Diwali, or Deepawali which means ‘rows of lights’ is certainly the biggest of all Hindu festivals. Diwali is celebrated by Hindus, Jains and Sikhs across the globe as the “Festival of Light,” where the lights or lamps signify victory of good over the evil, light over darkness, and knowledge over ignorance Diwali celebrations are spread over five to six days in India each of which are separated by a different tradition, but what remains true and constant is the celebration of life, its enjoyment and goodness.
The Origin of Diwali
Diwali may have originated as a harvest festival, marking the last harvest of the year before winter. In an agrarian society this results in businessmen closing accounts, and beginning a new accounting year. The deity of wealth in Hinduism, goddess Lakshmi is therefore thanked on this day and everyone prays for a good year ahead. This is the common factor in Diwali celebrations all over the Indian subcontinent. However, there are various legends pointing to the origin of Diwali.
Some believe it to be the celebration of the marriage of Lakshmi with Lord Vishnu. Whereas in Bengal the festival is dedicated to the worship of Mother Kali, the goddess of strength. In Jainism, Deepawali has an added significance to the great event of Lord Mahavira attaining the eternal bliss of nirvana.
In Northern India it is the homecoming of King Rama of Ayodhya after a 14-year exile in the forest. The people of Ayodhya (the capital of his kingdom) welcomed Rama by lighting rows (avali) of lamps (deepa), thus its name, Deepawali, or simply shortened as Diwali. Southern India marks it as the day Lord Krishna defeated the demon Narakasura. In western India it is also in honor of the day King Bali went to rule the nether-world by the order of Vishnu.
The Days of Diwali
The date of Diwali is set by the Hindu calendar and so it varies in the Western calendar. It usually falls in October or November. Diwali celebrations are spread over five days in most of North India and Maharashtra. All the days except Diwali are named according to their designation in the Hindu calendar.
Dhanatrayodashi Also known as Dhan teras
Dhan means “wealth” and Trayodashi means “13th day”. Thus, as the name implies, this day falls on the 13th day of the second half of the lunar month. It is an auspicious day for shopping of utensils and gold.This day is also regarded as the Jayanti of God Dhanvantri who came out during the churning of the great ocean by the gods and the demons. Dhanvantri Jayanti
Naraka Chaturdashi also known as Choti Diwali
Choti Diwali (which is small diwali) or Chaturdashi is the fourteenth day marks the vanquishing of the demon Naraka by Lord Krishna and his wife Satyabhamawhich. It signifies the victory of good over evil and light over darkness. In south India, this is the actual day of festivities.
Lakshmi Puja marks the most important day of Diwali celebrations. Hindu homes worship Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth, and Ganesh, the God of auspicious beginnings, and then light lamps all across the streets and homes to welcome prosperity and wellbeing. Lakshmi Pooja, or the worship of the goddess of wealth, is the main event on Diwali in North and West India.
Govardhan Puja also known as Padwa
Also called Annakut, is celebrated as the day Krishna defeated Indra. Lord Krishna taught people to worship nature, as mountains bring rains to earth. That was the reason to stop worshiping Indra. His was the message that we should take care of our nature. For Annakut a mountain of food is decorated symbolizing Govardhan mountain lifted by Lord Krishna. In Maharashtra it is celebrated as Padva or BaliPratipada. The day commemorates King Bali. Men present gifts to their wives on this day.In Gujarat, it is celebrated as New Year, as Vikram Samvat starts on this day.
Bhaiduj (also Bhayyaduj, Bhaubeej or Bhayitika)
On this day, brothers and sisters meet to express their love and affection for each other.his day Yamaraj went to his sister’s house who put an auspicious mark on his forehead for his welfare. Thus, on this day sisters perform puja for their brothers safety and well being. Brothers in return give gifts to their sisters as a token of love.Another version is after killing Narakasur, Lord Krishna, went to his sister Subhadra who welcomed him in the traditional way by showing him a light and putting on his forehead a tilak of her sisterly protection.
Diwali Traditions and Celebrations
The traditions of Diwali start well before the actual festival in it’s preparations. It is extremely important to keep the house spotlessly clean and pure on Diwali. Goddess Lakshmi likes cleanliness, and she will visit the cleanest house first. This is also the reason why the broom is worshiped on Lakshmi Puja. A lot of sweets and food is also prepared in advance for diwali and is usually shared with neighbours and friends during the actual festival itself.
Deepavali, the literal meaning of which in Sanskrit is ‘a row of lamps.’ Filling little clay lamps called diyas with oil and wick and lighting them in rows all over the house is a tradition that is popular in most regions of the country. Bursting fireworks are also a big part of the Diwali celebrations.
On Lakshmi Puja Hindus wake up way before dawn as early as 2:00 in the morning, have a fragrant oil bath and wear new clothes. They light small lamps all around the house and draw elaborate kolams /rangolis outside their homes. They perform a special puja with offerings to Lord Sri Krishna or Lord Sri Vishnu, as he liberated the world from the demon Narakasura on this day. It is believed that taking a bath before sunrise, when the stars are still visible in the sky is equivalent to taking a bath in the holy Ganges. Hence, when people greet each other in the morning, they ask “Have you performed your Ganga Snaanam?”.
After the puja, children burst firecrackers heralding the defeat of the demon. As this is a day of rejoicing, many will have very elaborate breakfasts and lunches and meet family and friends. In the evening, lamps are again lit and Goddess Lakshmi is worshipped and offered special dishes(see below). This being a no moon day, many will offer special tarpana (offerings of water and sesame seeds) to their ancestors. This day is also called as Roop Chaturdashi
People start the new business year at Diwali, and some Hindus will say prayers to the goddess for a successful year. Its is also auspicious to start a business on this day. Some people build a small altar to the goddess and decorate it with money and with pictures of the rewards of wealth, such as cars and houses.
One of the most curious customs, which characterizes this festival of Diwali, is the indulgence of gambling, especially on a large scale in North India. This comes from a legend that the that goddess Parvati played dice with her husband on this day and she said that anyone who gambled on Diwali night would do well.
In most homes, people invite their friends and relatives over to play cards. Friends get together to indulge in games of cards. The ‘addicts’ seek legitimacy for their unusual pastime by referring to the celestial game of dice played by the great lord Shiva with his companion Parvati – a scene superbly sculpted at Kailash temple, Ellora. Others rationalise that this is just to remind oneself of the fickleness of lady luck and to inculcate a sense of balance in the pursuit of material success.
The Significance of Lights & Firecrackers
All the simple rituals of Diwali have a significance and a story to tell. The illumination of homes with lights and the skies with firecrackers is an expression of obeisance to the heavens for the attainment of health, wealth, knowledge, peace and prosperity. According to one belief, the sound of fire-crackers are an indication of the joy of the people living on earth, making the gods aware of their plentiful state. Still another possible reason has a more scientific basis: the fumes produced by the crackers kill a lot of insects and mosquitoes, found in plenty after the rains.
Here is a delectable collection of some traditional Diwali Recipes.
1 cup Wheat Flour
1/4 cup Gram Flour
11/2 cup Sugar Powder
1/4 cup Grated Coconut
1/4 cup Dry Fruit almonds, raisins, kaju etc
1 cup Ghee
1. Heat the ghee.
2. Put both the flours in the heated ghee.
3. When nearly roasted put coconut and sliced dry fruit in the mixture.
4. Now put the ground sugar in the mixture and stir thoroughly.
5. Take off from the heat quickly and make laddus. You may also put the mixture in an oil based thali & make small pieces.
Besan ki Barfi
Ingredients : Besan 1 kg
Sugar 1 kg
Water 1/2 liter
Ghee 1 kg
For garnishing: Pistas, Almonds
1. Fry besan in ghee on low flame for about 30 mins till it becomes pink and ghee separates.
2. Mix sugar and water into a syrup.
3. Add this syrup to the besan and mix well.
4. Pour this mixture into a greased tray.
5. When it cools cut into cubes and garnish with pistas and almonds.
Badam (Almond) Katli
Ingredients (Makes 35 Katlis approx)
250 gm: Almonds (soaked overnight)
200 gm: Sugar powdered
Few tbsp: Milk
Silver foil (optional)
Preparation: 1. Drain and change water from almonds.
2. Peel almonds. Keep aside.
3. Wash once more to remove any traces of brownishness.
4. Grind to a fine paste using as little milk as possible.
5. In a heavy large skillet mix paste and sugar.
6. Cook, stirring constantly, using a large handled spoon or spatula.
7. Take care of splattering in initial stages.
8. Also, do not stop stirring because the mixture burnt and stuck to bottom of skillet will spoil the taste.
9. When a soft lump is form, which leaves sides of skillet easily, take off fire.
10. Grease a clean work surface and a rolling pin with melted ghee.
11. Put lump on it. Roll quickly while still warm to 1/5″ thickness.
12. Apply silver foil and press lightly with foil paper.
13. Mark out long diamond shapes with a sharp knife.
14. When almost cool remove carefully with a sharp edged wide spatula.
15. Cool completely before storing in layers between sheets of butter paper.