Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Happy Diwali!

Tomorrow the country will light up in celebration of Diwali. A corruption of the Sanskrit word Deepavali, meaning ‘row of lights’, this is probably South Asia’s biggest festival and certainly one of the biggest in India. Note: Diwali pictures in this post by greeshma, yashrg, one hot stove.

Diwali in IndiaDuring Diwali, homes are decorated with rows and rows of oil-lamps in the evening and the night skies explode with fireworks. Unfortunately, more people now-a-days are choosing convenience over tradition: you see more fancy electric lights and candles instead of the prettier, and traditional, oil-lamps.

In Diwali, it is common for people to buy new clothes and visit friends and family to exchange greetings and gifts. Diwali is also an auspicious time to move into a new house or buy a new car. In fact, like Christmas season in the USA, Diwali shopping accounts for a big chunk of the annual sales of many consumer goods in India.

Two Goddesses in particular are celebrated at Diwali: Lakshmi and Kali. In the North, this is also a time for some harmless gambling over card games!

Diwali in IndiaThe date of Diwali is set by the Hindu calendar and so it varies in the Western calendar, but usually falls in October or November. This year Diwali will be celebrated on Nov 8-9, and so everyone gets a long weekend. For the kids, Diwali means firecrackers, new clothes, lots of good food, and loads of sweets. No surprise then that my daughter eagerly awaits Diwali every year even though she is easily scared by some of the firecrackers (she is all of four).

For first-time visitors to India, I must warn you that Diwali can be pretty noisy with firecrackers exploding every few minutes on the roads, over rooftops, and in community parks. The fervour of the festival can be best experienced by celebrating amid a Hindu family, even though five-star hotels will usually arrange fireworks during the evenings and a gourmet spread at dinner too.

Like most Hindu festivals, the origins of Diwali are a matter of mythology. Here are the two popular versions of how Diwali originated:

1. The killing of the demon Narakaasura

The demon was the evil king of Pragjyotishpur, near Nepal. He ruled with a reign of terror, abducted 16,000 daughters of the gods, and stole the earrings of Aditi, mother of the gods.

The gods asked Lord Krishna for help, and after a mighty battle he killed the demon, freed the girls, and recovered the earrings.

Diwali in IndiaAfter his victory Krishna returned very early in the morning and was bathed and massaged with scented oils. Taking an early morning bath with oil is still a Diwali tradition (especially in South India).

2. The killing of the demon Ravana

Ravana, who had ten arms and ten heads, was the wicked king of the island of Lanka, who kidnapped the wife of Rama. Rama had been in exile for 14 years because of a disagreement as to whether he or his brother should be the next king in Ayodhya.

After a great battle Rama killed the demon and recovered his wife. Rama's return with his wife Sita to Ayodhya and his subsequent coronation as king is celebrated at Diwali.

When Rama and Sita first returned to Ayodhya it was a dark moonless night and they couldn't see where they were going. Their people put little lamps outside their houses so that the new king and queen could find their way, thus beginning the tradition of the festival of lights.

Read “The Story of Diwali” if you are interested in more of the Hindu mythology surrounding this festival.

13 comments:

Thomas L said...

Hope you had a god holiday :)

Zhu said...

Thanks for the explanation ! I've heard of the celebration through the Indian community here in Canada but didn't know exactly why/what was the story.

Zhu said...

Oh and ... happy Diwali ! ;)

Sig said...

Happy Diwali to you and family Shantanu!

Shantanu said...

@thomas, zhu, sig: Thank you!

backpakker said...

Hi

have a great Deepavali ..In South India, we still call it Deepavali ..Agree with you on the candles , but the important thing is to lit up the houses...chinese lanterns are the latest ..the sad thing is that today a lot of people dont bother to even celebrate the spirit of Deepavali

backpakker said...

Hi

have a great Deepavali ..In South India, we still call it Deepavali ..Agree with you on the candles , but the important thing is to lit up the houses...chinese lanterns are the latest ..the sad thing is that today a lot of people dont bother to even celebrate the spirit of Deepavali

Shantanu said...

@backpakkar: Thanks!

HAREKRISHNAJI said...

Happy Diwali

Shantanu said...

@harekrishnaji: Thank you! Hope you had a great Diwali at Mumbai too.

indicaspecies said...

Happy Diwali to you and your family Shantanu. It's never too late to continue the festivities in our hearts.

Thank you for passing by and your very kind comments.

You have a lovely blog here full of interesting stuff. Keep writing..and cheers. :)

Shantanu said...

@indicaspecies: Thank you very much! Love your blog too...

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