Thursday, 22 October 2009


Festival of Lights
All the things that come to my mind when i think of my favorite festival:

Diyas - small clay lamps lit with wickers dipped in oil
Sweets and Snacks
New Clothes and Jewelery

Well, thats just a glance on Deepavali, one of the most awaited Hindu festival. Although clebrated for only 3 days or 5 days in some places, preparations for Deepavali starts long before it begins. Even though every Hindu festival has its own religious significance with elaborate rituals and practices, I have always been fascinated by the social significance these festivals are to mundane life.

In every Hindu household Deepavali is preceeded with weeks of preparations. First of all begins the cleaning of homes. Each and every nook and corner of the house is cleared up, dusted and washed. A few generations back when instead of our latest long lasting paints, walls were painted with whitewash, every Deepavali would see a fresh coat. This would mean that literally every part of the house, from under our cots, to behind the wardrobes, in the attic and store rooms were clean. It is said that Goddess Lakshmi, the Goddess of wealth and prosperity resides only in clean places and all this thorough cleaning is done to invite her into our homes with the hope that she would be pleased to reside here. What a novel way to bring in cleanliness in our surroundings...... Psychologically it also removes the routine monotony from our lives. Bringing about a lot of activity, giving up laziness and increasing interactions with loved ones, it is also a festival that highlights the importance of work be it household chores or accounts and businesses.

Once the cleaning of the house is done, comes the shopping sprees......! We shop for new clothes, jewelry,fire crackers, flowers, sweetmeats, diya's... the list can be endless. Sweets and snacks are prepared at home or bought from shops and kept ready for distribution. Homes are decorated with torana's (garland of flowers and mango leaves) at the main door and rangoli (intricate artwork done on the floor using colored powders and flowers). Everything around the house begins to smell fresh with the flowers and tempting with all the food around.

The first day of Deepavali is called Naraka Chaturdashi. This is the day when Narakaasura, a demon was killed by Lord Krishna's wife Satyabhama. This day also heralds the season of winter in India, and so it is a ritual to wake up early morning, before sunrise, apply warm coconut oil on your whole body and have a good bath. After bath we put on new clothes, puja is performed to God and the first firecracker is burst signifying the start of deepavali.

The day before Naraka Chaturdashi is called Dhan Teras and is
considered a very auspicious day to buy new utensils, clothes or
jewellery. Before we had electric heater and over head water storage tanks, water for daily use would be stored in big copper vessels called manda's in bathrooms. At the base of it would be a wood fire stove to heat the water. The day before Naraka Chaturdashi, this pot would be cleaned thoroughly inside out, decorated with kumkum or vermillion with signs like Om or the Swastika and the mouth of the pot strung with mango leaves and flowers. The pot is filled with fresh water drawn out of the wells from our courtyards. Before the oil bath the next day, puja is performed to the element of water, with arathi( worship with fire), and bells ringing. This is called as Ganga Puje. Ganga literally meaning the holy ganges water. I see it as a way to remember that water is an important element of life, should be revered and protected and preserved.

The second day of deepavali is the day of Lakshmi Puja. It is also the first day of the new Hindu financial year. This day new account books are opened by businessmen and puja is offered in all shops. A visit to shops on this day and you'll come with free sweets and snacks that are distributed to all visitors. In homes Lakshmi puja is performed at dusk, as they say that this is the time when the Goddess visits households. A lamp is lit in front of the main entrance door with flowers, fruits and sweets displayed artistically invoking Goddess Lakshmi. Sweets are distributed among friends and relatives, diya's lit and booms of the the firecrackes resound the air.

The third and last day of deepavali is called as Bali Padyami.
Click on the link above to read an interesting fable about Balipadyami and the famous King Bali.
In the northern states of India the day after Bali Padyami is celebrated as Bhai Duj. This day clebrates the love and bond between brothers and sisters. That brings a close to this years Deepavali essay with the hope that next year i can bring you some more insights of this festival and others that we celebrate in India.
***************SHUBH DEEPAVALI ***************

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