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October 17, 2006 > Diwali, festival of lights

Diwali, festival of lights

by Arathi Satish

Diwali, a colorful and beautiful Hindu festival, is celebrated in a variety of ways all over the world. The word Diwali or Deepavali means a row of lights, and true to its name, illumination is the main feature of this festival. Deepavali guides celebrants toward knowledge and light, driving out the darkness of ignorance. Festivities are held throughout India, Singapore and Indonesia, Thailand and Malaysia as well as many other countries around the world. It is the most popular festival in India and among Indian communities everywhere.

For many, the festival is celebrated for five days although the length and type of festivities can vary in different locations, each day with a particular significance to celebrants. It is common practice in India to light small oil lamps - diyas - placing them in front of houses, on the walls around the house and on rooftops in rows. Rangoli, a Hindu folk art that can be traced back to ancient myths, is drawn on floors using different designs and colors. Evening fireworks lend excitement and grandeur to this colorful festival.

Day 1:
Dhanteras marks the beginning of Diwali and recalls the story of King Hima, whose son, according to his horoscope, was doomed to die by snakebite four days after he got married. To foil the prediction, the young wife spread ornaments and gold and silver coins in a heap at the entrance to her husband's room and lit lamps throughout the palace. She sang songs and told stories. Yama, god of death, came in the form of a snake and was blinded by the brilliance of the light. Sitting on the heap of gold, he listened to the songs and stories, leaving in the morning without the life of the prince. On Dhanteras, also known as Yamadeepdaan, lamps are burned all night long to honor Yama.

Goddess of wealth, Lakshmi, is also worshipped on this auspicious day and many people buy gold, silver, or new utensils making it a very important day for the mercantile community of India.

Day 2:
According to legend, the people of Dwaraka welcomed Lord Krishna after his victory over the demon King Narakasura on the second day of Diwali, known as Narakachathurdashi or Choti Diwali. Krishna was given a scented oil bath so, to commemorate this auspicious occasion, people get up early in the morning, bathe in oil and celebrate Narakachaturdashi or Choti diwali.

Day 3:
On the third day of Diwali, Lakshmi-Puja, the Goddess Lakshmi, is petitioned to help mankind to embrace sublime, universal knowledge and banish the darkness of ignorance. The day is also known for many great happenings; Lord Krishna discarded his body. Jain Prophet Bhagavan Mahavir attained Nirvan on this day.

Day 4:
Balipadyami or Varshapratipada is celebrated on the fourth day of Diwali. King Vikramaditya was crowned and for some it marks the beginning of Vikram Samvat (a New Year). In a legendary Diwali story, Lord Vishnu, in the guise of a small short boy, asked King Bali, to grant any land covered by three steps of his steps. Bali, a great philanthropist, agreed and the boy suddenly grew to a gigantic size. The first step covered the entire heaven, the second covered earth, and the third step was placed on Bali's head, pushing him to the underworld. Pleased by Bali's generosity, the Lord gave him the lamp of knowledge and allowed him to return to earth once a year to dispel darkness of ignorance and bring about the light of wisdom. Govardhan puja is also performed by some celebrants on this day in remembrance of Lord Krishna's miraculous deed, lifting the Govardhan Mountain to shield his people from torrential rains.

Day 5:
Bhayya-Dhuj, the last day of Diwali, celebrates the special relationship between brothers and sisters. Many stories circulate about this festival day, one of which speaks of it as the day the God of Death, Yama visited his sister Yami. They ate sweets, enjoyed each others company and exchanged gifts when parting. Yami put a special mark of love, tilak, on Yama's forehead. As a consequence, the day is observed as a symbol of love between brother and sister, during which "brothers" will visit their "sisters" to demonstrate loyalty and love.

Diwali is filled with glorious stories and joy, celebrated in a fitting manner. Diwali begins on the October 20 this year. Happy Diwali. May the light of wisdom spread.

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