Shubh Deepawali

Posted on October 15, 2009. Filed under: My musings | Tags: , , , , , , , |

shubh deepawali

One festival that every Hindu will look forward to is Deepavali or Divali as it is also known. It is the time to shop for new clothes, to clean and spruce up the home as it is a joyous celebration stretched over five days. Homes sparkle with diyas and lights, the air is laden with fireworks’ smoke and the kitchens abuzz with activity for loads of sweets and savouries are to be dished up. The final touch is provided by the irreplaceable feelings of love and camaraderie shared among friends, neighbours, relatives and family.

Deepavali is very well described in Sanskrit: deep meaning lights and avali, meaning a row. As rows of diyas light up the home, it symbolises the victory of righteousness and lifting of spiritual darkness. Thus it is called festival of lights. Divali is celebrated twenty days after Dushera, on amavasya (new moon), the fifteenth day of the dark fortnight of the month of Ashvin. The festival corresponds with the English months of October/November. The five days of Divali have their own identities and significance. They are known as Dhantrayodashi (Dhanteras), Narakchaturdashi (Kali Chaudas), Divali (Laxmi Pujan), Bali Pratipada (Govardhan Pooja) and Bhaubij (Bhaiya Dooj).


The festivities start with Dhanteras or Dhanatrayodashi, which comes on the thirteenth day of the dark fortnight of Ashvin. The merchant community is at its busiest for this day is considered auspicious for business. On this day, people mostly buy an idol of Ganesh or Laxmi to be worshipped on Divali day. For those whose pocket allows the expense, it is an opportunity to purchase gold, silver or jewellery while others will buy at least a utensil on this day. The belief is that purchase of some metal object on this day is an auspicious token.

In northern parts of India, earthen pots of descending sizes are bought on this day. Filled with puffed rice, puffed corn, roasted chickpea and batasha (sugar candy), these pots await the main Divali day. Then these pots are arranged one on top of the other and placed around the main chauki (centre table).

Dhanteras is celebrated as Yamadeepan in some parts of the country. As legend has it, on this day Yama, the God of Death, spared the life of the teenaged son of King Hima. According to the horoscope of the boy, it was predicted that he would die due to snakebite on the fourth day of his marriage. Knowing this, his young wife decided that he would not sleep at all that fateful night. So she lit hundreds of little lamps at the entrance of their room. She placed all her ornaments and lots of gold and silver coins in a big heap at the entrance. She then kept up a non-stop story telling and singing session in order to keep her young husband awake. As Yama, in the guise of a serpent, sought entry to the room, the brilliance of the gold and silver coins blinded him and he could not enter the royal chamber. He spent the rest of the night sitting at the doorstep listening to the melodious songs. Come morning he slithered away quietly, his mission unaccomplished. Thus the young wife saved her husband from the clutches of death. Yama then vowed that all those who will observe the five-day festival of lights from Dhantrayodashi to Bhaubij will not die an untimely death. Since then lamps are kept burning throughout the night as a mark of respect to Yama, the God of Death.

Narak Chaturdashi

The second day of the festival, is the fourteenth day of the dark fortnight of the month of Ashvin, and is called Narak-Chaturdashi or Kali Chaudas and also known as Chhoti Divali. People get up early and have a tailabhyangam (oil-bath). The lady of the house massages her children and her husband with aromatic oils. And after their hot water bath, an aromatic paste of herbs in scented oils (uptan) is applied. After dressing up in new clothes, the celebrations begin with the bursting of fireworks and distribution of sweets that have been first offered to God. The courtyards are decorated with rangoli (drawing of traditional motifs with colorful powders) and the mood is feisty what with feast of different sweet and savoury snacks prepared for the festival.

This day is dedicated to the victory of Lord Krishna over the wicked demon king Narakasur. He had fought against neighbouring kings and imprisoned 16,000 women, daughters of the Gods and saints. He had also defeated Lord Indra and taken away the magnificient kundale (earrings) from the ears of Aditi, mother of the Gods. He had also taken possession of the abode of the Gods at Manyaparva, among the eternal mountains. Narakasur thought he was invincible for he turned his capital into a fortress. When Lord Krishna learnt about Narakasur’s deeds, he decided to destroy the wicked person. On hearing this Satyabhama, Lord Krishna’s wife, took this task upon herself and with his help killed the demon in the early hours of the fourteenth day of the dark half of Ashvin. The women imprisoned by the demon were liberated. As a symbol of the victory Lord Krishna smeared his own forehead with the demon’s blood. On his return, the womenfolk massaged his body with scented oils and gave him a good bath to wash away the filth. Since then the custom of taking a bath before sunrise on this day has become a traditional practice.

In South India this victory is celebrated in a very peculiar way. Before sunrise people break a bitter fruit that represents the head of the demon king that was smashed by Lord Krishna and apply a mixture of kumkum (a red powder applied on foreheads generally by women) and oil on their foreheads. They then have an oil bath using sandalwood paste.

Laxmi Pujan

The third day of the festival is the new moon night or amavasya of the month of Ashvin, known as Laxmipujan, or the main Divali, dedicated to Goddess Laxmi. On this day Goddess Laxmi emerged from the ocean of milk called the ksheer sagar. She brought with her wealth and prosperity for mankind. This emergence of Goddess Laxmi is celebrated with great pomp and grandeur. Many people believe that the Goddess of wealth and good fortune visits the homes of devotees on this day after sunset. Many people perform the puja at the stroke of midnight! Therefore lots of diyas (clay lamps) are lit to overcome the darkness of the moonless night. Houses are decorated with flowers. These days decorating the house with coloured electric lamps has become very popular. The whole idea is to illuminate the entire house. Goddess Laxmi is then worshipped with reverence. Women of the household place their gold ornaments before the Goddess with prayers for prosperity through the coming year. The main entrance door of the houses is symbolically kept open so that when Goddess Laxmi does visit, she can come straight in. Shopkeepers and merchants worship their new account books for the ensuing year. In Gujarat this is called chopdipujan. A wide variety of sweets are distributed. In some communities there is a practice of exchanging thalis filled with sweets and savoury snacks with friends and neighbours. Jubilant children and adults burst firecrackers alike. These days many sophisticated fireworks are available which light up the sky. Besides bursting firecrackers individually, community fireworks are also in vogue where the entire community gathers on a big open ground and some professionals do the fireworks display in a grand manner.

Lord Ganesha, the elephant-headed god, the symbol of auspiciousness and wisdom, is also worshipped in most Hindu homes on this day.

According to another version this festival commemorates Lord Rama’s return to his kingdom Ayodhya on the completion of his 14-year exile after killing the demon king Ravan along with most of his demons. Lord Rama had fought this battle along with his brother Lakshman helped by the vanar sena (army of monkeys) ably headed by their king Sugriva and Hanuman who became Lord Rama’s most ardent and eternal devotee. This battle was fought to free Lord Rama’s wife Sita who had been abducted by Ravan. To celebrate their return, the people of Ayodhya lit up their houses and burst crackers. Thousands of years have passed since, yet the glory of the revered Ram rajya (rule of Lord Rama) is remembered to this day with twinkling oil lamps or diyas lighting up every home and firework displays throughout the country.

A most surprising custom, which characterises the festival of Divali, is gambling, especially in North India. People indulge in it on a large scale and gamble through the night! It is believed that on this amavasya night Goddess Parvati played dice with her husband. Lord Shiva and she announced that whosoever gambled on Divali night would prosper throughout the coming year.

In Bengal, the people celebrate Kali Puja, which marks the worship of Goddess Kali, the consort of Shiva. The Bengalis perform Kali Puja on Divali, as it is believed that on this day Kali killed the wicked demon Raktabeeja. Lord Brahma had granted a boon to Raktabeeja that each drop of his blood that would fall on the earth would produce a thousand more demons like him. So the only way to ensure that no more wicked demons were produced, the Goddess held his head high over her mouth after beheading him and drank all his blood so that not a drop would fall on the earth. That is the reason the Goddess is always depicted with her bright red tongue dipped in blood hanging out. As Goddess Kali is associated with dark rites and devil worship, the rituals performed are austere and offered with great devotion.

The other significance of this new moon day are that Lord Krishna discarded his body and Lord Mahavir also attained nirvana on this auspicious day.

New Year of Vikram Samvaat

The fourth day of the festival is the first day of the month of Kartik and is called Bali Pratipada also known as padwa or varshapratipada in some parts of the country. It marks the coronation of King Vikramaditya and Vikaram-Samvat started from this day. This day bears special significance for the merchant community. They wear new clothes and visit friends and relatives bearing sweets and good wishes. Normally share markets are closed for holidays but a special session is held on the new year day called muhurat session as it is considered auspicious for share trading.

On this day Govardhan-puja is also performed in the North. As the story of Vishnu-Puran goes, the people of Gokul used to worship Lord Indra at the end of every monsoon season.

One particular year the young Lord Krishna stopped them from doing so and Lord Indra in anger sent a deluge to submerge Gokul. But Lord Krishna held up the Govardhan mountain as an umbrella and saved his Gokul. Govardhan is a small hillock in Braj, near Mathura. The people of Punjab, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh and Bihar build cowdung hillocks, decorate them with flowers and then worship them. On this day Annakoot, meaning mountain of food is also observed. In the temples of North India, the deities are bathed with milk, dressed up in shiny clothes and jewellery and worshipped. They are then offered a bhog of sweets ceremoniously raised in the form of a mountain which is then distributed amongst the devotees as prasad.

This day is also known as Bali Pratipada in memory of King Bali who was thrown into hell by batu vaman’s (a dwarf brahmin’s) third step. This king known for his righteousness had performed a yagna (worship of fire with various offerings) which frightened the Gods who thought he would become too powerful. So terrified were they of his success that they thought he might ask for a boon, which they might not be able to grant. Lord Vishnu was then sent to him in the guise of a batu vaman to control his success. When the king asked the batu vaman as to what he could offer him he asked for space for three paces. Though this request seemed strange to the others present in the court, the king granted it. The batu vaman, then took the entire mrityu lok (the entire world) with his first step, with the second he took swarga lok (heaven). But when he could find nothing to place his third step on he asked the bewildered Bali for the space. Finding nothing else, the good king then offered his head. The batu vaman to his surprise, not only placed his foot over the king’s head but thrust him into patal lok (nether world or hell). A satisfied batu vaman then made him the king of the lower regions and promised him that on the first day of the month of Kartik people would remember him. Prati-pada here translates as “below the opponent’s foot” (prati meaning opponent, and pada meaning foot).


On the fifth and the last day of the Divali festival Bhaiduj or Bhaubeej is celebrated to mark the love between brothers and sisters. Also called Yamadwititya, it is believed that Yama went to visit his sister Yami who welcomed him with an auspicious tilak (a red dot) on his forehead and after garlanding him fed him a sumptuous meal and sweets. As a token of love Yamraj gave her a special gift while Yami presented him with a gift made with her own hands. Yamraj then announced that anyone who receives tilak from his sister will prosper. So to this day sisters welcome their brothers with the traditional tilak and sweets and brothers in turn give them gifts.

The festival of Divali has more social than religious implications. It is an occasion when enmities are forgotten, old friendships renewed and new friendships formed. Many business houses give a gift to each of their employees. In addition, corporate gifting is becoming a very big business, as it is considered to be the right way to make, maintain and renew contacts. Families get together to feast and play. Many communities take this opportunity to hone their artistic and cultural expressions. Competitions, practically in every possible artistic field, are held, and cultural programmes are organised. Divali cannot be explained in nutshell. But if it all has to be to done, we could say…. It is a festival of lights that illuminates love in our hearts… It is a festival that touches the roots of our souls with sweetness….. And it is a festival that pays reverence to Lord Rama like no other festival does.


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