Diwali -- A Festival of Lights

Colorful, vibrant and enticing, the whole of India prepares yet again for the festival of lights. Diwali! The month of November draws near and the spirit of festivity embraces the entire country. Diwali is a festival of lights; it signifies the freedom of the human spirit from darkness and oppression.

Like almost all Indian festivals, Diwali or Deepavali (The word Deep means light) does not follow the English calendar. It falls in the month of Kartik on the amavasya or no-moon day.

It is said that the day Lord Rama exterminated the tyrant Ravana and returned to Ayodhya, his rightful kingdom, the whole of India rejoiced at this victory and celebrated the day. This day was celebrated hence as Diwali.

Other people believe that this was the day when Lord Krishna killed the demon called Narakasur and humanity was freed from the shackles of his oppression. Legend has it that Narakasur, as a last wish, asked Lord Krishna to celebrate this day with lights so that all may know that the good wins over the evil, and so that no other demon like him would be created. India’s traditions and culture are like the different colors on the surface of the Earth; they bear resemblance to each other but maintain their separate identity. So, there are numerous stories and different origins for Diwali.

This is based on the belief that where there is darkness there is uncleanness; in uncleanness disease and with disease stands the Yama -- the God of death. Hence, the festival is marked by cleaning, fresh painting, etc. In most forms of Indian culture, Diwali brings with it a lineage of five festivals. It starts with Dhanteras, on which reverence is paid to the God of death to prevent death at a young age. The next day is celebrated at Narakchaturdasi to remind us of the dirt that must be eradicated, and how dirt leads to death. On the day after Diwali Govardhan Pooja takes place, this symbolizes the reverence shown to the Govardhan hill which was held on his little finger by Lord Krishna to protect the people of Braj, who had become the victims of the fury of Indra (the King of the Gods). The last day is celebrated as Bhaigdoj, this signifies the holy bond between a brother and a sister, based on the purity of the relationship between Yama and his sister Yami. Thus, all these festivals have been blessed by the God of death Yama.

Lakshmy is the Goddess of wealth according to Indian mythology, on the day of Diwali Lakshmy Pooja is done to pay homage to this Goddess. People pray for the distribution of wealth and show gratitude for what they are.

Perhaps the above is the reason why Diwali is the time for most gamblers to stake all that they have. Even some common people from different lifestyles often gamble on this night.

Firecrackers shoot out into the night sky, the sound traveling in all directions and the atmosphere filled with the smell of chemicals (despite the fact that in most cities these have been banned -- especially bombs and rockets -- with very strict measures imposed, including imprisonment and huge fines for those found in possession of firecrackers).

Although numerous fire accidents occur during this day throughout the country, the number has fallen due to all the awareness programs and safety measures adopted by the government. Further harm has come to the firecracker industry after the discovery of the fact that child laborers are used for making the firecrackers at Sivkasi. Since then, the whole country has stopped using these particular fireworks, unless it is guaranteed they were not made by children!

The essence of Diwali, however, can be maintained by lighting just a lamp at home and that is what makes it so special. The basis of this festival can be defined as:

Tamoasoma jyotirgamaya
Asatoma Satgagamaya
Mrityorma Amritangamaya

Which means: In the human race let there be light where there is darkness, let there be truth where there is untruth and let there be nectar instead of death.

This festival leaves the message of lighting a lamp to do away with the darkness within. It asks all humanity to light the lamp of freedom so that all the fetters binding humanity to slavery may be reduced to unrecoverable dust.

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Sakshi lives in India and is a student and writer.

Our Holiday Special Issue continues with these offerings:

From this year (2002):
Holiday Festivals, Displays and Events - Bah Humbug! - Gift Ideas Under $10
Some Unique Mail Order Gifts - Staying In The Holiday Spirit
Holidays Around the World

From last year (2001):
Diwali - India's Festival Of Lights - Christmas Around The World
The Origin of Some Christmas Traditions - Picking and Trimming a Christmas Tree
Shipping Your Holiday Gifts - Oh Ye Disbelievers: The Fable of Saint Nick
Gifts She'll Love - Wreath - Stockings - Stollen -
Techno Gifts - CD Musical Stocking Stuffers from Then to Now - Every pick's a hit!

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