Deepawali or Diwali, also known as the festival of lights, is one of India’s largest and most important holidays of the year for Hindus, Jains, Sikhs, and some Buddhists. The festival lasts five days, and as per the Hindu calendar it is observed on Amavasya (or new moon) – the 15th day – of the month of Kartik, every year. The Amavasya (lunar phase of the new moon) tithi (the name of the 30 lunar phases) begins at 06:03 on Nov 04, 2021, and ends at 02:44 on Nov 05, 2021. Therefore, the third and main day of Diwali will be celebrated all over India, and indeed around the world, on November 4, 2021.
The History of Diwali
The Diwali festival is likely a fusion of harvest festivals from ancient India. Early iterations of Diwali are mentioned in texts, such as the Padma Purana, which date back to the second half of the 1st millennium CE (sometime between 500-1000 CE). The diyas, or lamps (shown in the photo above) are mentioned in other ancient texts as symbolizing parts of the sun, describing it as the “cosmic giver of light and energy to all life and which seasonally transitions in the Hindu calendar month of Kartik” (which overlaps in October and November).
Diwali is celebrated by Hindus, Jains, Sikhs, and Newar Buddhists, although for each faith it marks different historical events and stories. Nevertheless, the celebration signifies the same symbolic triumph of light over darkness, knowledge over ignorance, and good over evil.
The religious significance of Diwali varies across the geographic regions in India. In northern India, followers link the celebration to the Hindu epic, the Ramayana, with Diwali being the day King Rama returned to Ayodhya after defeating Ravana by lighting rows of clay lamps. In southern India, the day is celebrated as the day Lord Krishna defeated the demon Narakasura. In eastern India, Diwali is associated with the godess Kali, who symbolizes the victory of good over evil. And in western India, the festival marks the day that Lord Vishnu, The Preserver (one of the main gods of the Hindu trinity), sent the demon King Bali to rule the nether world.
“A scholar of Jain and Nivethan states that in Jain tradition Diwali is celebrated in observance of “Mahavira Nirvana Divas”, the physical death and final nirvana of Mahavira.” The Jain Diwali, celebrated in many parts of India, looks much like the Hindu version of Diwali, with the lighting of lamps and offering of prayers. However, the dedication of the Jain form of this holy festival remains committed to Mahavira.
“The festival of Diwali highlights three events in Sikh history: the founding of the city of Amritsar in 1577, the release of Guru Hargobind from the Mughal prison, and the day of Bhai Mani Singh’s martyrdom in 1738 as a result of his failure to pay a fine for trying to celebrate Diwali and thereafter refusing to convert to Islam.”
“Diwali is not a festival for most Buddhists, with the exception of the Newar people of Nepal who revere various deities in the Vajrayana Buddhism and celebrate Diwali by offering prayers to Lakshmi. Newar Buddhists in Nepalese valleys also celebrate the Diwali festival over five days, in much the same way, and on the same days, as the Nepalese Hindu Diwali-Tihar festival.”
There are five days that make up the entirety of the Diwali festival. The first day, Dhanteras, is devoted to cleaning houses and buying small gold items. The goddess, Lakshmi, is the focus of the initial day of Diwali. The second day is a commemoration of the defeat of Narakasura by Krishna, and is known as Naraka Chaturdashi or Choti Diwali. Prayers are offered for the souls of ancestors on this day. The third and most well known day is called Lakshmi Puja when families light diyas, candles, and fireworks. The fourth day, which marks the start of the new year on the Vikrama (Hindu) calendar, is referred to as Goverdhan Puja, Balipratipada, or Annakut. This is a day that remembers Krishna’s defeat of Indra, the king of the gods. The final day of Diwali, called Bhai Dooj, Bhai Tika, or Bhai Bij, praises the bond between brothers and sisters.
Diwali is generally a time for visiting, exchanging gifts, wearing new clothes, feasting, feeding the poor, setting off fireworks, decorating floors with rangoli designs, and other parts of the house with jhalars. Gambling, especially in the form of card games, is encouraged as a way of ensuring good luck in the coming year and in remembrance of the games of dice played by gods and goddesses. Ritually, in honor of Lakshmi, the female player always wins. Diwali also marks a major shopping period in India, comparable to the Christmas season. It is thought to be auspicious to purchase new clothing, home furnishings, gifts, gold, and jewelry, since the festival is largely dedicated to Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth and prosperity. Food is a major aspect of Diwali as well, where families take part in feasts and in sharing of sweets, or mithai.
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