India is a land of festivals. Deepavali, the Festival of Lights, is celebrated with traditional fervor and gaiety. The festival, which symbolises unity in diversity and leads us into truth, is celebrated by young and old, rich and poor, throughout the country to dispel darkness and light up their lives. This festival teaches us to vanquish ignorance that subdues humanity and drive away darkness that engulfs the light of knowledge. Deepavali, the festival of lights, projects the rich and glorious past of our country and teaches us to uphold the true values of life.
Diwali is predominantly celebrated in the northern parts of India with much festivity and gaiety. In states like Kerala, where Onam is the main festival, celebration of Deepavali is a very happy occasion for all. The celebration of the four-day festival commences on Aswayuja Bahula Chaturdashi and concludes on Kartika Shuddha Vijiya. The first day of the festival Naraka Chaturdashi marks the vanquishing of the demon Naraka by Lord Krishna and his wife Sathyabhama.
If one celebrates each one of the three days of festivities with a true understanding, it will enrich lives, as it is a festival of joy, splendour, brightness, and happiness. At a metaphysical level, it is a festival signifying the victory of good over evil, it is believed the later is destroyed and reduced to ashes by fireworks that go off during the festival. Deepavali is also a time for people to give expression for their happiness. The lighting of clay lamps is a way of paying obeisance to god for attainment of health, wealth, knowledge, peace and fame and it also signifies goodness.
Puranas have it that Naraka, son of Bhudevi, acquired immense power from a blessing given by Lord Brahma after a severe penance. Narakasura ruled the kingdom of Pradyoshapuram. Under his rule, the villagers suffered a lot of hardship as the demon tortured the people and kidnapped the women to be imprisoned in his palace with his invincible might. Unable to bear the tyranny of the demon, the celestial beings pleaded with Lord Krishna to save them from his torture. But Naraka had a boon that he would face death only at the hands of his mother Bhudevi. So, Krishna asks his wife Sathyabhama, the reincarnation of Bhudevi, to be his charioteer in the battle with Naraka.
When Krishna fell unconscious after being hit by an arrow of Naraka, Sathyabhama takes the bow and aims the arrow at Naraka, killing him instantly. Later Lord Krishna reminds her of the boon she had sought as Bhudevi. The slaying of Naraka by Sathyabhama could also be taken to interpret that parents should not hesitate to punish their children when they step in to the wrong path. The message of Naraka Chaturdashi is that the good of the society should always prevail over one’s own personal bonds. It is interesting to note that Bhudevi, mother of the slain demon Naraka, declared that his death should not be a day of mourning but an occasion to celebrate and rejoice. It is said Lord Krishna had an oil bath to rid himself off the blood spattered on his body when Naraka was killed. The tradition is followed and people offer prayers on the previous day of the Naraka Chaturdashi to the vessel in which water is being heated for having bath. Hindus light fireworks, which are regarded as the effigies of Narakasura who was killed on this day.
The second day is Amavasya when Lakshmi puja is performed. It is believed that on this day Goddess Lakshmi would be in her benevolent mood and fulfill the wishes of her devotees. It was on this day that Goddess Lakshmi emerged from Ksheera Sagara (Ocean of Milk), when the Gods and demons were churning the sagara (ocean) for nectar (Amrutha). Lakshmi Pooja is performed in the evenings when tiny clay lamps are lit to drive away the shadows of evil spirits, devotional songs in praise of Goddess Lakshmi are sung and Naivedya of traditional sweets is offered to the Goddess.
King Bali of the netherworld, with his mighty power, had become a threat to the gods. To curb his powers, Lord Vishnu in the guise of a Brahmin boy (Vamana), visited him and begged for that much land he could cover with three footsteps.
So, with the first step, Vamana covered the entire heaven and with the second step the earth. When he asked Bali where he could keep his third step, Bali offered his head and put the Lord’s foot on his head. Lord Vishnu banishes Bali into the Pathala (nether land) by his third stride. Later, pleased by his generosity, Lord Vishnu grants him a boon to return to earth once in a year to light millions of lamps to dispel the darkness and ignorance and spread the radiance of love and wisdom.
Meanwhile, the Goddess is unable to bear the separation and her grief affects the functioning of the entire universe. Brahma and Lord Shiva offer themselves as guards and plead with Bali to relieve Vishnu. So, on the Amavasya day, Lord Vishnu returns to his abode and Goddess Lakshmi is delighted. It is believed that those who worship Goddess Lakshmi on this day would be bestowed with all the riches.
The third day is Kartika Shuddha Padyami and Bali would come out of Pathala Loka and rule Bhuloka as per the boon given by Lord Vishnu. Hence, it is also known as ‘Bali Padyami’. The fourth day is referred to as ‘Yama Dwitheeya.’ On this day, sisters invite their brothers to their homes and offer them gifts.
However, in the northern part of India it is celebrated as the return of Lord Rama along with Seetha and Lakshmana from his 14 years of exile after killing demon Ravana. To commemorate his return to Ayodhya, his subjects illuminated the kingdom and burst crackers. For the business community, Deepavali marks the worship of Goddess Lakshmi and also the beginning of the new financial year. On this day Hindu merchants in North India open their new account books and pray for success and prosperity during the coming year. Believing this day to be auspicious, women purchase some gold and silver or at least one or two new utensils. People in Bengal worship Goddess Kali or Durga during the festival of lights.
Deepavali is a festival where people from all age groups participate. They give expression to their happiness by lighting clay lamps, decorating the houses, bursting crackers, inviting near and dear ones to their households for partaking in a sumptuous feast and exchanging sweets. The lighting of lamps is a way of paying obeisance to God for attainment of health, wealth, knowledge, peace, valor and fame.
People leave their beds long before the dawn, take traditional oil bath and get into their festive attire. They light up little oil lamps, candles and incense sticks (agarbathis) and burn crackers and sparklers.
Deepavali, a colorful festival that is celebrated by all Hindus worldwide, is also known as the festival of lights. This festival usually falls around late October and November. One important practice that the Hindus follow during the festival is to light oil lamps in their homes on Deepavali morning. By lighting the oil lamps, the Hindus are thanking the gods for the happiness, knowledge, peace and wealth that they have received.
Preparation for Deepavali starts weeks before the festival. Hindus will be busy cleaning their houses to prepare for the festival. Some would even renovate their houses for Deepavali. The family will shop for new clothes and for accessories to decorate their homes. Entrances are made colourful with lovely traditional motifs of Rangoli designs to welcome Lakshmi, the Goddess of wealth and prosperity. To indicate her long-awaited arrival, small footprints are drawn with rice flour and vermilion powder all over the house. Clay lamps are kept burning all through the night.
It is said that seven lights brighten a house. The first one is ever-burning oil lamps in front of the god, which fights against darkness. Second one is the blessings of elders followed by pleasant moods of the housewife and the efficiency and honesty of the owner. Blessing of a satisfied guest is the fifth light; children’s happiness is the sixth and a good word uttered by the neighbours is the seventh light. People do not put off the light as the light takes man towards prosperity, knowledge and lift the human soul to the height of divine.
Hindus particularly dislike dressing in black on auspicious days, as they consider black an inauspicious color for the festival. They would also pay their respects to the elderly and would go to the Temple to pray for happiness and prosperity. The houses would be decorated with oil lamps and children will play with firecrackers to celebrate the festival.
The Sanskrit term ‘Deepavali’ or ‘Diwali’ means ‘a row of lights’. It falls on the last two days of the dark half of Kartik (October-November). There is an air of freedom, festivity and friendliness everywhere. This festival brings about unity. It instils charity in the hearts of people. Everyone buys new clothes for the family. Employers present new clothes and bonus for their employees.
Waking up during the Brahmamuhurta (at 4 am) is a great blessing from the standpoint of health, ethical discipline, work efficiency and spiritual advancement. The sages who instituted this custom must have cherished the hope that their descendents would realise its benefits and make it a regular habit in their lives. In a happy mood of great rejoicing village folk move about freely, mixing with one another without any reserve, all enmity being forgotten. Deepavali is a great unifying force. Followers of Vaishna style of worship celebrate the Govardhan Puja and feed the poor on a large scale. Cows are offered special veneration as they are considered to be the incarnation of Goddess lakshmi and therefore they are adored and worshipped during Deepavali.
Gopuja (worshipping the cow) is conducted to revere the sacred animal. In villages, cattle are adorned and worshipped by farmers as they help them in cultivation. And are the main sources of income. Farmers are closely associated with cattle. They wash animals and decorate them with garlands, place Kumkum and turmeric powder on their forehead and offer pooja for them. Animals are fed with various sweets and other delicious foods. Some people also paint the horns of bullocks. It is a way of thanking animals, which helped them in cultivation and other activities. Some people celebrate this also as Dhanyalakshmi Pooja, where grocery shop owners offer pooja to the goddess of food and grains.
Poli Parba (Holi Habba)
Though Tuluva people celebrate many festivals in a year, it is Deepavali, the ‘Parba’ (festival) for them. For farmers, Deepavali is an occasion for offering pooja for crops, fields, yields, animals, wells, plough, barn, and other agricultural equipment. So, Bali Padyami has gained significance especially as a festival for worshipping Bali, the king of the earth. Tuluvas recognise Deepavali as Thudar Parba.
According to legends, Bali, who had been pushed to the nether world by Lord Vishnu (disguised as a Brahmin boy- Vamana), returns to his land once in a year during Bali Padyami. So, farmers, dressed-up in new clothes, welcome him, offer ‘Bali’ (betal leaves, arecanut, banana and beaten rice) and pray him for ‘Poli’ (wealth and prosperity). The prayer runs thus: “ O Baleendra, mooji dina Bali dethondu Poli korla koo…” (Tulu) or “Holi kotru, Bali thakkandru, thamma Rajyakke thave bandru, Holiyo baa…” (Kannada). It is a ritual of inviting Bali to accept their offerings and praying him for prosperity and wealth.
Houses and fields and even streets will be filled with colourful lights and people appear in new costumes and special delight to welcome the King Bali. They also enlighten ‘Thudar’ in fields. ‘Thudar’ is prepared using sticks. Some cotton, dipped in oil, is tied at the end of sticks and pricked to a long trunk of banana plant or a huge stick and will be placed in fields. They put Bali (offerings) beneath the Thudar and offer pooja to King Bali.
For Jains, Deepavali is the beginning of New Year and the sacred day of the Nirvana of Lord Mahaveera. Sikhs celebrate Deepavali and lighten the Swarna Mandir at Amruthsar. Moghul King Jahangeer released Harigovinda Singh, the sixth Guru of Sikhs, on Deepavali after a long imprisonment. Yakshagana troupes also start their summer trips and performances from Deepavali.