Diwali (also spelt Divali in other countries) or Dīpāvali (Tamil: தீபாவளி, Gujarati: દિવાળી, Hindi: दिवाली, Kannada: ದೀಪಾವಳಿ, Konkani: धाकली दिवाळी, Malayalam: ദീപാവലി, Marathi: दिवाळी, Nepali: दिपावली, Oriya: ଦୀପାବଳୀ, Sanskrit: दीपावली, Telugu: దీపావళి, Urdu: دیوالی), also popularly known as the Festival of Lights, is an important 5-day festival in Hinduism, Sikhism and Jainism, occurring between mid-October and mid-November. Diwali is an official holiday in India , Guyana, Trinidad & Tobago, Malaysia, Nepal, Singapore, Sri Lanka and Fiji. The name Diwali is itself a contraction of the word Dīpāvaliदीपावली (Dīpāvali), which translates into row of lamps (din Sanskrit). Diwali involves the lighting of small clay lamps (divas) (or Deep in Sanskrit: दीप) filled with oil to signify the triumph of good over evil. During Diwali celebrants wear new clothes and share sweets and snacks with others. Some Indian business communities begin the financial year on the first day of Diwali wishing for good luck the following year. In Hinduism, Diwali marks the return of Lord Rama to his kingdom of Ayodhya after defeating (the demon king) Ravana, the ruler of Lanka in the epic Ramayana. It also celebrates the slaying of the demon king Narakasura by Lord Krishna. Both signify the victory of good over evil. In Jainism, Diwali marks the attainment of moksha by Mahavira in 527 BC. In Sikhism, Diwali commemorates the return of Guru Har Gobind Ji to Amritsar after freeing 52 Hindu kings imprisoned in Fort Gwalior by Emperor Jahangir; the people lit candles and divas to celebrate his return, which is why Sikhs also refer to Diwali as Bandi Chhorh Divas, “the day of release of detainees”. Diwali is considered a national festival in India and Nepal.
When is Diwali celebrated?
Diwali is celebrated for 5 days according to the lunar Hindu Calendar. It begins in late Ashwin (between September & October) and ends in early Kartika (October–November). The first day is Dhan Teras. The last day is Yama Dvitiya, which signifies the second day of the light half of Kartika. Each day of Diwali marks one celebration of the six principal stories associated with the festival..
The festival of Lights
While Diwali is popularly known as the “festival of lights”, the most significant spiritual meaning is “the awareness of the inner light”. This is the biggest festival in North India and is mostly celebrated in North indian regions of Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, Haryana, Madhya Pradesh. Central to Hindu philosophy is the assertion that there is something beyond the physical body and mind which is pure, infinite, and eternal, called the Atman. Just as we celebrate the birth of our physical being, Diwali is the celebration of this inner light, in particular the knowing of which outshines all darkness (removes all obstacles and dispels all ignorance), awakening the individual to one’s true nature, not as the body, but as the unchanging, infinite, immanent and transcendent reality. With the realization of the Atman comes universal compassion, love, and the awareness of the oneness of all things (higher knowledge). This brings Ananda (inner joy or peace).
Hindus have several significant events associated with Diwali:
The return of Sri Ram after 14 years of Vanvas (banishment). To welcome his return, lamps were lit in rows.
The Killing of Narakasura: Celebrated as Narak Chaturdashi, one day before Diwali day, it commemorates the killing of the evil demon Narakasura who created havoc, by Krishna’s wife Satyabhama. This happened in the Dwapara Yuga during the time of Krishna’s avatar. In another version of the belief, the demon was killed by Krishna or Krishna provokes his wife Satyabhama to kill Narshna, defeating Indra. Govardhan Puja is celebrated the day after Diwali which is the day Krishna defeated Indra, the deity of thunder and rain. According to the story, Krishna saw preparations for an annual offering to Lord Indra and asked his father Nanda about it. He debated with the villagers about what their ‘dharma’ truly was. They were farmers, they should do their duty and concentrate on farming and protection of their cattle. He continued to say that all human beings should merely do their ‘karma’, to the best of their ability and not pray for natural phenomenon. The villagers were convinced by Krishna, and did not proceed with the special puja (prayer). Indra was then angered, and flooded the village. Krishna lifted Mount Govardhan and held to protect the people and cattle from the rain. Indra finally accepted defeat and recognized Krishna as supreme. Although this aspect of Krishna’s life is sometimes ignored it sets up the basis of the ‘karma’ philosophy later detailed in the Bhagavat Gita.
Diwali celebrations are spread over five days. All the days except Diwali are named according to their designation in the Hindu calendar. The days are:
Krishna and Satyabhama fighting Narakasura’s armies
Vasu Baras (27 Ashvin or 12 Krishna Paksha Ashvin): Baras means the 12th day and vasu means cow. On this day the cow and calf are worshipped.
Dhanatrayodashi or Dhan teras (28 Ashvin or 13 Krishna Paksha Ashvin): Dhan means wealth and Trayodashi means 13th day. This day falls on the 13th day of the second half of the lunar month. It is considered an auspicious shopping day for utensils and gold. This day is regarded as the Jayanti of God Dhanvantri who came out during the churning of the great ocean by the gods and the demons.
Naraka Chaturdashi (29 Ashvin or 14 Krishna Paksha Ashvin): Chaturdashi is the 14th day on which the demon Narakasura was killed by Krishna – an incarnation of Vishnu. It signifies the victory of good over evil and light over darkness (Gujarati: Kali Chaudas, Rajasthan : Roop Chaudas). In south India, this is the actual day of festivities. Hindus wake up before dawn, have a fragrant oil bath and dress in new clothes. They light small lamps all around the house and draw elaborate kolams /rangolis outside their homes. They perform a special puja with offerings to Krishna or Vishnu, as he liberated the world from the demon Narakasura on this day. It is believed that taking a bath before sunrise, when the stars are still visible in the sky is equivalent to taking a bath in the holy Ganges. After the puja, children burst firecrackers heralding the defeat of the demon. As this is a day of rejoicing, many will have very elaborate breakfasts and lunches and meet family and friends.
Lakshmi Puja (30 Ashvin or 15 Krishna Paksha Ashvin): Lakshmi Puja marks the most important day of Diwali celebrations in North India. Hindu homes worship Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth, and Ganesh, the God of auspicious beginnings, and then light lamps in the streets and homes to welcome prosperity and well-being.
Bali Pratipada and Govardhan Puja (1 Kartika or 1 Shukla Paksha Kartika) : In North India, this day is celebrated as Govardhan Puja, also called Annakut, and is celebrated as the day Krishna – an incaranation of god Vishnu – defeated Indra and by the lifting of Govardhana hill to save his kinsmen and cattle from rain and floods. For Annakut, large quantities of food are decorated symbolizing the Govardhan hill lifted by Krishna. In Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu and Karnataka, it is celebrated as Bali-Pratipada or Bali Padyami. The day commemorates the victory of Vishnu in his dwarf form Vamana over the demon-king Bali, who was pushed to the nether-world, and the return of Bali to earth from the nether-world. In Maharashtra, it is called as Padava or Nava Diwas (new day). Men present gifts to their wives on this day. It is celebrated as the first day of the Vikram Samvat calender, in Gujarat.
Bhaiduj (also Bhayyaduj, Bhaubeej or Bhayitika) (2 Kartika or 2 Shukla Paksha Kartika): on this day, brothers and sisters meet to express love and affection for each other (Gujarati: Bhai Bij, Bengali: Bhai Phota). It is based on a story when Yama, lord of Death, visited his sister Yami. Yami welcomed yama with an Aarti and they had a feast together. Yama gave a gift to Yami while leaving as a token of his appreciation. So, the day is also called ‘YAM DWITIYA’.
Diwali marks the end of the harvest season in most of India and Nepal. Farmers give thanks for the bounty of the year gone by, and pray for a good harvest for the year to come. Traditionally this marked the closing of accounts for businesses dependent on the agrarian cycle, and is the last major celebration before winter. Lakshmi symbolizes wealth and prosperity, and her blessings are invoked for a good year ahead. There are two legends that associate the worship of Lakshmi on this day. According to the first legend, on this day, Lakshmi emerged from Kshira Sagar, the Ocean of Milk, during the great churning of the oceans, Samudra manthan. The second legend (more popular in western India) relates to the Vamana avatar of Vishnu, the incarnation he assumed to kill the demon king Bali. On this day, Vishnu came back to his abode the Vaikuntha; so those who worship Lakshmi receive the benefit of her benevolent mood, and are blessed with mental, physical and material well-being. As per spiritual references, on this day “Lakshmi-panchayatan” enters the Universe. Vishnu, Indra, Kubera, Gajendra and Lakshmi are elements of this “panchayatan” (a group of five). The tasks of these elements are:
Lakshmi: Divine Energy (Shakti) which provides energy to all the above activities.
Vishnu: Happiness (happiness and satisfaction)
Kubera: Wealth (Generosity; one who gives away wealth)