(CHAKRA) Diwali (Deepavali) is one of the biggest festival in Hinduism, with major celebrations in India, Canada, Trinidad, Guyana, UK, Fiji, United States and other countries around the world. The festival is also celebrated by Sikhs and Jains.
The festival is celebrated for 5 continuous days, where the 3rd days is celebrated as the main Diwali festival or ‘Festival of lights’. Different colourful varieties of fireworks are always associated with this festival. On this auspicious day, people light up diyas and candles all around their homes and businesses. They perform Laxmi Puja in the evening and seek divine blessings of Goddess of Wealth. The festival od Diwali is never complete without exchange of gifts. People present diwali gifts to all near and dear ones.
While the story behind Deepavali and the manner of celebration varies from region to region (festive fireworks, worship, lights, sharing of sweets), the essence is the same – to rejoice in the Inner Light (Atman) or the underlying Reality of all things (Brahman)
Diwali in Hinduism
The exact day of the festival is decided by the position of the moon. According to the Hindu calendar, Amavasya or ‘no moon day’ is considered as the perfect day to celebrate Diwali. This dark night comes after every fortnight and in the month of Kartik, it marks this festival of lights and diyas. As per the English calendar, the festival generally comes in the month of November and December. For all Hindu people, the festival holds an imperative meaning since the festival is reckoned with Lord Rama’s victory as the King of Ayodhya after his return to the kingdom from 14 years of exile along with his wife Sita and brother Laxman after killing the demon, King Ravana. The festival is celebrated by lighting diyas and candles to drive away the darkness of Amavasya.
The festival starts with Dhanteras on which most Indian business communities begin their financial year. The second day of the festival, Naraka Chaturdasi, marks the vanquishing of the demon Naraka by Lord Krishna and his wife Satyabhama. Amavasya, the third day of Deepawali, marks the worship of Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth in her most benevolent mood, fulfilling the wishes of her devotees. Amavasya also tells the story of Lord Vishnu, who in his dwarf incarnation vanquished the Bali, and banished him to Patala. It is on the fourth day of Deepawali, Kartika Shudda Padyami, that Bali went to patala and took the reins of his new kingdom in there. The fifth day is referred to as Yama Dvitiya (also called Bhai Dooj), and on this day sisters invite their brothers to their homes.
The name “Diwali” is a contraction of “Deepavali”, which translates into “row of lamps”. Diwali involves the lighting of small clay lamps (diyas or dipas) filled with oil to signify the triumph of good over evil. During Diwali, all the celebrants wear new clothes and share sweets and snacks with family members and friends.
Diwali in Sikhism
For Sikhs, Diwali is particularly important which they celebrate after the celebration of Bandi Chhorh Divas (the Day of Freedom), celebrating the release from prison of the Sixth Guru, Guru Hargobind Ji, and 52 other princes with him, in 1619. The Sikh tradition holds that the Emperor Jahangir had imprisoned Guru Hargobind Ji and 52 princes. The Emperor was asked to release Guru Hargobind Ji which he agreed to do. However, the Guru asked that the princes be released also. The Emperor agreed, but said only those who could hold onto his cloak tail would be allowed to leave the prison. This was in order to limit the number of prisoners who could leave. However, Guru Hargobind Ji had a cloak made with 52 pieces of string and so each prince was able to hold onto one string and leave prison. Sikhs celebrated the return of their Guru by lighting the Sri Harmandir Sahib (Golden Temple) and this tradition continues today.
Diwali in Jainism
For Jains, Diwali marks the attainment of moksha or nirvana by Mahavira in 527 BC. Mahavira is responsible for establishing the Dharma followed by Jains even today. According to tradition, the chief disciple of Mahavira, Ganadhara Gautam Swami also attained complete knowledge (Kevalgyana) on this day, thus making Diwali one of the most important Jain festivals.
Diwali in Buddhism
While not a large occasion in some Buddhists including Newar Buddhists celebrate Diwali through the chanting of mantras and remembering Emperor Ashoka who converted to Buddhism on this day, and therefore Buddhists also know the festival as Ashok Vijayadashami. Their temples and monasteries are well decorated during this time and the Buddha is worshiped with full honors.