Deepavali or Diwali, is one of the most popular festivals
of India and of Hindus. It is also one of the most eagerly
awaited festivals in the Indian subcontinent. Business men
and commercial establishments, consider it as an opportunity
to boost their sales and increase profits, while individuals
use the occasion to celebrate life and strengthen
relationships. For children it is a great opportunity to
experience the joys of growing up and get acquainted with
all types of fire crackers. It comes in the Hindu month of
Ashwayuja, (also known as Ashwin or Aippasi), as per the
lunar calendar and corresponds roughly with either October
or November depending upon the movement of the sun and the
moon and their relative positions in space and time.
Meaning and Significance
"Deepavali" means, a row of lights. Its origins are a
mystery, steeped in the myths and legends of ancient India.
Whatever be the source, in a world ridden with the forces of
ignorance, sorrow and conflict, we can feel its strong
connection with man's highest aspirations and deepest
yearnings. In many ways, it is a prayer set in motion
characterizing our natural inclination for things that are
bright and beautiful and expressed so beautifully in the
vedic hymn, "tamasoma jyotirgamaya" (From darkness unto
Light). Symbolically, it represents our divine nature and
reminds us of our primary responsibility to pursue the path
of light and find the divine.
The great Goddess Maha
Lakshmi, who symbolizes all the positive forces of life
and the divine nature of wealth, is the principal deity of
this remarkably unique festival which is associated with a
number of legends and divine personalities. Just as she
represents health, wealth, happiness, victory, courage,
facility, fertility, harmony, beauty, joy and enlightenment,
Diwali represents the brilliance of life in its full glory.
Many Hindus consider Diwali as the beginning of a new
year. In the traditional Hindu business world, it marks the
beginning of a new accounting year. As the name suggests,
Diwali is celebrated with lights and lamps, noise and joyous
activity. People consider the festival as an opportunity to
explore new relationships and strengthen existing ones.The
festival provides an opportunity to all the senses to
receive their due share of enjoyment and also to the mind
and the heart to think and feel their way through a sunlit
path of amazing experiences.
As the festival approaches, memories of previous Diwalis
fill the minds of the people with the eager expectation of
yet another exciting and joyous occasion to celebrate life
and human kinship. Finally, when the day dawns and the night
comes, the earth wears a glittering robe. The streets and
the sky become filled with brilliant lights and
reverberating sounds. People gather in the streets, public
places and in their front yards or in front of their own
houses to witness the dance of divinity amidst the lights of
Diwali. It is as if the mortal beings upon earth have
discovered a way of confirming their allegiance to God and
turned heavenwards to express their deep devotion.
However, Diwali is not a mere festival of lights where
wealth is worshipped and people congregate. Traditionally,
it prescribes the performance of a series of complex rituals
for five continuous days that require a great degree of
discipline and religious fervor for their completion.
For a devout Hindu, it generously offers innumerable
opportunities to think of the Divine and practice the yoga
of action with a sense of detachment, amidst distracting
festivities and heightened sensual activity.
In the following paragraphs we describe the manner in
which Hindus celebrate Diwali during the five days, in
addition to presenting some miscellaneous facts about the
festival, and a brief discussion on the argument against
using fire crackers during Diwali.
The first day of the festival is known as Dhanteras or
Dhantrayodashi. Dhan means wealth and Trayodashi means 13th
day. Thus, as the name implies, this day falls on the 13th
day of the first half of the lunar month. On this day, it is
believed that, Lord Dhanwantari emerged from the waters of
the ocean holding the knowledge of the spiritual medicines
help the mankind fight against sickness, disease and death.
On this day people purchase valuables, light lamps using
oil filled clay cups and worship the Goddess of Wealth. They
also worship Yama, the Lord of Death, seeking protection
against untimely death. Parents and elders accompany
children to the market looking for fire crackers and sweets,
if they have not purchased already. Those who have brought
them home spread the crackers in the sunlight and allow them
to dry, so that when the time comes they don't fail to
The second day of the festival is known as Naraka
Chaturdasi. Narak means purgatory or hell and chaturdasi
means the fourteenth day). Thus this day falls on the 14th
day of the first half of the lunar month. Religiously, the
day marks the end of an evil empire in some prehistoric past
and the beginning of a new era of Light and Knowledge.
According to the legends, on this day Lord
Sri Krishna, supported
by his consort Satyabhama and his huge army, killed the
demon Narkasura, in a legendary battle between the gods and
demons, and released the world from the darkness of fear and
oppression. In the process, He also set free the 16000
divine energies of the Mother
Goddess, held hitherto
in possession forcibly by the evil demon.
On this auspicious day, people usually take a ritual bath
before sunrise, using traditional herbs and materials, just
as Lord Krishna was believed to have done after He returned
from the battle field victoriously. They spend the remaining
day restfully in the company of friends and family. Some
play cards and test their luck. It is also believed that on
this day, Lord Vishnu
incarnated upon earth as Vamana and set his third step on
the head of the demon king Bali to send him down into the
nether worlds to free the worlds from his rule and release
the goddess Lakshmi from his control.
The actual Diwali is celebrated on the third day of the
festival, when the moon completely wanes and total darkness
sets in the night sky. It is in this darkness, that Diwali
finds its true expression. On this day people worship
Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth and express their gratitude
for previous favors.
Usually the pooja is performed
both in the morning and again in the evening when the sun is
ready to set or has already set. It is believed that the
Goddess would not visit a devotee's house, if it is not kept
clean and properly lighted. So every one strives to keep
their houses clean, the doors and windows open and all the
lights and lamps glowing brightly.
During the worship, devotes make offerings to Lord
Vinayaka and Mother Goddess also, in addition to the
principal deity, with traditional chants, rituals, purified
water, new clothes, fruit and flowers, sweets, light, sandal
paste, incense, rice, turmeric and vermillion. Money and
valuables are placed before the principal deity during the
At the end of the worship, prasadam is offered to the
family members and visitors. In wealthy households, the
assistance of a temple priest is sought to conduct the
worship according to the scriptural injunctions. After
worshipping the goddess in ones own house, people start
making rounds to the nearby temples, and the houses of
friends and relations to see how the celebration has been
going on and distribute sweets and gifts. Elsewhere, the
goddess is worshipped ceremonially in temples, public
places, business houses and offices.
As the evening comes, houses and streets are decorated
with innumerable lights, lamps and candles. People keep the
doors and windows open and all the lights on, expecting the
goddess to come inside and take a survey of the things that
have been done for her sake. Outside, people gather in the
streets and front yards to burn fire crackers, or watch
others burning them or keep an eye on the oil lamps. Some
habitual card players, use the occasion as an opportunity to
play cards and gamble their money.
According to a legend, on this day Lord Krishna completed
His incarnation upon earth and left this world, leaving the
pandavas and his kinsmen in utter confusion. According to
Jain tradition, Lord
Mahavira, the last of the Thirthakaras attained Nirvana
on this day only. According to another prevailing legend, it
was on this day, young Nachiketa of the
Kathopanishad, received divine and secret knowledge of
immortality from Lord Yama, the Lord of Death.
The fourth day is variously known as Padwa,
Varshapratipada and Kartika Shudda Padyami. According to a
legend, at the behest of Lord Krishna the people of Braj
worshipped the hillock Govardhan on this day to save
themselves from an impending storm unleashed by the fury of
Indra, the Lord of Heaven.
Even now, in northern India, in the region of Braj,
people continue the tradition of worshipping Govardhan on
this auspicious day.In a sense, this is an act of invocation
to appease the forces of Nature to prevent the occurrence of
floods and cyclonic storms, a tradition that is probably
rooted in the vedic times.
In the temples of
Nathdwara priests give a special bath to the principal
deities on this occasion and decorate them with glittering
robes and eye catching jewelry. They heap a mountain load of
food infront of the deities in a symbolic way and later
distribute it to the devotees as prasadam.
In traditional households, women worship their husbands
and receive gifts and blessings in return. Business people
open new account books for the new financial year and offer
prayers for luck and prosperity.
On the fifth and final day of the festival, which is
known as Bhayiduj, Bhayyaduj, Bhavbij or Bhayitika, brothers
and sisters meet to express their love and affection for
each other. Sisters put a ceremonial mark, usually with
vermillion, on their brothers' foreheads and wish them long
lives. According to a legend, the tradition began when
Yamuna, the sister of Lord Yama honored her brother with a
tilak on his forehead and wished him long life.
Miscellaneous facts about Diwali
1. It is believed that the festival of Diwali
commemorates the return of Lord Rama to Ayodhya. After
spending 14 years in the forest of Dandaka and slaying the
demon king Ravana, when Rama returned to Ayodhya, his
capital city, people were over joyed by the news of his
arrival and started the tradition of Diwali by celebrating
the day with lights and lamps. It must however be noted that
although tradition links Rama to this festival there is no
mention of Diwali either in the original epic or in the
translation rendered by Tulsidas during the medieval period.
2. It is suggested by some historians that the tradition
of Diwali can be traced to the Harvest festivals of ancient
times when people observed the end of a harvest season with
some kind of festivity to celebrate the occasion. The fact
that Diwali usually comes at the end of the harvest season
provides credence to this opinion, although we do not have
any historical or scriptural evidence to prove this
3.Two eminent Hindus, Swami Dayananda Saraswati and Swami
Ramathirtha, left their mortal bodies on this auspicious
4. In West Bengal, people worship Goddess Durga during
the Diwali festival. According to a legend, Durga killed
Mahishasura in a fierce battle and continued her victory
dance even after the demon was slain.
Diwali and Sikhism
1. Not only Hindus, but Sikhs also celebrate Diwali as an
important festival. It is said that the foundation stone for
the Golden Temple was laid during the time of Diwali in
2. Diwali played an important role in the life of Sri
Guru Hargobind Ji, the sixth Guru of the Sikhs. When
Jehangir, the Mughal emperor, arrested
Guru Hargobind and
put him in a prison in Gwalior, gloom descended upon Sikhs.
But later Jehangir relented and let the Guru go. Accompanied
by his followers and to the joy of many Sikhs, the Guru
returned to Amritsar and made an appearance before his
followers. The occasion was Diwali and it prompted the
followers to celebrate the day with joy and happiness.
Diwali and Jainism
1. It is said that the first scriptural reference to
Diwali is found in the Jain scripture Harivamsha Purana, by
Acharya Jinasena. None of the principal Hindu scriptures
mention the festival in particular. This has made some
believe that , Diwali was originally a Jain festival and
later adopted by Hindus as a festival of their own.
2. Lord Mahavira, the last of the Jain Thirthankaras,
said to have attained Nirvana on this day at Pavapuri.
Accoriding Jain legends the first disciple of Mahavira,
Ganadhar Gautam Swami also attained complete knowledge on
this very day, thus making Diwali a really special occasion
for the Jains to celebrate.
3. The way Jains celebrate Diwali is different in many
respect. There is a note of asceticism in what ever the
Jains do and the celebration of Diwali is not an exception.
The Jains celebrate Diwali during the month of Kartik for
three days. During this period, devoted Jains observe
fasting and chant the Uttaradhyayan Sutra which contain the
final pravachans of Lord Mahavira and meditate upon him.
Diwali in other parts of the World
1. Diwali is celebrated in various parts of the world, in
countries such as Britain, Guyana, Fiji, Japan, Indonesia,
Malaysia, Mauritius, Myanmar, , Nepal, Singapore, Srilanka,
Trinidad and Tobago, Thailand, Africa, and Australia. With
more and more Indians now migrating to various parts of the
world, the number of countries where Diwali is celebrated
has been gradually increasing. In most of these countries
Diwali is celebrated on the same lines as described in this
article with some minor variations. Some important
variations are worth mentioning.
2. In Malaysia, people call Diwali as Hari Diwali and
celebrate it during the seventh month of the Hindu solar
calendar.In many respects it resembles the traditions
followed in the Indian subcontinent.
3. In Nepal Diwali is known as Tihar and celebrated
during the October/November period. Here though the festival
is celebrated for five days, the traditions vary from those
followed in India. In Nepal, animals are worshipped during
the first two days. On the first day, cows are worshipped
and given offerings. On the second day, dogs are revered and
offered special food. On the third, celebrations follow the
same pattern as in India, with lights and lamps and lot of
social activity. On the fourth day Yama, the Lord of Death
is worshipped and appeased. On the fifth and final day,
brothers sisters meet and exchange pleasantries.
4. Diwali is celebrated in the Caribbean Islands also.
Especially in Trinidad and Tobago Diwali it is marked as a
special occasion and celebrated with a lot of fanfare. It is
observed as a national holiday in this part of the world and
some Ministers of the Government also take part in the
Diwali in the Modern World
A growing number of scholars and people debate the need
and justification of using fire crackers to celebrate Diwali
for a number of reasons. One is the amount of money that
goes into flames every year in the name of celebrations
towards the purchase of firecrackers. Secondly, many
companies that are engaged in the manufacturing of these
fire crackers said to employ child labor and hardly follow
the safety rules or welfare measures. Thirdly, there is
hardly any control on the quality of the fire crackers
manufactured by these companies, which often results in
injuries and deaths due to accidents or poor performance.
Fourthly, it is not uncommon to see irresponsible youth in
various parts of India using firecrackers to tease women and
trouble helpless people in streets and public places.
Fifthly, excessive use of fire crackers often lead to
communal clashes and social tensions. It also exposes the
children of poor families to a lot of despair and loss of
self esteem when they see other children playing with
them.Lastly the firecrackers are a source of pollution,
although on the positive side people claim that the smoke
and smell drive away the insects and clear the air.
Some of the points mentioned above are worth examining
because they are valid points and genuine concerns. For a
moment If we can separate emotion and prejudice and take a
closer look at this issue objectively, it makes sense to
argue that by minimizing the money on firecrackers, or at
least by avoiding the use of more dangerous, noisy and
polluting ones, it is worth spending the amount so saved for
some good cause that leads to some long term positive social
or religious benefit to the community as a whole.
For example, it may be a good idea to donate some money
by every family during Diwali to some social or religious
institution, which is engaged in some philanthropic activity
or helping the poor Hindu brethren.Readers are requested to
note that these observations are in reference to the use of
all or certain fire crackers and not to the observation of
Diwali as a festival. By all means Diwali is a festival of
lights and deserves full scale ceremonial observation and
celebration. The question is whether we should use fire
crackers on this occasion on such massive scale and invite
trouble to ourselves and our environment.
The true celebration of Diwali is when we light a lamp in
the life of some poor brethren or bring some cheer into the
heart of an innocent child through our kindness and
generosity. Goddess Lakshmi would be truly pleased if we
share our wealth and happiness in some meaningful and
selfless way, something that sets us apart from the nature
of demons who try to use wealth like Bali for their own
selfish and evil ends. Wealth is truly divine and remains in
its purest divine aspect only when it is spent for a good
cause that promotes the spiritual well beings oneself and
Those who know the goddess well know that she is mighty
pleased when her energies are in circulation for a right and
just cause. In this modern world, let us therefore celebrate
Diwali as an auspicious and God sent opportunity to bring
cheer and happiness in a world oppressed by the darkness of
egoism, greed, vanity and selfishness.