When is Diwali (07.05.2018)
Observed in Countries with Hindu populations, especially India
Observed on Five days from the 13th day of the waning half (Krishna Paksha) of Asvina, the seventh month in the Hindu calendar, to the second day of the waxing half (Shukla Paksha) of Karttika, the eighth month in the Hindu calendar
Observed by Hindus
Diwali, or Deepavali (Sanskrit for “row of lights”) is the Hindu Festival of Lights. It is the most important and the most famous of all Hindu festivals and an occasion of tremendous excitement, hectic activities, and rejoicing. Like Dussehra (which precedes it), it commemorates the triumph of good over evil.
The exact event or deity and the date of the observance celebrated by Diwali depend on one’s location. In Northern India, Diwali falls on the last day of the Vikram (lunar) calendar, during the waning (dark phase) of the Moon, and it is the time when businesses start their fiscal year. The following day, called Annakut, begins a new year. In Southern India, where the Shalivahana (solar) calendar is used, Diwali begins in the seventh month (Asvina). (The Shalivahana calendar begins in the year 78 C.E. when King Shalivahana was crowned after defeating the Sakas, an invading Central Asian tribe.) Throughout the year numerous festivals are celebrated in India, a country renowned for celebrations.
Though the Festival of Lights is meant to be celebrated for one day, local customs, traditions, and religious aspirations of the people have transformed it into a four- or five-day festival, starting with Dhanteras-the “day of wealth,” when shoppers return home and light the first Diwali lamps- and culminating with Bhaiya dooj, Brothers’ Day.
During this festive season, all things come to a standstill in India, except happy family activities, shopping, and feasting. Everyone is filled with excitement and enthusiasm (especially children) starting a month before Diwali. During this period people perform a thorough cleaning of their homes and arrange for their houses to be whitewashed and painted. They buy jewelry and new clothes for this festival and exchange gifts and sweets with their families and friends. Hence, during the countdown to Diwali, there is a flurry of activity: shopping sprees, placing orders for jewelry and ornaments, preparation and packing of dry fruits and sweets (major gift items), and the like. For quite a few days prior to the main day of the festival there are crowds of people on the streets, all in a frenzy to finish distributing their gifts; this frequently causes traffic jams in all the larger towns and cities of India.
The first day of the festival is called Dhanteras or Dhanatrayodashi. Marigolds and mango leaves are hung on the doorways and archways of all buildings and homes. Rangolis (colorful designs drawn on the floor using various materials such as colored powders, sawdust or sand, flower petals, paints, or even grains) are created both inside and outside the houses. The conventional motifs are often connected with favorable symbols of luck. Diyas, small earthen lamps, are set in and around homes. These flickering lamps give the festival its name. On this particular day people purchase goods for the house or jewelry for the women in every family. Also on this day it is propitious to buy something metallic, especially silver, since it is believed to bring prosperity.
The following day is called Kali Chaudas, Chhoti Diwali, or Bhoot Chaturdashi. Only 14 lamps are lit. It is believed that on this night Lord Shiva, the Destroyer, and the third deity of the Hindu trinity, romps around with his band of ghouls, goblins, and wicked spirits. Evil is afoot on this eerie night.
On the new Moon night- the third and actual day of Diwali-the entryways and surroundings of all homes and dwellings are brightly illuminated and the floors adorned with rangoli to accord a warm welcome to Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth and the consort of Vishnu. Lakshmi Puja (worship of the goddess) is held on the evening of this day. The day ends with a lavish family meal, displays of fireworks, and the noise of bursting firecrackers. This day is a public holiday, though most shops and businesses stay open in the morning. Diwali is considered a favorable day for opening new homes, shopping, finalizing business deals, or beginning a new project or venture.
On the following day, Hindu families commemorate the New Year (in northern India) by wearing new clothes and jewelry, as well as by paying visits to business colleagues and family members to give gifts. In the business societies in the states of Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, and Rajasthan, Diwali is the occasion when the commercial year begins. All business families and organizations perform muharat puja, or worship, of their books of accounts. This is also the day when Annakut takes place. Annakut, which literally means “mountain of food,” is a grand, sacred religious feast in which food is offered to God. Thereafter the consecrated food items are distributed among the devotees. The underlying idea of this grand feast is to thank God for the bounty and abundance that he has bestowed on the people.
The fifth and the last day of this holiday is Bhaiyya Dooj, or Brothers’ Day. On this day sisters apply tilak (a sacred red mark) on their brothers’ foreheads so that they will have long lives and well-being.
Although the day is meant to honor brothers, it is the sisters who get all the attention and gifts. Brothers go to a great deal of trouble to meet their sisters on this day, showering them with presents and money, and pampering them a good deal. It is not a public holiday, but educational institutions are closed; and nonessential government offices are closed.
Diwali is commemorated on an impressive scale in all regions of India, chiefly as the beginning of the New Year in northern areas of the country. Diwali is also observed outside India, mainly in Guyana, Malaysia, Fiji, Mauritius, Nepal, Myanmar, Sri Lanka, Singapore, Trinidad and Tobago, Indonesia, Britain, Thailand, Japan, Australia, Suriname in South America, and several countries in Africa.
Origins and History
The stories connected with Diwali and why it evolved into such a widely celebrated festival are different in various regions and states of India. In the north, particularly in Uttar Pradesh, Punjab, Haryana, and Bihar, the first Diwali was celebrated to commemorate the triumphant return of King Rama of Ayodhya (the seventh manifestation of Vishnu, the Protector), Sita (his wife), and his brother Lakshmana to the capital city Ayodhya after 14 years of exile. During the exile, Lord Rama had vanquished the demon Ravana, the king of Sri Lanka. As night had already fallen before the arrival of the royal trio, the people, delighted to have their king back in their midst, lit clay lamps along the way to dispel the darkness and light up their path.
Any discussion of the origins of Diwali would be incomplete without a mention of the generous, but ambitious (ancient, mythical) king named Bali.
Some gods had appealed to Vishnu (the Creator and the second deity of the Hindu trinity) to curb Bali’s growing powers. Vishnu came down to Earth in the shape of a dwarf and dressed as a Brahmin priest.
The dwarf approached King Bali and asked the latter to grant him the land that he could cover in three steps. Being a generous ruler, Bali granted the dwarf his request. At this point, the dwarf revealed himself as Vishnu, and in three massive strides covered the earth, sky, and the netherworld (hell). King Bali was subsequently banished to the netherworld.
The Hindus (especially in Kerala) remember this big-hearted king on the occasion of Diwali.
Another legend tells of Narakasura, a monster, who ruled the kingdom of Pradyoshapuram. He was a troublemaker and frequently disturbed the peaceful existence of the gods and the pious sages or created havoc during rituals. To prove his might Narakasura usurped the territories of Aditi, the king of Suraloka and a relative of Satyabhama, Lord Krishna’s wife. Extremely vexed, Indra and other gods approached Lord Krishna and sought his help.
Satyabhama requested Krishna to give her this chance to slay Narakasura. The demon was under a curse that dictated he could be killed only by a woman. With Krishna as the charioteer, Satyabhama entered the battlefield and killed Narakasura. The act symbolized the victory of good over evil. Later, Bhudevi, the mother of the slain demon, declared that his death should not be a day of mourning, but an occasion to celebrate. Since then, Diwali has been happily celebrated by people every year.
Also on this day Lakshmi is believed to have emerged from the ocean of milk (ksheer sagar) in the wake of the churning of the ocean (samudra manthan), bringing with her wealth and prosperity for humanity. On that day a ceremonial prayer (puja) was performed in her honor. This significant event is celebrated every year by Hindus.
Yet another legend concerns Lord Krishna. The people of the village where he had grown up always prayed to the god Indra, since they thought that he sent rain to make the crops grow. Lord Krishna convinced them to venerate the mountain Govardhan instead, because it was fertile and provided rich grass for the village cows to graze on, causing them to yield abundant milk. Indra was most displeased. One night, when the villagers were sleeping, he sent torrential rain upon the village. The villagers cried to Krishna for help, who rescued them by lifting the mountain and holding it aloft on the tip of his finger.
Under it, the villagers collected until the storm ceased. To Hindus the food offered to God on Diwali is a reminder of the significance of food; it is a time to be grateful to God for all of nature’s bounty.