Festivals and festivities have played very important role in the formation, organization and development of cultural traditions of India. If one studies the inner meaning and background of any Indian festival, one will notice that there are tremendous values hidden behind the related stories and celebrations. They are merry-making occasions depicting Indian cultural thoughts envisaged by sages and great men of our land. Side by side climate, occupations and attitudes of Indian people have also helped in shaping the current form of these festivals.
Diwali, originally known as Dipawali, is the most popular festival celebrated throughout India with great enthusiasm, joy and gaiety. It expresses the aspiration of Indian consciousness for achieving purity, prosperity and progress. The term ‘Dipawali’ is a compound word made from ‘dipa’ and ‘avali’ denoting the meaning ‘chain of lights’. Light is the absence of darkness. Darkness prevents the ability to discern hence light symbolizes knowledge in its spiritual sense and cheerfulness in its worldly sense. Tamso ma jyotir gamay – ‘lead us from darkness to light’ is a famous Vedic prayer. Indian philosophy of life aims knowledge as ultimate means to obtain supreme Bliss, while cheerfulness is essential for obtaining all sorts of worldly objects. Diwali as a festival points out importance of ‘light’ in human life.
Diwali is not a celebration of one day only like other festivals, but it brings a series of festivals with itself – Dhanteras, Narak Chaturdasi, Badi Diwali, Govardhan Puja and Bhai Duja. All these festivals have one or the other epic based or mythological story about their origin or popularity. The celebration of the five-day festival commences on Kartika Krishna Triyodashi and ends on Kartika Shukla Dvitiya. Main festival of Diwali is celebrated after about twenty days of Dashahara at the dark night of the Amavasya of Kartika month. It has two festivals before its celebration and two festivals after its celebration, so it seems itself fully illuminated in all aspects.
Diwali comes in India every year after rainy season and in the beginning of autumn season. This is a happy period full of activities especially for potters, farmers and gardeners. These festivals are related with Indian agriculture and other rural economic growth as new harvest is almost ready in the fields and potter is busy in pottery work due to clear weather. Thus making and colouring of earthen pots, lamps (Diya), statues of gods and goddesses are easily possible for potter families. In simple sense, these festivities are associated with our social structure and its general requirement.
Two festivals which come before Diwali day are related with cleanliness, hygiene and health. As season is changing one has to take care of one’s health and houses too need maintenance. Legend of Dhanteras tells that on this day Lord Dhanvantari, the Physician of Devas appeared from ocean with Amrita kalsha (a pot full with nectar) for the welfare of mankind. Amrita is known as a symbol of happiness and health. Symbolically people buy pots this day. Narak Chaturdasi which is also called Choti Diwali is connected mainly with the story of Narkasura, a demon king of Pragjyotish who was killed by Shri Krishna. After killing him Shri Krishna took a special bath for the purity of body. Thus, Narak refers to untidiness, dirtiness and diseases. The legend hints that these should be removed initially, if one wishes to welcome Diwali i.e. light, prosperity, and delight in one’s life, family and society. So on this day people clean and wash their houses and buy new things to decorate them.
The day of Diwali is full of activities. People greet each other, exchange gifts and sweets and wear new clothes. Main celebration is done in the late evening and night when people light small oil lamps called diyas and place them around their homes, in courtyards, gardens, verandahs, on the walls and also on the roof tops. In cities, candles and fashionable lights are substituted among the riches. The celebration of the festival is customarily accompanied by the lighting of crackers. On the night of Diwali, all the shops and offices are decorated with electric bulbs of various colours. It is believed that on Diwali, Devi Lakshmi, goddess of wealth visits Earth and goes to lightened and clean houses of her devotees. People, therefore, perform Lakshmi Pujan for Her welcome with great honour and faith, and pray for the prosperity and peace of family members. On Diwali, Deva Ganesh is also worshiped along with Devi Lakshmi. As Ganesh is god of intelligence, the tradition indicates that prosperity should be combined with intelligence for the fulfillment of life. Wealth and knowledge desired jointly make life more meaningful and contented.
The most famous legend behind the celebration of Diwali is about Sri Rama’s homecoming to Ayodhya with wife Sita and brother Lakshman after fourteen years of exile. The people of Ayodhya decorated their homes as well as the city of Ayodhya by lighting tiny diyas all over in order to welcome their beloved prince Shri Ram and Devi Sita, turned the black night luminous and delightful, and celebrated the victory of Shri Ram over the King of Lanka, Ravan. Shri Ram is symbol of good while Ravan represents the evils. Therefore, Diwali is considered the festival, which establishes the victory of good over the evil spirits. There are other stories also about the importance of Diwali. Some say that Diwali marks the coronation of King Vikramaditya who started Vikram Samvat . According to the story of Narkasura , next day was celebrated as Diwali to felicitate victory of Shri Krishna over the demon.
In Gujarat, the festival is celebrated to honour goddess Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth. In Bengal, Durga Puja is performed on nine days of Navratas but on Diwali Dipanvita Lakshmi is worshiped with great honour. Decorations are done with Rangoli and Alpana. In Maharashtra, return of King Bali is praised in the songs and prayers chanted on Diwali day. In short, throughout India this festival is enjoyed with faith and delight but with some different rituals based on the regional traditions. Diwali is also popular among Indians living in Britain, U.S.A., Guyana, Fiji, Nepal, Mauritius, Myanmar, Singapore, Srilanka, Trinidad and Tobago, Indonesia, Thailand, Australia, and so on. Whatever may be the legend behind the festival but Indian people celebrate it with great enthusiasm everywhere. Furthermore, the festival of Diwali is quite popular among the Sikhs, Jains, and Buddhists living in India, because light symbolizes discriminatory power and understanding in their faiths too, and is related to legends of these rich traditions as well.
Next Day of Diwali is commencement of new year for business class. It is also celebrated as Govardhan Puja to remember the lifting up of the Govardhan Mountain by Shri Krishna. This day is also observed as Annakuta when different types of food are offered to Lord Krishna and prayers are performed. On this occasion people of Punjab, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh and Bihar build a shape of mountain with the help of cow dung and decorate them with flowers and then worship it.
Diwali festival is concluded with Bhai Duja festival which is observed as a symbol of love between sisters and brothers. It is believed that on this day Yamraja, the god of death visited his sister Yami and she put the auspicious tilak on his forehead. Brother and sister enjoyed together and exchanged special gifts as a token of their love for each other. Yamraj announced that anyone who receives tilak from his sister on this day will be blessed. The spirit found in the latter two festivals may be analyzed as goals of agricultural prosperity, and happiness in family which are sure to come after worship of Lakshmi and Ganesha.
Finally, it may be mentioned that five festivals on Diwali represent lots of cultural traditions laid down in ancient scriptures. Celebrations make occasion happy and convey ideals of life indirectly but Diwali festival is to be known as a symbol of accumulated Indian Values. It symbolizes unity in diversity and shows the victory of light over darkness and victory of goodness over evil.