Friday, November 1, 2013

Diwali / Deepavali --- The Festival of Lights!!




What is Diwali? 

Diwali, or Deepavali, is one of the biggest Indian festivals and also a major occassion in Nepal. The festival has great religious significance for Hindus, Sikhs, Jains and the Nepalese. In India, Diwali is now considered to be more of a national festival, and is enjoyed by most Indians regardless of faith. It is commonly celebrated by decorating homes with lamps and candles, bursting of firecrackers and sparklers, eating sweets and other mouthwatering dishes, praying to Gods and Goddesses, observing religious rituals, wearing new dresses and sending wishes and gifts to one another. 

When is Diwali? 

Though the number of days of the celebration of the festival differ with different communities, the actual days of observance of Diwali are common and fall on exactly the same set of days across Nepal and India. Going by the Gregorian calendar, Diwali in India is observed generally in the months of October or November. The festival comes exactly twenty days after Dussehra, another sacred Hindu occassion, and is celebrated for five consecutive days at the end of Hindu month of Ashvin.

Dates of Diwali varies in some places.So Click here to celebrate according to your Location!!

What does Diwali mean?

Diya The word "Divali/Diwali" is a variation of the Sanskrit word "Deepavali" which means "a continuous line of lamps" (The word 'Deep' means "light", and 'avali' means "a continuous line"). Thus, Diwali is the time to celebrate with lights.

Hindus and Sikhs alike regard it as a celebration of life and use the occasion to strengthen family and social relationships. One of the most important Hindu festivals, Diwali marks the beginning of a new year in some Hindu calendars. For Hindus, the festival is not only the time to make merry but also the time to worship divine beings considered sacred in Hinduism like Lord Ganesha, Goddess Lakshmi and Lord Mahabali. It is also a significant festival for the Sikh faith. For Jains, it is an occasion to remember Lord Mahavira. In Nepal, Diwali is celebrated by many Buddhists as Tihar or Swanti.

Why is Diwali called the "Festival of Lights"?

Diwali is known as the "Festival of Lights". This is probably because of the manner in which it is observed. The festival is traditionally celebrated with activities like bursting crackers, lighting rows of candles and diyas (earthen lamps) around individual homes, holding dazzling fireworks display and igniting colourful sparklers. 

What happened during Diwali?



Rama, Laxman, Sita and Hanuman Known as the "Festival of Lights," Diwali commemorates the time when the Lord Rama returned to his hometown Ayodhya after defeating the evil demon king of Lanka, Ravana. Lord Rama was the king of Ayodhya who had, by his father's orders, went away from his country to live in the forest for fourteen years. But the people of Ayodhya loved their king very much and waited for years to meet with him again. And so, when news of Lord Rama's return came to them again, the people of Ayodhya, in the honour of their king and to celebrate his victory, burst crackers, lit up their houses with earthen lamps (diyas), and decorated the entire city in the grandest manner. Year after year this homecoming of Lord Rama is commemorated on Diwali with lights, fireworks, bursting of crackers and merriment. The festival gets its name Deepawali, or Diwali, from the rows (avali) of lamps (deepa) that the people of Ayodhya lit to welcome their King. 




Another well known story related to Diwali history is narrated in the other Hindu epic, ‘Mahabharata’.
Mahabharata reveals to us how the five royal brothers, the Pandavas, suffered a defeat in the hands of their brothers, the Kauravas, in a game of dice (gambling). As a rule imposed on them, the Pandavas had to serve a term of 13 years in exile. When the period was over, they returned to their birthplace Hastinapura on ‘Kartik Amavashya’ (the new moon day of the Kartik month). The five Pandava brothers, their mother and their wife Draupadi were honest, kind, gentle and caring in their ways and were loved by all their subjects. To celebrate the joyous occassion of their return to Hastinapura and to welcome back the Pandavas, the common people illuminated their state by lighting bright earthen lamps everywhere. The tradition is believed to have been kept alive through the festival of Diwali, which many believe, is held in remembrance of the Pandava brothers' homecoming. 

It is also believed that on this very Diwali day, the Goddess of wealth, Lakshmi rose up from the ocean. The Hindu scriptures tell us that long long ago both Devas (gods) and Asuras (demons) were mortal. They had to die sometime or other, like us. But they wanted to live forever. So they churned the ocean to seek Amrita, the nectar of immortality (an event mentioned in the Hindu scriptures as "Samudra-manthan"), during which many divine objects came up. Prime among these was Goddess Lakshmi, the daughter of the king of the milky ocean, who arose on the new moon day (amaavasyaa) of the Kartik month. That very night, Lord Vishnu married her. Brilliant lamps were illuminated and placed in rows to mark this holy occassion. This event is supposed to have given rise to an annual celebration at the same time each year. Even today, Hindus celebrate the birth of the goddess Lakshmi and her marriage to Lord Vishnu on Diwali and seek her blessings for the coming year. 

The origin of Diwali also refers to the stories narrated in the Hindu Puranas, the primary source of Hindu religious texts. According to the Bhagavata Purana (the most sacred Hindu text), it was on a Kartik day that Lord Vishnu, took on the form of a dwarf (Vaman-avtaara) and defeated King Bali. Bali, or rather King Mahabali, was a powerful demon king who ruled the earth. Once Bali got a boon from Lord Brahma that made him unconquerable. Even gods failed to defeat him in battles. Although a wise and good king otherwise, Mahabali was cruel to the Devas (gods). Finding no way to defeat Bali, the Devas went to Lord Vishnu and insisted him to find a way to stop Bali. Lord Vishnu made a plan. He disguised himself as a short Brahmin and approached Bali for some charity. A large-hearted king, Mahabali tried to help the Brahmin. But the whole thing was a trick by Lord Vishnu and ultimately the King had to give up all his kingship and wealth. Diwali celebrates this defeating of Mahabali by Lord Vishnu. 

The Bhagavata Purana also tells us about Narakasura, an evil demon king who somehow got great powers and conquered both the heavens and earth. Narakasura was very cruel and was a terrible ruler. It is believed that Lord Vishnu killed Narakasura on the day before Diwali and rescued many women whom the demon had locked in his palace. The people of heaven and earth were greatly relieved to have got freedom from the hands of the terrible Narakasura. They celebrated the occassion with much grandeur, a tradition that is believed to be alive through the annual observance of Diwali. 



Goddes Kali According to another legend, long ago after the gods lost in a battle with the demons, Goddess Kali took birth from the forehead of Goddess Durga to save heaven and earth from the growing cruelty of the demons. After killing all the devils, Kali lost her control and started killing anyone who came her way which stopped only when Lord Shiva intervened. You all must have seen the well-known picture of Ma Kali, with her tongue hanging out? That actually depicts the moment when she steps on Lord Shiva and stops in horror and repentance. This memorable event has been commemorated ever since by celebrating Kali Puja, which is observed in several parts of India in about the same time as Diwali. 

Historically it is believed that on a Diwali day in 56 BC King Vikramaditya, the legendary Hindu king of India famed for his wisdom, bravery and large-heartedness, was crowned and declared to be a king. This was marked by a grand celebration by the citizens of Vikramaditya's kingdom celebrated the coronation of their king by lighting up small earthen lamps and that custom still prevails. Many people and even some historians say that this event gave rise to the annual observance of Diwali. 

Diwali also marks the sacred occasion when on a new moon day of Kartik (Diwali day) Swami Dayananda Saraswati, one of the greatest reformers of Hinduism attained his nirvana (enlightenment) and became 'Maharshi' Dayananda, meaning the great sage Dayananda. In 1875, Maharshi Dayananda founded the Arya Samaj, "Society of Nobles", a Hindu reform movement to purify Hinduism of the many evils it became associated with at that era. Every Diwali, this great reformer is remembered by Hindus all over India. 

For Jains, Diwali commemorates the enlightenment of Vardhamana Mahavira(the twenty-fourth and last Tirthankaras of the Jains and the founder of modern Jainism) which is said to have occurred on Oct. 15, 527 B.C. This is one more reason to engage in Diwali celebrations for pious Jains and other than the purpose of commemoration, the festival stands for the celebration of the emancipation of human spirit from earthly desires. 

For Sikhs, Diwali holds a special significance for it was on a Diwali day that the third Sikh Guru Amar Das institutionalized the festival of lights as an occasion when all Sikhs would gather to receive the Gurus blessings. It was also on a Diwali day in 1619 that their sixth religious leader, Guru Hargobind Ji, who was held by the Mughal Emperor Jahengir in the Gwalior fort, was freed from imprisonment along with 52 Hindu Kings (political prisoners) whom he had arranged to be released as well. And it was also on the same auspicious occasion of Diwali when the foundation stone of the Golden Temple at Amritsar was laid in 1577.

 Traditions  & Customs of Diwali

Lakshmi Puja

Not only Goddess Kali is showered with prayers and mantras on the day of Diwali, prayers are also offered to Goddess Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth and prosperity. It is common believe amongst every Hindu households that those who offer prayers and puja to Goddess Lakshmi will surely be blessed with prosperity and wealth. Thus a puja dedicating to Goddess Lakshmi is performed on the Diwali evening in all households so as to seek her blessings.

Lighting Diyas or Lamps




Another vital tradition that is duly associated with the celebration of this festival is lighting of diyas or oil/ghee lamps. This tradition of lighting up of diyas is followed once the Lakshmi puja is over. People start decorating their houses with lighted lamps and diyas. However there is a symbolic connotation that is duly attached with this particular tradition of lighting of lamps for it symbolises getting rid of darkness from the world.

According to the mythological stories there’s a common believe that people of Ayodhya decorated the whole town with diyas or lamps on the day Lord Rama returned from the fourteen years of exile. Thus in order to welcome him back home, diyas and lights were lightened everywhere and since then this tradition has managed to maintain a strong foothold in the celebration of Diwali. Moreover another prevalent symbolism is attached with the lighting of the diyas for it is a common believe that as Diwali falls on a no-moon night, lamps help Goddess Lakshmi to reach their households. Hence, people leave the diyas to burn all through the night so to direct Goddess Lakshmi towards their doorsteps.

Worshipping Of Cattle

Another prevalent tradition that is observed in some of the villages is the worshipping of cattle by respective farmers. According to this Diwali tradition, farmers generally worship their cattle for they are their primary source of wealth and hence are considered to be equal to God.

Mostly the southern part of India, cows are worshipped on this day for they are regarded as the incarnation of Goddess Lakshmi.

Diwali Gifts

Exchanging Gifts

Another tradition that is duly associated with the celebration of Diwali is the tradition of exchanging gifts. Thus this particular festival makes shopping as a part and parcel of this auspicious festival. In order to gift ones loved one the best, people indulges in shopping, buying clothes or other accessories so that this particular tradition is just fully observed. Diwali is also considered an auspicious occasion to buy gold.

Rangoli




Conceived from a Sanskrit word, 'rangoli' refers to a decorative design that is prepared with the help of colors. The patterns are typically created with materials like that of colored rice, dry flour, (colored) sand or even flower petals. During Diwali, people clean the houses and decorate the courtyards, walls and entrances with hangings, torans and colourful rangolis, meant for the sacred welcoming of Goddess Lakshmi.

Firecrackers

Diwali celebration is not complete without fireworks and crackers. Bursting of fire crackers are the vital and integral part of this festival of light. However there is a symbolism attached with the bursting of crackers for it is believed that busting of crackers will keep away all evil spirits from home, thus bringing in prosperity and wealth.

Other Traditions

Thus in order to get a proper understanding of the tradition and custom of this festival A pandit is duly consulted who informs the devotees about the timings and rituals that needed to be considered. The general things that are needed for a diwali puja are silver and gold coins, suparis, uncooked Rice, paan leaves, kumkum for applying tilak, mithaai (Indian sweets), camphor, agarbattis (incense sticks), dry fruit (almonds, cashews), flower petals and Lakshmi-Ganesh icon.

The puja ritual is performed in the evening when tiny diyas of clay are lit to drive away the shadows of evil spirits. Bhajans are sung in praise of the goddess and sweets are offered to her. Diwali puja consists of a combined puja of five deities: Ganesha is worshipped at the beginning of every auspicious act as Vighnaharta; Goddess Lakshmi is worshipped in her three forms Mahalakshmi, the goddess of wealth and money, Mahasaraswati, the goddess of books and learning and Mahakali. People also worship 'Kuber'- the treasurer of the gods. 

Today Diwali is celebrated across the world as the "Festival of Light," where the lights or lamps signify victory of good over the evil within every human being .

Divya's Cooking Journey Wishes you all a Very Happy & Safe Diwali !!


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