[By Marie-Blaise Capo-Chichi]
The first thing we think about when we hear Diwali – lights, fireworks and holidays!
Yes, all of the above hold true – but what do you really know about Diwali? Also popularly known as Deepavali, the story behind this festival begins with the meaning behinds its name: ‘deep’ stands for light and ‘avali’ stands for a row, translating to mean ‘a row of lights’.
Deepavali is a five day festival for some and for others it’s a four day celebration, and its origins are diverse and different from place to place. In some places it is to celebrate the marriage of Lakshmi (Goddess of Wealth and Beauty) to Lord Vishnu (the peace loving deity), in others to the worship of Kali (The Dark Mother) and for some others it is dedicated to Lord Ganesha (the elephant deity: the Lord of Wisdom and Wealth). However, similar tales are associated with each of the days. In some parts of the world the first day of Diwali is Dhanteras, followed by Naraka Chaturdasi on the second day, Amavasya (the actual day of Diwali) on the third day, Kartika Shudda Padyami or Govardhana Puja on the fourth day and lastly Bhratri Dooj. For others however the first day of Deepavali is Naraka Chaturdasi and ends with Bhratri Dooj.
The tale of King Hima
Dhanteras is the marked by the legend of the sixteen year old King Hima, for whom death by snake bite on the fourth day of his marriage was predicted. On the fateful day, his newlywed wife positioned silver and gold coins and her ornaments at the entrance of the room, and then lit lamps all over. She told stories and sang in order to keep her husband awake. When Yama, the God of Death, appeared in the shape of a snake, he was so blinded by the brightness he could not enter. Subsequently, he got drawn into the stories and songs, so he stayed there all night listening and in the morning he left, thus sparing the life of the king.
On this day Lakshmi (Goddess of Wealth and Beauty) is also worshiped, the first lamps of Diwali being lit to invite her in so she may bring prosperity to the family, and rangolis or kolam are drawn in the pathway to mark the arrival of the Goddess. The Hindus also worship Lord Kuber (Lord Wealth) on this day, and this is believed to double the blessings.
As a common practice on this day, people buy silver and gold jewelry and new clothes to celebrate.
The tale of Lord Krishna and Satyabhama defeating Naraka
Naraka Chaturdasi, also known as Chhhoti Diwali, meaning ‘minor Diwali’, is marked by the tale of Lord Krishna and his wife Satyabhama defeating the demon Naraka or Narakasura. The Puranas (religious text) has it that Naraka, upon being granted great powers as the result of Lord Brahma’s blessings, used his powers for evil. The celestial beings pleaded with Lord Krishna to save them from Naraka’s harassment – however, Naraka could only be killed by the hands of his mother. On the day Lord Krishna fought against Naraka, he feigned unconsciousness after being hit by an arrow from Naraka, and his wife, who was the reincarnation of Naraka’s mother, Bhudevi, took advantage of Naraka’s distraction and killed him with an arrow from her bow. This tale serves to reassure the world that good will always triumph over evil.
The tale of Goddess Lakshmi’s love for Lord Vishnu
Amavasya is dedicated to Lakshmi (Goddess of Wealth and Beauty) for most, and it is believed that believed that on this day Lakshmi, in her compassionate mood, grants the wishes of her devotees.
An anecdote recounted to this day says that, upon the defeat and banishment of the demon King Bali, Lord Vishnu in his avatar Vaamana (the dwarf), stayed back at Pathala Loka (the nether-land) upon Bali’s request to guard his palace. The separation, however, was too great for Lakshmi, and her grief upset the balance of the universe. Brahma and Lord Shiva pleaded with Bali to relieve Vishnu of his duty and replaced him as guard. It is on this day that Vishnu returned to Lakshmi’s side, and therefore lamps are lit in celebration and to guide Lakshmi (Goddess of Wealth and Beauty) into homes where she bestows abundant blessings on her devotees in her great joy and elation.
The tale of Lord Rama and Sita’s return from exile
Another legend celebrated for this festival is the return of Lord Rama (an incarnation of Lord Krishna) with Sita and his brother Lakshmana from his fourteen years of exile after killing Ravana, the demon king. Therefore lamps are lit and fireworks set off into the night sky in celebration of this blessed day.
In some rural areas, Diwali is also celebrated as the harvest festival. It is celebrated to thank God for blessing them with good crops.
Kartika Shudda Padyami or Govardhana Puja – this day for some is the celebration of the day on which Bali came from the nether-land to fulfill the boon or request granted to him by Lord Vishnu upon his defeat. He visits the earth for a day to meet his people and light millions of lights to dispel the darkness, and to defeat ignorance with knowledge.
Yet still for others it’s Govardhana Puja, the day to worship Govardhana in commemoration of the first puja (prayers) offered by the people of Vraja to the mountain, which was in fact a manifestation of Lord Krishna.
Last but not the least is Bhratri Dooj which celebrates sisters. It is believed that on this day Yama, the God of Death, visited his sister Yamuna and declared that whoever visited her on this day will achieve moksha (liberation), meaning they will be liberated from their sins. So on this day brothers traditionally visit and celebrate the presence of their sisters.
All in all, Diwali is celebrated in many stages, but all the days of Diwali carry a message of triumph over darkness, the lights and fireworks declaring loudly and boldly that one has triumphed over adversity or ignorance. It is also a day to invite wealth, prosperity and good fortune into homes, and a time for families to come together and celebrate as one. It is a celebration of hope.