Submitted by: Yogamaya (Maya) Sanekommu, Director of Information Services Delivery
Diwali or Deepawali also known as the “Festival of Lights” is one of the most popular festivals in the Indian Sub-Continent. Deepawali literally means a “row of lamps” and is celebrated not just by Hindus, but also by Jains, and Sikhs. Hindus follow a lunar calendar and Diwali is celebrated in the month of “Kartika” that typically overlaps October and November. This year Diwali is being celebrated all over the world on November 7th.
There are several mythological stories and historical events associated with the celebration of Diwali. These stories /events are dated anywhere from 1000 BC to 1600 AD. All stories associated with Diwali have a common theme – victory of good over evil and knowledge over ignorance.
Some of the popular Hindu legends include Lord Ram returning to his kingdom, Ayodhya, after defeating the ten-headed demon King Ravana. In South India, Diwali is celebrated as the day when Lord Krishna defeated evil demon King Narkasura. Sikhs celebrate Diwali to signify the historical event when Guru Hargobind was released from prison by the Mughals. Jains celebrate Diwali to observe the final Nirvana of Mahavira.
Every region of India has different legends and rituals associated with Diwali. Some celebrate Diwali as a two-day festival while others celebrate Diwali for five days. In State of Gujarat, which is the birth place of Mahatma Gandhi, Diwali signifies the first day of the new year. Businessmen close the Account Books for the previous year. They pray to Goddess Lakshmi (Goddess of Wealth) and Goddess Saraswathi (Goddess of Learning) and start their new fiscal year.
I have fond memories of the Diwali growing up in India. Preparation for the festival starts weeks in advance. The whole house is cleaned up and my mom would start preparing homemade sweets. Walking down the streets you could smell the aroma of sweets coming from each house. On the day of Diwali, families get together and worship Goddess Lakshmi (Goddess of Wealth) and then distribute sweets among family and friends.
In the evening, everyone lights the lamps known as “Diyas”. Diyas are earthen lamps filled with Ghee (clarified butter) with a cotton wick. The lighting of the lamps signifies victory of light over darkness. The main day of Diwali is on a new moon night. The sky would be pitch black and looking around one can see all streets and homes lit up with earthen lamps. My siblings and myself would help my mom light up the Diyas outside our house and on the terrace. After lighting the Diyas, families and friends gather in the streets and enjoy fireworks.
Different regions/ states/ religions may have different traditions and rituals for celebrating Diwali, but the message of Diwali is the same – victory of good over evil and knowledge over ignorance.
Wish You All a Very Happy Diwali!!!