World Culture Diwali The Festival of Light
What is Diwali
Diwali comes from the Sanskrit word Diwali which stands for the row of lights. It is a combination of two words. First is dīpa, ” light, lamp, light, candle, which shines and represents the knowledge, and āvali, ” a row and a continuous line. Looking at the complete word it is also known as Deepavali.
Diwali is an important festival in South East Asia and mainly in India. It is celebrated with great warmth, joy, and grandeur. It falls on the new month and year of Hindu Lunar month Kartika which happens during Oct-Nov
Every religion has different festivals and occasions to celebrate and unite to enjoy the festivities. Diwali is one big festival of Hindus. The Jains, Sikhs, and a sector of Buddhist people celebrate the festival in full swing. Each religion marks a different event and story. However, the common representation of Diwali is the victory of knowledge over ignorance, light over darkness, and good over evil.
One of the sources links the Diwali festival to the Hindu epic Ramayana. This was the day when the good army of Rama, Sita, Lakshman, and Hanuman went to Ayodhya. It was after an exile of 14 years and defeated the evil army of Ravana. Hindus celebrate the return of Rama after his 14 years of exile. Another cause of celebration is the destruction of the demon Mahisha. According to Hindu belief, the Mother Goddess Durga destroyed this demon.
This occasion also holds great significance in Sikhism. The sixth guru Hargobind Singh of Sikhism was released from prison in 1619. However, there are incidents of celebration of Diwali festival earlier too. As history reports, the famous Guru Arjun Singh laid the foundation of the famous Golden Temple at Amritsar on the auspicious occasion of Diwali in 1577.
Jains from the Jainism religion also enjoy the festivity of Diwali. They celebrate the moment when their Lord Mahavira finally achieved the state of eternal bliss or Moksha or Nirvana in the local language.
Spiritual Significance of Diwali
The festivity of Diwali implies the conquest of knowledge over ignorance, good over bad, and right over wrong. Diwali is one of the major festivals. It holds great spiritual value as it stands for the openness to true light which twinkles within the soul too.
The Hindus consider the ignition of the candle inside a household a stroke of good luck for the physical space. It also signifies opening up a light inside one’s soul. The illuminating lamps and lights in the surrounding during Diwali days is also a reminder of an energetic pathway of light. Hence the light seekers who always intend to purify their intentions and hearts and who are into spirituality look forward to the festival eagerly.
Diwali, a festival of light. It is an occasion to glorify the importance of knowledge, self-understanding and seeking the good, and avoiding the wrong. This is the victory of right over wrong and knowledge over ignorance.
The Five Days of Diwali
The celebration of Diwali continues for five days in general with one main day. It is a good luck charm to buy a kitchen appliance with metal two days prior to Diwali.
The first day of Diwali is Dhanteras. The word is a combination of Dhan (wealth) and tera (thirteen) pointing towards the darkness of the thirteenth day and the beginning of Diwali. This day, Hindu people clean their houses, offices, and business places. Small clay diyas (lamps) are lit and they keep on lighting up these oil-filled lamps for the next five days. The women of the house keep these lamps near their Gods Lakshmi and Ganesha. Women and children decorate the pathway of the house and doorways with Rangolis.
Rangolis are vibrant colorful designs made from rice flour, flower petals, and colored sand. This is an intricate and geometric pattern created with fine powder color mainly a flower inside a circle. The material used for Rangoli includes colored powders, rice flour, and flower petals. The boys and men decorate the streets, terraces, and balconies. Lights and lanterns are lit up all around.
Naraka Chaturdashi/Second Day
‘Naraka’ stands for hell and Chaturdashi means ‘fourteenth’. The Hindus believe and take it as a day when the souls suffering in hell (Chaturdashi) liberate and get free. Some of them also believe in making prayers and wishing peace to the departed souls of their ancestors. So that they could have a good afterlife journey.
People celebrate the second day of Diwali as ‘Choti Diwali’ (Little Diwali). The women and families go for major shopping this day. They buy new appliances, utensils, metallic dishes, jewelry, and firecrackers. In the evenings’ families do their puja (prayers) to their gods Lakshmi and Ganesha, and offer ‘parshad’ which are edibles. These include puffed rice, candy toys, and rice cakes with ‘batashas’ which are hollow sugar cakes.
Lakshmi Puja/ Third Day
The third day is the main Diwali day usually. With the sun setting pooja (prayers) to Lakshmi (wealth goddess) and Ganesh. Hundreds of lamps made with clay (locally called divas) are decorated inside the house. There are fireworks and crackers. Nevertheless, in recent years due to air and noise pollution, fireworks activities have been restricted. However, this does not dampen the festivity spirit.
Govardhan Puja/ Fourth Day
The next day after Diwali is the first day of the lunar calendar. It has different names in different regions. These include Annakut (heap of grain), Padwa, and Goverdhan Puja. This day also has the ritual of celebrating the wife and husband bond.
Husbands bring gifts and accessories for their wives and celebrate the festival with them to make them feel special. According to another tradition parents also invite their son and daughter with their spouses to share the festivity and feast and also give them gifts.
The rural communities of the north, central and west regions, celebrate this day as Govardhan puja. The legend of Hindu god Krishna had great contributions to save the farmer community and their fields and crops from the constant rains and floods.
He did this by removing the Govardhan mountain. Children and adults make small miniature crafts to remember Krishna’s services.
Bhai Duj/Vishwakarma Puja/Fifth and Final Day
Post main day of Diwali the activities vary with the region. In north India, the professionals in the morning take out some time and dedicate it to their tools of work. The Sikh communities also practice the same. It is called Vishwakarma Puja day. According to which the prayers and gratitude are offered to the looms, trading tools, and machines.
This is to celebrate the earning means and equipment. Chefs pay homage to their kitchen appliances. Businessmen open their ledgers and artists are thankful for their paints and artwork.
The fifth day is the final day of the Diwali celebrations. The sisters pray for their brothers, share sweets and get gifts in return. The last day of the Diwali festival is Bhai Dhuj (Brother’s day). It signifies the bond of brother and sister. It is the same as another festival Raksha Bandhan however during the Bhai Duj, brother travels to see the family and to be with her sisters.
The historical event of the Bhai Dhuj is about the arrival of Krishna at his sister’s Shubhadra’s place. He visited her after getting victory over Narakasura. Subhadra welcomes his brother with a tilaka on Krishna’s forehead. According to some traditions, another cause of celebration is the memory of Yama’s sister the Yamuna welcoming his brother with a tilaka. Overall this event is about the celebration of the sibling bond between sister and brother.
The family members gather and often women also sing folk songs. Women perform puja and offer prayers to their gods for the well-being of their brothers. They later feed them and get their gifts from their brothers. In some regions of India, women also share tales about brave brothers who fought for their sisters and protected them.
Food Made and Eaten During Diwali
Diwali is a season of feasts and sweets. There is no ritual of fasts on Diwali and there are set menus for every region. Some common savory snacks include samosa, aloo Tikki (cutlets), bhajis, and chana bhatura which are spiced chickpeas and puffed bread. Another famous snack of Gujrat in West India is ‘farssan’ which is a crunchy snack.
Main meals include curries, vegetarian Indian dishes for the vegan people which include pulses and chickpeas.
Sweets and desserts during the Diwali season are to die for. These are made with dairy products and also have special religious significance. Since they first offer it to the gods and later to guests.
The families with more social contacts hire and book the Halwai for all five days. These are further garnished with saffron and chopped cashew nuts. Gulab jamuns are also very famous and popular among all. It is an extremely yummy dessert. They also make Halwas such as carrot, whole-wheat flour, and semolina (suji).
People enjoy a number of food items and desserts throughout the day. Nan khatai (a short flatbread like a biscuit) and masala tea are favorite combinations to fill the gaps between the meals and to feel fresh all over again.
Diwali Fairs & Melas
During Diwali festivities, a number of towns and villages host a common cultural fare. The fare includes the stalls of local artists, producers, and owners who trade the goods.
A number of games and entertaining activities are also there for the local community to cheer and enjoy. The women wear beautiful cultural dresses and apply henna to their hands.
Schools, colleges, and universities conduct different Diwali functions and fairs to promote the culture. They ensure the students enjoy their festivals. During such events, there is dance, music, and arts performance with food, crafts, and cultural activities.
Every festival has its specialties which people can relate to and enjoy. However, one should not indulge in something dangerous in the name of festivities.
Since there is a practice of fire cracking and fireworks on Diwali, it comes with some consequences. The excessive use of firecrackers creates noise and air pollution and could be dangerous for lives too.
Here are the two main after-effects of Diwali.
Every year there are a number of cases of burn injuries that happen as a result of fireworks during Diwali. Anar (fountain) is a particular shape of firework. It is responsible for such injuries mainly. According to a survey, 65% of the injuries are caused by the usage of fountain-type of firework.
Most of the burns are a group I burn though which are considered minor and require outpatient care. Nevertheless, the excessive usage of fireworks and without proper supervision could lead to disastrous outcomes.
The fireworks usage and firecrackers during Diwali also affect the quality of air. It increases the concentration of pollutants and dust in the air. The firecrackers after firing release the dust particles and pollutants which contain chemicals such as copper, zinc, sodium, and lead. These little invisible particles are extremely harmful and affect the air quality, putting people’s lives and health at stake.
These tiny particles and sparklers generate thick smoke which is extremely dangerous for the respiratory tract of children. The people who suffer from allergies and colds get serious issues from the polluted air. The congestion of the throat and chest gets common during poor quality air.
The exposure of people’s skin to these pollutants gives them allergy to eyes, nose, and throat infections. These could further lead to heart and breathing issues. The exposure of these chemicals in the air is also cancer-causing agents. These also cause increased toxic levels in people’s bodies.
Diwali is one of the mega events of Hinduism, Jainism, Sikhism, and Buddhism. Every religion has a different reason and historical event to celebrate it. It is the beginning of a new Hindu lunar calendar, hence there are celebrations, lighting, prayers, and feasts. It is a festival with a lot of feasts and sweets, people share sweets and exchange gifts.
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