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A Festival that embraces all peoples

It is often said that Diwali is not what it used to be, a festival not seen as it is now and the reverence for the occasion is gone.

Today it is fun, frolic, revelry and pleasure, with the religious connotation pushed to the background. The forefront is occupied by the ritual of consumption, entertainment, merry-making and life affirmation.

The festival is a consumer’s delight and producer’s dream.

The innocence of the Festival has been invaded by sophistication and scale in all its aspects. The earthen lamps have been replaced by flickering strings of lights, neon and other innovations that make the flames gyrate to attract attention. Fireworks are thoroughly professional with burst of bombs that pierce through the ears, high decibel sounds and a long string of crackers in thousands.

Sparklers are feminine and used by children and women; loudness is masculine and thus handled by the daredevil men. The art of pyrotechnics advances every year. The rockets soar higher; make kaleidoscopic patters after bursting with loud sounds.

The upside is that Diwali has become a universal celebration, drawing hundreds of thousands of people of all faiths to come out and enjoy. In New Zealand for instance, the Festival of Lights is exemplified by celebrations organised by Government owned entities and City Councils, with commercial organisations as major sponsors. The scenario has shifted to the larger community, which in itself is a good thing.

However, the significance of Diwali remains strong among a few main ethnic groups of Indian and Sri Lankan origin.

The Hindus

A Festival that embraces- Anita Patil.jpgHinduism, it is often said, is not a religion but a way of life. Erudition, piety, valour, righteousness, integrity, honesty, hard work, social and religious tolerance are all a part of the ‘Hindu package’ that adorns the individual.

Hinduism preaches equality among people, with the adage that truth will be the ultimate victor. Hindus also believe that darkness is an interval between two days rather than the converse. Diwali epitomises that which sheds light, removing darkness.

There is however a tale, like most others in Hinduism, to illustrate the point.

‘Diwali’ is a derivative of is Sanskrit original, ‘Deepavali,’ meaning a cluster or row of lights and hence the reference, “Festival of Lights.” It is an appropriate title as illumination is central in a festival that ensures every household celebrating is well illuminated.

Legend has it that the first Diwali in India was held to celebrate the return of Lord Rama, his wife Sita and brother Lakshmana to their kingdom in Ayodhya, the capital city of Koshala, following Rama’s 14 years in exile (as ordered by his father Dasaratha) and conquest of Ravana, to liberate Sita held captive in Sri Lanka.

As Rama was returning with his wife and brother to Ayodhya, the Sun was setting and darkness fell. The people lit oil lamps to illuminate the way for them. Since then, Diwali has been celebrated on ‘Amavasa’ or New Moon Day, which is the 15th day of the dark fortnight of the Hindu calendar month of Katrika, falling at the end of October or the beginning of November every year.

This year, Diwali will be marked on November 5.

There is another belief, which says Ravana sought the ‘blessings’ of Lord Rama prior to his death and requested that his ‘day of reckoning’ be observed with lights and crackers and with men, women and children donning new clothes. Some scholars question the veracity of this theory but those believing in the conquest of evil by the good give credence to the belief.

Dhanteras

The festival lasts for five days in many parts of India and can, in fact go on even longer in some places. On the first day (Dhanteras), houses and shops are cleaned, whitewashed and decorated.

Naraka Chaturdasi

The second day is known as ‘Naraka Chatrudasi’, the actual occasion of joy. It is believed that the day marks the death of the tyrant king Narakusara a monster, ruled the kingdom of Pradyoshapuram. His arrogance and anarchic temperament was evident in his tyranny and malevolence. He is believed to have imprisoned several ‘Devas’ and sages, disturbing their penance and prayers.

The killing of Narakasura was a victory of good over evil. It is interesting to note that Bhudevi, mother of the slain Narakasura, declared that his death should not be a day of mourning but an occasion to celebrate and rejoice. Since then, Deepavali is being celebrated by people every year with joyous celebrations with lot of fun and frolic and fire works.

Lakshmi Pooja

The third and most important day is Lakshmi Pooja, devoted to revering Goddess Lakshmi (also representing good fortune). Hindus believe that on the night of Diwali, the Goddess will visit their home and bless every house that is lit with lights and candles.

Lakshmi Pooja is celebrated in northern parts of India with great enthusiasm, while Lakshmi ‘Kubera’ Pooja is performed in many states. The belief behind this sentiment is that when the Goddess visited Kubera on this day, she agreed to stay in a pot of puffed rice covered with a sugar candy, making him the richest celestial persona.

Sindhis celebrate Lakshmi Pooja differently. They place a wide bowl filled with milk, water, sugar, gold, silver, coins and flower petals at the Pooja, following which all members of the family dip their hands in this mixture. It is believed that the Goddess will bestow them with wealth and harmony throughout the year.

Varsha Pratipada

The fourth day, called ‘Gudhi Padwa’ or ‘Varsha Pratipada’ is considered the most auspicious day to start a new venture.

Although ‘Varsha Pratipada’ (New Year) is associated with ‘Ugadi’ in the month of Chaitra (April) in the South, Gujaratis and Marwaris commemorate the day of Diwali as their New Year. People get up early and clean their houses, decorating them with intricate Rangoli designs. New clothes are worn and sweets made for the occasion include shrikhand, basundi and jalebi. Many homes also decorate the pots with coconuts, flowers and mango leaves, symbolising nature’s bounty.

On this day, a pole, known as ‘Gudhi’ is erected in front of the house. Padwa is another name for ‘Pratipada,’ the first day of the lunar month. A new cloth is tied on the Gudhi, with a metal or silver vessel and a garland of sweets. People welcome the New Year with Gudhi worship and distribute Prasad comprising tender Neem leaves, tamarind, ajwain, gram- pulse and jaggery. The Neem paste is believed to purify the blood and build up body immunity against diseases.

Bhaiya Dooj

The fifth and final day is commonly known as Bhaiya Dooj or the ‘Teeka’ Ceremony. It is customary for men to visit their sisters’ homes where the latter puts a sacred mark on her brother’s forehead and prays for his long life and prosperity. The brothers give their sisters money and presents in return.

The day begins with Lakshmi Pooja. For people with their own businesses, doing a Pooja in the office is a must as it is considered lucky and auspicious.

The Sikhs

A Festival that embraces- Sikh Children.jpgSikhs celebrate Diwali to express joy at the return of the sixth Guru to Amritsar in 1620, after his release from Gwalior Jail, where he was imprisoned along with 52 Hindu kings by Emperor Jahangir. When the Guru was granted freedom, he refused to leave until he had gained the release of the 52 Hindu kings too. Sikhs celebrate the occasion in the Gurdwara. In the evening, the homes are well lit and firework displays are held.

The Jains

The Jain communities of India celebrate Diwali as New Year’s Day. Lord Mahavira, the founder of Jainism, attained his Nirvana on Diwali Day. His followers celebrate the occasion with a festival of oil lamps, symbolising their Master’s light of knowledge.

The tradition continues

Family reunion is still in vogue in India, when children are sent day ahead to their home of their grandparents or to those of their immediate relatives. It is also customary for the eldest in the family to gift new dresses and crackers while sisters bring home sweets and smiles. It is that day in the year when no one raises family issues or problems.

Photo :

1. Diwali attracts hundreds of thousands of people in New Zealand

2. Anita Patil performs a classical dance at Manuaku Diwali 2009

3. Sikhs mark the Festival with tradition and fun

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