ornament of gold can be a form of a saving, and a good investment too. This might also be the reason why purchase of gold on Akshaya Tritiya is suggested to be very auspicious.
The next day is the Choti (Small) Diwali, while Diwali and Badi (Big) Diwali follow the smaller one. For us Marwadis, Diwali is of special significance because of the Lakshmi Puja conducted on the main Diwali day. Lakshmi, being the goddess of wealth, is requested to forever remain in our home and not desert us. Diwali is considered the beginning of the new financial year, and new account books are opened on Diwali. The books, pen and the ink-pot is also venerated.
The Puja is conducted in the evening, after which, it is time to burst crackers. This is probably the most exciting part of Diwali. Crackers of all shapes, sizes and varieties light up the sky, and provide a visual treat to all the spectators. Though earlier the crackers were just a symbolic representation of light illuminating our lives, these days it has become a contest among people to show off their wealth by spending a lot of money on crackers.
Not only does this one-upmanship contribute result in literal "burning" away of money, it also contributes a lot towards environmental pollution. Crackers that illuminate are understandable to be synonymous with Diwali, but why do we need ear-deafening bombs and Ladis? It is beyond my comprehension. Also, let us look back at what goes into making these crackers. Helpless child-laborours working in inhuman conditions by foregoing their education produce the fire-crackers. Do we really need to burst crackers to enjoy a few moments while our brethren suffer for years?
So this Diwali, I hope we can go for a pure Diya day or just a minimal amount of cracker-bursting. Let us focus instead on lighting up our lives by killing our inner defects and illuminate the lives of others with our goodness.
Happy Diwali !
- Nikhil Mundra
15th October 2009