Deepavali (Diwali) is a five day festival marking the new year. Each day has a different significance and different stories describing what that day commemorates. Depending on the part of India or the denomination of Sanatana Dharma, different significances and practices may be practiced. The five days are
- Dhanteras (Dhan Trayodashi)
- Naraka Chaturdasi / Roop Chaudas
- Lakshmi Puja / Padwa (Varsha Pratipada) / Amavasya / Onam
- Goverdhan Puja
This five-day festival is celebrated in October-November, or Kartika by the Indian calendar. The festival is often referred to as Diwali which is a deriviation of Deepavali - deepa means light, and avali means row - denoting the practice of placing rows of lamps during the festival.
A festival is a celebration that integrates spiritual, philosophical, religious and cultural aspects of human life. The spiritual aspect is based on the basic human instincts of joy and happiness. The philosophical aspect is based on the basic principle of the victory of good over evil in the constant struggle between them. The victory of good is to be celebrated. This is to remind ourselves and also our future generations that in the fight between good and evil, the good shall win. The religious aspect deals with the particular rituals of that festival. The stories that are related to the particular manifestation of the God (Supreme Being) provide the religious strength for the festival. The cultural aspect deals with the customs, activities, food, dress, social interaction with family and friends etc.
Deepavali is a major festival that comes in early part of November. Deepavali means "Row of Lamps". The festival is celebrated on New moon day that is a day of darkness. Several stories are associated with this festival. The major story is that of Lord Krishna killing the demon Narakasura. Also, "Naraka" means "Hell". The demon Narakasura had kept several good kings, citizens including thousands of women in dark prison. It was the helpless cry of these innocent people as prisoners that brought the Supreme Being in the manifestation of Lord Krishna to kill the demon Narakasura and free the prisoners. At the time of death demon Narakasura repented for the wicked deeds and asked for grace. Lord Krishna with mercy declared that let people celebrate the end of tyranny by lighting lamps to dispel the darkness. The day of Deepavali begins with special bath with oil, wearing new dress, ritual of worship, special foods and in the night lighting the lamps and firing crackers to celebrate through the sounds of joy. The family and friends meet on this day to wish greetings and celebrate together.
Also, on Deepavali day the merchants observe the beginning of new yearly accounting. This signifies the review of the accounting both in their business and also in life. The revision of accounting signifies the "forget and forgive " principle and restarting our joyful relationship with family and friends. Goddess Lakshmi represents the wealth both materialistic and spiritual. On Deepavali, worship of Goddess Lakshmi is also carried out for Her blessings on restarting our worldly and spiritual accounting.
Also, the return of Lord Sri Rama to Ayodhya after killing the demon Ravana is celebrated on this day. The victorious return of Lord SriRama signifies the spiritual fulfillment of the journey (of seeking Goal of life) after destroying the evil forces and strengthening the divine forces.
Thus we see that Deepavali encompasses all domains of human life namely physical, emotional, analytical and spiritual. The celebration includes both the individual and societal levels. Thus the purpose of festivals is to provide enlightenment, education and joy at the most basic levels of human experience.
Twinkling oil lamps or diyas light up every home and firework displays are common all across the country. The goddess Lakshmi (consort of Vishnu), who is the symbol of wealth and prosperity, is also worshiped on this day. This festive occasion also marks the beginning of the New Year and Lord Ganesha, the elephant-headed god, the symbol of auspiciousness and wisdom, is worshiped in most homes. Houses across the country are scrubbed till they are spotlessly clean, and whitewashed with fresh white paint. To enhance their new look, they are decorated with bright paper lanterns, diyas and flowers, while the girls of the house embellish the aangan (courtyard) and walls with traditional aesthetic designs and patterns called rangoli. New clothes are bought and the family gathers together to offer prayers, distribute sweets and light up their homes. Crackers and fireworks illuminate the sky and people pray for a prosperous coming year. In West Bengal, the Deepawali festival is celebrated as Kali Pooja and Kali, Shiva's consort is worshiped on this day.
- "Deepavali" by Dr. M.G.Prasad