Contributed by Mr. C.I. Sivasubramanian
Diwali, or the festival of lights, is one of most popular festivals for Hindus. It is celebrated all over India and also abroad wherever Hindus have congregated. It comes on Krishna Chathurdasi in the month of ‘Eippasi” in the Tamil calendar, corresponding to Krishna Chathurdasi in Asvayuja month in the Hindi calendar or in the month of October/November in the Gregorian calendar.
Paradoxically each community has its own way of celebrating the festival and the gods to be propitiated. For example in South India, the day, better known as Deepavali, marks the day of victory of Lord Krishna over Narakasura, an evil demon thus ending his reign of oppression. Before dying Narakasura sought a boon from the Lord that he be remembered by all people in the earth. So the day is remembered as Naraka chathurdasi, or Diwali day. People take an oil bath early in the day before Amavasya begins, put on new clothes and enjoy the sweetmeats prepared at home. They burst crackers at dawn to remind people that Diwali has come. People visit to greet each other.
In the western part of the country, it is celebrated as Balipadyami or Balipratipada. Bali Padyami commemorates the victory of Lord Vishnu in his incarnation as Vamana (a dwarf), the fifth incarnation of the dasavatara (ten major incarnations of Vishnu) defeating Bali, a demon king, and pushing him to the netherworld. But Bali was bestowed a boon by Vishnu to return to earth for one day on this day to be honoured and celebrated for his devotion to the Lord and for his noble deeds to his people. The trading community starts the New Year on this day.
The Gujaratis, especially adore Lakshmi, worship their account books, open new account books, invite friends customers and other traders and give them ‘tambula’ and sweets on the Diwali day.
Danteras is an important part of Diwali festival and is celebrated on the third day of the 5-day festival, especially in Gujarat. People worship Lakshmi and purchase gold on this day. A legend goes that a young bride kept vigil over her husband on this day as according to his horoscope he was to die 4 days after his marriage. She lighted diyas all around her husband and placed gold and other ornaments around and was singing in praise of the gods. When Yama came he was dazzled by the lights but sat to listen to the songs of the bride and went away in the morning. Thus she saved the life of her husband. So, diyas and gold purchase have become an integral part of Diwali festival
Balipratipada is also known as Dyutapratipada. Dyuta means gambling. In the north generally gambling is part and parcel of the festival. They claim to receive sanction from the gods to indulge in this ‘vice’. It seems on this day Parvati defeated Sankara in a game of dice and that she became very happy. It is believed that those who win in gambling on this day will be happy throughout the year. The temptation makes people to gamble recklessly. At some places the wager goes up to a millions rupees!
In the north it is celebrated as a festival of lights in the evening, as opposed to celebrations in the morning in the south. People use decorative illuminations and use crackers extensively. The skies are rent asunder by the terrific sounds of bursting crackers. The bursting of crackers is a common practice all over the country. Temples and public places are also illuminated.
Diwali ‘melas’ (fairs) are fairly common throughout the country and especially in villages and towns. Many activities take place at a mela. The shop keepers have a busy time selling all sorts of stuff connected with he festivities. People buy new vessels, clothes, sweetmeats, decorative items, etc. It is a great sight to see performances by jugglers, acrobats, snake charmers and fortune tellers There are a variety of rides at the fair. Puppet shows are shown throughout the day
In the east, the day is devoted to Kali puja. Kali is an important deity in this part of the world. In some other parts it is celebrated as Lakshmi puja. It is also a significant festival for the Sikh faith. Diwali is particularly important to them because it celebrates the release from prison of their sixth guru, Guru Hargobindji. They also remember the great sacrifice & devotion of martyr Bhai Mani Singhji on this day. .
Diwali is celebrated in other countries as well. In some it has become part of the general local culture. In Nepal, Diwali is known as “Tihar” and celebrated during the October/November period, though they follow different traditions.
In Sri Lanka, this festival is celebrated mainly by the large Tamil community.
In Malaysia, Diwali is known as “Hari Deepavali,” It is a public holiday throughout Malaysia. ‘Open houses’ are held where Hindu Malaysians welcome fellow Malaysians of different races and religions to their house for a sumptuous meal. ‘Rumah terbuka’ or ‘Open house’ is a practice unique to Malaysia People of different faiths exchange greetings and show the goodwill and friendly ties practised by all Malaysians during any festive occasion.
In Singapore also the day is a public holiday though the festival is observed by the minority Indian community. it is best known for fire-walking ceremonies. Many cultural events are organized around the holiday.
There is a sizable Indian population in Trinidad and Tobago, who get together and celebrate the festival. One major celebration that stands out is the Divali Nagar, or Village of the Festival of Lights. It features stage performances by the Indian cultural practitioners, a folk theatre featuring skits and plays, an exhibition on some aspects of Hinduism, displays by various Hindu religious sects and social organizations, nightly worship of Goddess Lakshmi, lighting of deeyas, performances by various schools related to Indian culture, and a food court with Indian and non-Indian vegetarian delicacies. The festival culminates with magnificent fireworks displays ushering in Diwali. Thousands of people participate in an atmosphere devoid of alcohol and in a true family environment.
In Britain, and the United States and generally wherever there is a sizable expatriate Indian community, the festival is celebrated with great gusto. People spring clean and decorate their homes with lamps, give each other sweets. The different communities gather from around the country for a religious ceremony and get-together. It is also an important time to contact family inIndia and exchange gifts through the post, just as in the Christmas festival. It is worth observing that the US Congress has recognized the historic and religious significance of Diwali.