The Tribune - Spectrum

Sunday, November 11, 2001

Let the festival of lights light up
our lives and spread joy
Nandita Vij

DIVALI is a festival which lights up hearts, homes and the sky.. Fascinating lights and fireworks enthrall the children, while adults too can feel the spiritual aura of the festival. Since festivals are an integral part of Indian culture, Divali is placed on one of the highest pedestals among them. Feelings of warmth, love and joy pervades through the hearts and a lot of give and take is one of the highlights of the festival.

The ways of celebrating Divali are as varied as the legends
The ways of celebrating Divali are as varied as the legends

The word "Divali" is comprised of the Sanskrit word DeepavaliDeepa meaning light and Avali means a row, i.e. a row of light. It is celebrated 20 days after Dashera, on Amavasya — the 15th day of the dark fortnight of the Hindu month of Ashwin (Oct/Nov) every year. Parvautsava or five days of celebrations mark Divali, while each day has it’s own significance, rituals and myths.

The first day is called Dhanteras or Dhantryaodashi, which falls on the 13th day of the month of Ashwin. It is an important day for the rich community. It is believed that the 16-year-old son of King Hima, according to his horoscope, was doomed to die on the fourth day of his marriage by a snake-bite. On that particular day, his wife lit innumerable lamps all over the palace and laid a lot of ornaments, gold and silver coins in a big heap at the entrance of their boudoir. Then she narrated stories and sang songs through the night. When Yama, the God of Death, arrived there in the guise of a serpent, the dazzle of the lights blinded his eyes. He could not enter the prince’s chamber. He climbed upon the heap of the ornaments and coins and sat there the entire night, listening to her songs and stories. In the morning, he quietly went away. Thus, the wife saved her husband and since then this day of Dhanteras came to be known as the day of Yamadeepdaan and lamps are kept burning throughout the night as a mark of respect to Yama, the God of Death.


The second day is called Narka-Chaturdashi or Chhoti Divali that falls on the 14th day of the month of Ashwin. The legend related to this day is about King Bali of the nether world, whose mighty power was a threat to the gods. In order to curb his powers, Lord Vishnu, in the disguise of a small boy, visited and begged him to give him only that much land which he could cover with his three steps. King Bali proudly granted him his wish. So with his first step, Lord Vishnu covered the underworld, with the second one the earth and the third one covered the sky. For Bali’s generosity, Lord Vishnu allowed him to return to earth once a year, to light millions of lamps to dispel darkness and ignorance and spread the radiance of love and wisdom. Another popular legend associated with Naraka Chaturdashi is about a demon named Narakasura who terrorised the three worlds. Lord Krishna defeated and killed Narkasura on this day.

The third day of the festival of Divali is the most important day of Lakshmi Puja, which is entirely devoted to the propitiation of goddess Lakshmi. This day is also known as Chopada Puja, which falls on the dark night of Amavasya.

For people in North India, the festival commemorates the return of Rama to his kingdom after an exile of 14 years, on this day he was crowned King of Ayodhya. The Sikh Guru, Guru Hargobind Rai was imprisoned in the Gwalior Fort, along with 52 Hindu Kings. When the Mughal emperor realised his folly, instructions were given to release him. He refused to leave the fort unless all 52 kings were also released. He was permitted to take along as many kings could hold his chola, so he got a new chola stitched that had 52 long strips of cloth which were held by all the kings and they walked out to freedom. This episode earned him the title of bandi chor. After coming out of the Gwalior Fort, Guru Hargobind Rai reached the Golden Temple, Amritsar, on Divali. The entire city was lit up in his honour. Till date, the Golden Temple is lit up and besides the special congregation on the occasion, a spell-binding fireworks’ display is held in the evening.

For Jains, it is the day Lord Mahavira, the 24th Tirthankara attained Nirvana. For them, it is Deva Divali when Lord Mahavira is worshipped, sacred scriptures are recited and homes and temples are illuminated. Thousands of Jain pilgrims from all over India flock to the sacred Mount Girnar, Gujarat, where special celebrations are held on this day.

The fourth day is called Padwa or Varsha Pratipada. It marks the coronation of King Vikramaditya. Govardhan Puja is also performed on this day. According to legend, the people of Gokul used to celebrate a festival in honour of Lord Indra and worshipped him at the end of every monsoon season. One particular year, young Krishna stopped them from doing so. Enraged, Indra sent a deluge that threatened to submerge Gokul. Krishna lifted the Govardhan Mountain and held it like an umbrella over the people. This day is also celebrated as Annakoot.

The fifth and final day of Divali is Bhaiya Dooj. It is believed that on this day Yamaraj — the God of Death — visited his sister Yami and she put a tilak on his forehead. Yamaraj announced that anyone who receives a tilak from his sister on this day would have a long and a prosperous life.

The ways of celebrating Divali are as varied as the legends. The variation goes to such an extent that in Tamil Nadu, unlike in the North, it is celebrated in the morning and very few candles and diyas are lit. People buy new clothes but don’t lay much significance on the purchase of new utensils or other household commodities. New clothes are placed in front of the idols of God. People wake up early and take an oil bath and then dress in their new clothes. Women prepare a special herbal mixture called lagyam. This is given to every family member in order to avoid an upset stomach due to an intake of heavy good and sweetmeats. As a mark of respect, youngsters do namaskaram in front of their elders. Here, Divali is celebrated a day before it is done in the North.

In West Bengal, Divali is celebrated as Kali puja. The day prior to Divali is called Chaturdashi and on this day 11 diyas are lit and 14 types of saag are cooked together, in order to drive away the evil spirit. On the day of Kali puja, there is a special community prayer service which begins at night and goes on till the early hours of following morning. Few people worship Goddess Lakshmi.

In Andhra Pradesh, on Narka Chaturdashi houses are washed and decorated with flowers and rangoli. On Divali, special prayers are offered to ancestors after which crackers are burnt.

In Bihar, the celebrations are similar to other northern states but they also follow a special tradition called Hukka Loli which is performed a day before Divali. A special kind of fireball is made of bamboo and oil. It is carried around the house and this is believed to drive away all evil spirits, giving the household another year of prosperity. A diya from the previous Divaliis also lit in the front yard of the house.

On Dhanteras in Gujarat, people buy silver which signifies the welcoming of goddess Lakshmi. Coins and gold ornaments are also worshipped and some people also clean them with milk. The day before Divali is called Kali Chaudas and on this day, a head wash and application of kajal in the eyes is believed to keep away the kali nazar (evil eye). As in Maharashtra, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh, in Gujarat too, the day after Divali is the first day of the new financial year. People open new account books with the blessings of the goddess. In the morning, Gujaratis wear new clothes and feast on various delicacies. During the early hours of the morning messengers like flower sellers at temples, visit people’s homes with flowers and rock salt to wish them Sab ras which means all the joys and juices of life. Flower sellers also tie a garland of marigolds on the doors of the house, symbolising good luck.

In Assam, Divali and Kali Puja are celebrated on the same day. Divali celebrations are marked by the placing of a banana tree in the front yard of the house. This tree is pierced with flattened bamboo sticks that can hold the diyas steadily. The number of diyas varies from a hundred to thousands, depending upon the individual. The sacred tulsi plant is also worshipped with diyas and prasad.

There is a custom in Maharashtra to lightly pound dry coriander seeds with jaggery and offer it to the gods. In villages, cattle are adorned and worshipped by farmers as they are the main source of their income. Tiny diyas are lit to drive away the shadows of evil spirits and devotional songs in praise of Lakshmi are sung.

Use of flowers, exchanging of gifts, meeting new and old friends and prayer services are common to most states. Traditionally, Ganesh shares the platform with Lakshmi as he is believed to be the God of auspicious beginnings and the removal of obstacles. Together, Lakshmi and Ganesh hold out promises of prosperity and fulfilment. Homes are cleaned and brightly lit as Lakshmi is believed to enter such homes.

Divali is celebrated with great enthusiasm, not only in India but also in many parts of the world. In Japan, it is celebrated in a unique manner. People go out into the orchard and gardens and hang lanterns and paper made decorations on the branches of trees. Even there, houses are cleaned and people wear new clothes. The places of worship are decorated with beautiful wall papers to bring in the festive mood.

In Thailand, this festival of lights is celebrated under the name of Lam Kriyongh. Lamps are made of banana leaves and candles are placed on them along with a coin and incense. These are set afloat on a river and the entire view is spell-binding.

In Nepal, the festival is celebrated for five days. On the first day people cook rice and feed it to the cows, as it is believed that Lakshmi appears on the cows. The second day is for the dog, believed to be the vahan of Bhairava. Delicious food is cooked for the dogs. Lights and lamps are lit to mark the day and crackers are burnt. The fourth day is dedicated to Yama, the God of Death. He is worshipped and people evoke his blessings for a long life. The fifth day is for celebrating Bhaiya Dooj.

Divali should spread warmth and joy. It should not be marred by those who feel that it is a time to drink, dine and dance. Let it not be an occasion to submerge the happiness of a family where the terror of a drunken husband reigns. Thegrandeur this festival should remain untarnished.

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