Lights will guide you home…
Diwali guides one through pathways of light— one for truth, one for the victory and one to find the way back home. It is this light that people shine on the darkest night of the Lunar month, by lighting lamps that burn through the day and through the night. Diwali is a homecoming of sorts, where families and communities all over the country bond over food, music and light. A festival where the young and old turn to each other to feel joy, comfort and to celebrate the victory of all the good there is in the world.
But there is more to this festival than what meets the eye. Every tale of yore associated with Diwali has a lingering meaning behind the story itself; almost like the celebration for the arrival of the victor, for having taken the higher path despite the circumstances. The festive spirit is found in him when he sees beyond the uncertain, the evil, and the corrupt. It is found when he fights against the demons on the battlefield and also when he fights against the demons in his mind. It is the higher path that he takes, one that liberates him from despair and materialism, a path outside of his enemy’s reach.
Diwali is celebrated over a period of 5 days all over the country. While most cultures celebrate it for three, some celebrations extend up to the 5th day, especially in the Northern parts of India.
- Dhanteras, Dhanatrayodashi, Yama Deepam
The first day of Diwali is referred to as the Dhanteras, the thirteenth day of the Karthika fortnight of Diwali. This day marks the beginning of the auspicious year, where business and home premises are cleaned and adorned with kolams, flowers and lamps. This is also the day when new clothes and appliances are purchased as a sign of a prosperous beginning for all that is to come in the following days.
It is also said that “Dhan” in Dhanteras refers to Dhanvantari, the Hindu God of Medicine and Ayurveda, also an incarnate of Vishnu. It is said that Dhanvantari arose from the churning of the Cosmic Ocean and brought the knowledge of Ayurveda into this world.
It also marks the day of Yama Deepam, where lamps made of wheat flour and filled with sesame oil are lit. These lamps are placed in the back of the home, facing the south direction and are said to please Yama, the God of death, to protect the family from an untimely demise.
- Naraka Chaturdashi
The second day of Diwali is referred to as Naraka Chaturdashi. Naraka Chaturdashi falls on the fourteenth day of the second fortnight of the lunar month. This day signifies a liberating journey for the defiled souls of ancestors and families pray for the guidance of such souls into the afterlife.
This day also marks the destruction of Narakasura by Lord Krishna, a victory that freed princesses that the demon held hostage. Gujaratis also worship Lord Hanuman on this day, seeking protection from spirits that roam during the night of this Kali Chaudas.
This day is also celebrated as Diwali in some regions and marks the return of Rama to Ayodhya.
- Lakshmi Puja/ Kali Puja
The third day of Diwali falls on the last day of the dark fortnight of the Lunar month. The day is celebrated with lavish presents, business bonuses and beautiful attire and adornments on the women of the house.
Lakshmi Puja is conducted at dusk, where family members gather to celebrate the Goddess of prosperity and abundance and seek her blessings for the year ahead. Stories are recited, emphasizing the victory of good over evil and lamps are lit to welcome the Goddess into the home.
- Balipadyami/Govardhan Puja
Balipadyami falls on the first day of the bright fortnight of the Luni-Solar calendar. It is said that King Mahabali defeated all the Gods and enslaved Goddess Lakshmi to rule the three worlds. Vishnu reincarnated as Vamana, a Dwarf Brahmin, and asked the king for three paces of land as a gift for his successful Yagnas. Against the advice of his Guru, Shukracharya, the king obliged and allowed the brahmin to take three paces of land as his own.
The dwarf Brahmin suddenly transformed into the Trivikrama form, taking the three worlds in two paces. The king was humbled by this and offered his own head to the Lord for the third and final step.
Another story is of Lord Krishna saving the farmers and the herds from the torrential storms of furious Indra Deva. Krishna is said to have urged the farmers to worship the Govardhan mountain for providing plentiful resources to the village. This, however, angered Lord Indra and he sent forth torrential rain and floods to punish the farmers for their folly. To protect his people from Indra’s wrath, Krishna promptly lifted the Govardhan mountain, providing shelter to the herds and the farmers in the storm.
- Bhai Duj
The last day of Diwali is referred to as the Bhai Duj or Bhai Dooj. It literally translates to the day of the brothers and celebrates the bond between the siblings. On the day of Bhai Duj, brothers are welcomed home by their sisters with a tilaka or namam on their forehead. Womenfolk pray for the protection of their brothers from harm and wish them a long and happy life.
There are many tales from yore that seep into our lives every day, teaching us to liberate ourselves of the evil in the mind, body and spirit. The essence of Diwali is not just a celebration of a king, but of one that defeats the demons in his path, of the victory of all that is good and virtuous.
How are you celebrating Diwali this year? Let us know in the comments below.