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Ramayan - The Story Behind Diwali
The beginning of winter sees the onslaught of the festive season in India with Dusherra, Diwali, Gurpurab, Id and Christmas all lined up to celebrate. Each festival has a mythological tale that underlines its significance and in case of Diwali it is the Ramayan.
The Ramayan and the Mahabharat are two ancient Hindu texts which are known as itihas. There is unlikely to be an Indian, no matter what his religion, who has not heard these tales as a child. So here I present in short final chapter of the epic story of the Ramayan which is the reason we celebrate Diwali.
Diwali is actually short for Deepavali.It is called the festival of lights or "deeps". The story is that when Ram the exiled prince of Ayodhaya returned after 14 years it was "Amavas" or the dark night of a new moon.
The people of Ayodhaya were not to be deterred by this and all of them lit small lights in large numbers in and around their homes to welcome their beloved prince home. This caused the town to shine like day on the darkest of nights.
So the night was called Deepavali and hence forth each year on the same night the people would light up their homes in a similar fashion to welcome Ram back from exile. To this date the followers of the Hindu religion light up their homes on the same day to celebrate the return of their beloved Ram after all his trials.
Traditionally the festival of Diwali is spread out over five days. Each day has its own significance.
5 Days of Ramayan
Feed a cow
Invest in wealth
Clean body and home
Worship Goddess Laxmi, Honour Wife
Modern Diwali Celebrations
Now the humble oil "deep" has been replaced by candles and electrical lights. However unless there has been a death in the family, the homes will be brightly lit for the week of Diwali. There are unofficial competitions to see which house has been best decorated with the strings of lights called laddis. My husband and I often drive around in the car just to see how everyone has decorated their homes.
2. New Clothes
All members of the family wear new clothes on Diwali.So it is a great time for clothing stores and tailors. Most of the costumes are traditional Indian wear like the Kurta - Pajama for men and the Sari for the women. Little girls often go in for ghagras and salwaar kameez. Even the gifts to the help involve the giving of new clothes to them and their family members.
3. Laxmi Puja
Ram is seen as an avatar of Vishnu and his wife Sita is seen as a reincarnation of Laxmi, the wife of Vishnu. Laxmi is the goddess of wealth and on Diwali she is worshiped so that the house hold may be blessed with abundant wealth. People do not close their doors on Diwali because if Laxmi comes and finds your door locked she will not visit you again that year. This would cause financial troubles :)
Fire crackers begin a long before Diwali comes around. In fact in the time between Dusherra and Diwali children have a field day with firecracker. There are fire fountains, rockets, spinning wheels and of course the bombs to choose from. Personally I like the sparklers the best. They make no scary noise and look very pretty.
No festival is complete with out some sweets. There are a number of traditional sweets that come out in large numbers during Diwali. Sweets made at home are decorated in large plates called Thalis and sent to neighbours. Then you get plates full of sweets from the neighbours as well. The plates do so many rounds that sometimes you get your own sweets back :)
What's your favourite part of Diwali?
Retelling of the Ramayana
The story of Lord Ram and his pious wife Sita has captured the imaginations of many generations of Hindus. With the coming of the age of multi media, authors have begun retelling the Ramayana in their own manner.
One of the most popular tales among these retellings is the Ramayana written by Ashok. K Banker. The author has cleverly woven a tale that sticks to the original most of the way, but adds and embellishes details that we have not thought up of so far.
The story is continued in a series of books that you will be totally hooked on to. I should know what I'm talking about considering that I have read six of the first in the series and am waiting to get my hands on the seventh book.