Diwali, a festival of lights
Diwali, sparkles the night
Diwali, brings joy and delight
Diwali, makes the smile go wide
The thought of Diwali is enough to bring excitement to the heart. Memories of celebrations and jubilations, new clothes and rangolis, sweets and savouries. And the best part is that there are lights all around, making one forget that it is actually a new moon (Amavasya) night.
Diwali or Deepavali means an arrangement of lights in a series. And there are lights everywhere ; whether it is diyas decorated near doorways, on rangolis, on walls or any other place; or whether it is colourful decorative lights, hanging from walls, windows or doors. The night sky is lit up with fireworks emerging from every corner of the skyline. And as if these are not enough there are sparklers and other firecrackers to add to the dazzle.
These are the happy memories as a young child when he/she thinks of the festival.
But as one grows up, more things come to light vis-à-vis the celebrations, the stories associated and the not-so-good effects of such celebrations.
The more popular story is that of Shri Ram returning to Ayodhya along with Sita and Lakshmana, after a long exile of 14 years and succeeding in slaying the Lanka king, Ravana. Since it was a new moon night, the delighted residents of Ayodhya decided to light up the town by arranging diyas all along the paths and around houses so as to show the way for their homecoming king. Flying aboard the Pushpaka Vimana, it must have been quite a sight for the returning heroes.
There are many other stories connected to Diwali. At some places, it is a five day festival – where it starts with Dhanteras and ends with Bhaidooj, some places it is three days, at some places it is two days and at some places it is only a one-day festival. Also there are some places like Kerala, where traditionally Diwali is not celebrated. For Gujaratis, the first day after Diwali marks the first day of their new year.
Across many regions, Diwali is also associated with Goddess Lakshmi, where Lakshmi Pooja is an essential part. It is said that on the day of Dhanteras, Goddess Lakshmi emerged as a result of the churning of the Ksheerasagara (Milk ocean) and on the day of Diwali, she married Lord Vishnu.
At home, for us Telugu people, Diwali is a two day festival. It starts on Chaturdasi, i.e. one day before Amavasya. This day is called Naraka Chaturdasi to celebrate the slaying of Narakasura. The story goes that Narakasura, who was the son of Bhoodevi (Goddess Earth) had been blessed with boons that he could be killed only by his mother and only when she wished for it. Granted with these boons, he became very powerful, kidnapped 16,000 women and posed as a threat to Lord Indra. Shri Krishna along with his wife Satyabhama, waged a war against Narakasura, in order to halt his reign. Satyabhama, who is the incarnation of Bhoodevi, enraged at the asura’s misbehavior with women, willingly accompanied her husband to the battle. It is understood that Satyabhama was unaware of her real identity and along with Shri Krishna, slayed her evil son. The tale of Shri Krishna marrying 16,000 women to save them from dishonor comes from this story.
The asura was slayed on Chaturdasi before dawn. Therefore, people celebrating Naraka Chaturdasi, wake up very early in the morning, burn crackers and take oil bath, followed by consumption of sweets. So, major part of the festival is celebrated early in the morning. Also, it is essential that the tithi (the day as per the Hindu calendar), during the early morning has to be chaturdasi. So sometimes, it does happen that Naraka Chaturdasi and Amavasya (when Diwali is celebrated at night), falls on the same day, as the tithi changes during the course of the day.
At home, before taking the oil bath, daughters of the house give aarti to their father and brothers and the men in turn give cash or gifts. A nice source of income for girls. Thankfully, the tax authorities have not listed this source of income to be taxable.
The rest of the day of Chaturdasi and the next day of Diwali is spent in exchanging sweets and savouries between friends and relatives and making preparations for the Diwali night, which also includes making a beautiful and colourful rangoli. The Diwali night is the moment most looked forward to. As the evening sets in, pooja is done when the first few diyas are officially lit. Then begins, the decoration of the house surroundings with diyas. By this time, the night has set in and the lights brighten up the whole place. This is the moment I cherish the most. So many diyas sparkling all around. Now this is a visual that would make one feel that two eyes aren’t enough to take in the whole spectacle. Of course, there is always the slight breeze, that would want to play pranks with the diyas. And one is compelled to try to keep the diyas lit for as long as it is possible. This little game with the wind would go on for a while.
And soon it would be the time to burn the crackers. This part of Diwali too, I had once cherished. After changing into simple cotton clothes and aided with few candles and match boxes, the packet of crackers would then be dealt with. Once that’s done, we would return home. After a good hand wash, sweets would be had to celebrate another joyous Diwali night.
The ritual of lighting diyas would not be limited to just the Diwali night. From the next day of Diwali begins the holy month of Kartika (or Kartika maasam as we call it) which is dedicated to Lord Shiva. This month is filled with many auspicious days, which involve fasting, poojas in the evenings and lighting more diyas. Also, every evening during the month of Kartika, diyas are lit and placed at the main door entrance, apart from the home temple and the sacred Tulsi pot.
In Tamil Nadu, Diwali is essentially celebrated on Naraka Chaturdasi. That is the main festival. So most of the crackers too are burnt on the morning of Chaturdasi. Also, the decoration of diyas is done on the full moon day in the Tamil month of Kartigai, which is usually after a gap of 15 days. The day after Naraka Chaturdasi , ie Amavasya is usually a working day. So for eg. if you are in Chennai making plans for the Diwali (New moon) day, just plan ahead. You might have to take leave from work. Else you might miss the early evening festivities.
The ill-effects of burning crackers are hard to ignore. Because of which, over the last few years, the eagerness to burn crackers has drastically come down. But the visual delight one gets is something one can’t deny. The little child within, sometimes wants to plead to the scientist experts. So many things are being discovered and invented. Why not invent aritificial crackers that wouldn’t injure anyone or harm the environment, but still would provide the same visual delight?
But in reality, Diwali has always been about the beautiful array of lights. It became a noisy, cracker filled festival much later. Perhaps, it is time for us to bring back the quieter but beautiful and a brightly lit Diwali. After all, Diwali is called the festival of lights.
In Mythology and More, Writersbrew gives you a glimpse of Diwali as our writers celebrate it. The festival has different significance in different parts of India, among the various Hindu communities. Take a look at some of these customs, enjoy the stories. Here’s to light, everywhere.
Originally posted on 5/27/2016