Happy Diwali! Today happens to be one of the most auspicious days for the world’s second most populated country – India!
India is a large and diverse country comprising 29 states and 7 union territories, equalling a total of 36 entities, each with its regional languages and cultures. The most celebrated festival among the multicultural people of India and the Indian diaspora is Diwali or Deepawali in Sanskrit, literally meaning a row of lamps. Diwali is celebrated by Hindus, Jains, and Sikhs across the world, although the religious significance and practices may differ by region. The true spirit of Diwali is in the spiritual victory of light over darkness, good over evil and knowledge over ignorance.
Preparations and rituals begin two days before Diwali and continue two days after, with each day having its own significance. Diwali is on the third of the five auspicious days. On the last day of the fortnight, it is also the darkest night of the Hindu lunar calendar in the month of Kartik, which is typically between mid-October to mid-November.
Diwali is known as the festival of lights. Homes, offices, and shops are illuminated a few days before Diwali using diyas, which are small earthen containers that hold oil and a cotton wick, lit to drive away evil. Intricate patterns and designs are made using brightly coloured sand along with seasonal flower petals. The night sky is always full of fireworks in celebration of the festival!
Here is how the five-day-long festival is celebrated in different regions:
This is the thirteenth day of the fortnight and the first day of festivities. Dhan means wealth, and teras means thirteenth. Dhanteras marks the start of the celebrations. It is considered auspicious to purchase kitchen utensils, vehicles, and other metals such and gold and silver on this day for good luck. People buy precious jewellery, decorate their homes and make mithais or sweets rich in ghee (clarified butter) and dried fruits.
Prayer and worship are offered to goddess Laxmi, the goddess of wealth and prosperity, in a traditional Laxmi Pooja.
Kali Chaudash/ Choti Diwali/ Naraka Chaturdasi
Chaudash or Chaturdasi means fourteenth, indicating the fourteenth day of the fortnight. In some parts, this day is celebrated to signify the destruction of the demon Narakasura by goddess Mahakali and also the spiritual destruction of darkness and evil.
Special worship is held in some households to cast off the evil eye and remove negativity from home. Prayers are also offered to ancestors for them to achieve peace in their afterlife.
In some Southern states of India, this day is considered to be Diwali, whereas most other parts of India celebrate Diwali on the third of the five days.
Some regions also refer to this day at Choti or small Diwali.
On this day, the festivities really come to life! Diwali traditions, rituals and beliefs vary across the diverse cultures of India. A popular belief stems from the Hindu epic Ramayana, where Diwali marks the homecoming of Rama, Sita, Lakshmana and Hanuman after a period of exile and the defeat of the demon Ravana. Other traditions include worshipping goddesses Laxmi and Durga.
Diwali is a day where families and business associates unite and celebrate. Lavish feasts are prepared, and people are dressed in new, brightly coloured, festive attire! As evening sets in, the warm glow of diyas illuminate homes and commercial buildings alike.
Annakut, Govardhan Pooja
This day is celebrated differently across the country. Some cultures celebrate it as the bond between a husband and wife.
In another tradition, the rural communities of the north, west and central regions celebrate by performing a Gowardhan pooja in honour of Lord Krishna saving the cowherd community from floods by lifting the Govardhan mountain.
Some celebrate this day as Annakut, literally meaning a heap of grains. Several varieties of food are prepared and offered to Lord Krishna before being distributed, among others.
In the western state of Gujarat, the fourth day is known as Bestu Varsh, meaning the setting in of the New Year. Books of accounts are worshipped for a prosperous start to the new financial year, and younger members of the family seek blessings from older members.
Dooj means second, marking the second day of the new fortnight. This is a day to celebrate the bond between a bhai or brother and his sisters. Brothers traditionally visit their married sisters with gifts. Sisters, on the other hand, perform a Pooja for the wellbeing of their brothers before treating them to an elaborate homemade lunch. Bhai Dooj concludes the long-awaited festival of Diwali.
Diwali is a festival that breaks through all cultural and language barriers. It unites an entire nation and its people all around the world. Diwali is a time to give thanks and look forward to new beginnings with hope, optimism, and the promise of choosing good over evil.