The Diwali Festival | What is Diwali | Why is Diwali celebrated
Diwali festival pictures
Diwali is generally celebrated with pomp and splendour in most parts of India. People celebrating Diwali clean their houses and decorate them with lots of brilliant lamps and colourful rangolis (chalk drawings).
A Diwali coloring sheet
They wear brand new clothes, make delightful sweets, exchange greetings with friends old and new and enjoy enchanting displays of assorted fireworks.
One of the most enduring facets of Diwali is the lighting of lamps. Lamps of various colours and hues decorate every house. Traditionally oil (wick) lamps were lit. Gradually colourful candles started taking over, since they are easier to manage.
Today beautiful lamps of lovely designs and brilliant electrical illumination adorn houses for days before diwali begins, creating a festive look.
A display of fireworks
Diwali festival pictures
Diwali is also of special significance to the business community in several parts of India as many businessmen observe it as the start of the new business year.
It is a time when businessmen start new books of account with a puja (worship). It is also believed to be an auspicious time to start new ventures.
Festivals are usually celebrated in remembrance of some event, in honour of some deity.
Part of the enchantment of Diwali however lies in the abundance of legends surrounding it.
Why do we celebrate Diwali ? - ask any Indian and we would get so many different reasons, so many different legends - each one commemorating a different occasion, in praise of a particular deity.
This unique feature of Diwali is probably responsible for the universality of the festival.
In the northern parts of India for example, Diwali is believed to commemorate the day when Lord Rama, ( the seventh incarnation of the Almighty Lord Vishnu ) returned to Ayodhya after 14 years in exile.
Rama was an embodiment of righteousness. He accepted exile for fourteen years, in order to uphold a promise his father made.
While in exile, Sita, his wife (Goddess Lakshmi) was kidnapped by the evil demon Ravana and held prisoner in Lanka. Ravana, though a learned and powerful king, was obsessed by the evil thought of possessing Sita.
Although Ravana had a mighty army, equipped with powerful weapons, he was no match for the virtuous Rama. Rama destroyed Ravana, freed Sita, and returned victorious to his father's kingdom Ayodhya.
It is this victory, a victory of good over evil, that is celebrated by Diwali ( on Amavasaya - the night of the new moon). Diwali, the festival of lights is the festival of lighting up the darkness of the darkest night (Diwali usually is celebrated on Amavasaya or the new moon night).
In western India, Diwali has a different meaning. There, Diwali celebrates the defeat of the demon king Bali by Lord Vamana, another incarnation of Lord Vishnu.
Bali had performed such severe penance and, as a result, earned so many boons that even the Gods feared he had grown too powerful.
The Gods sought help from Lord Vishnu, who came to earth disguised as a dwarf named Vamana. Vamana asked king Bali for just three footsteps of land, measured by his tiny feet. Bali complied.
Vamana then grew enormously and with his first step measured the entire earth. With the second step, he measured the heavens. Vamana then asked Bali where he could place his third step.
Bali, now realizing that Vamana was really Lord Vishnu himself, bowed and offered his head for the third step. Thus Bali was restrained and the Lord freed all the king's prisoners, including Goddess Lakshmi and Lord Ganesha. Upon their release, Lakshmi and Ganesha brought great prosperity to the people.
In southern India, legend has it that the purpose of this festival is to celebrate the slaying of the demon Narakasura by Lord Krishna (also, an incarnation of the Lord Vishnu).
Narakasura performed penance so severe that the very Gods in heaven felt threatened. Narakasura felt very proud and committed many atrocities all over the Earth.
One day he went to Heaven and challenged Indra, the king of Gods. He snatched away the umbrella, the flag and the kundal (earrings) from Indra’s mother Aditi.
The helpless Indra then approached Lord Krishna for help. Krishna fought a fierce and, ultimately, victorious battle against the demon's soldiers. Then, Narakasura’s seven sons came to the battlefield. Krishna destroyed them too.
Finally Krishna accompanied by Sathyabama (his consort) as his charioteer, destroyed Narakasura. Narakasura cried Mother and fell at the feet of the chariot.
Narakasura was the son of Goddess Bhooma Devi (or Mother Earth). Sathyabama placed the head of the slain demon on her lap.
Narakasura then said, “Mother, I have committed a lot of sins and caused so much unhappiness in this world. My last wish is that this day of my demise be celebrated with great pomp and splendour as the end of this evil."
In Eastern India, especially in Bengal, the festival of Diwali is called Mahanisha.
It is believed that Mahakali appeared on Earth on this day. On the night of Diwali, while others worship Lakshmi, many parts of Eastern India worship Kali, the Goddess symbolic of strength.
Diwali is a big occasion in the lives of most men, women & children in India. Although legends on the roots of this festival abound, the festival itself has been celebrated for thousands of years almost all over the country.
In these testing times, celebrating this festival in its true spirit by cleaning up our houses - purifying the body and having clean thoughts, lighting lamps - enlightening our mind with love and tolerance and distributing sweets amongst all - spreading sweet words and happiness, would go a long way in leading us from darkness and strife to light and peace.