Written by Krishna Murala

Its Diwali time everyone, popularly known as festival lights. Diwali is widely celebrated in India by Hindus, Sikhs, Jain and Buddhists. The whole country explodes into fireworks celebrating the victory of Good over Evil.  I thought I would share some of my memories, a few facts and stories with you.

Diwali has been one of my favourite festivals since my childhood. Preparations for the festival start few days ahead. I was brought up in a city but would often visit my grandparents in their village so I was had a chance to taste the flavour of all festivals in both settings. The house gets spring cleaned thoroughly, shopping starts for new clothes, gifts and fire crackers. The ladies gather together to make loads of sweets and snack that would last for few months.

On the day of the festival, we would wake up early in the morning and I mean very early. We would clean the house and everyone would have a shower and get dressed in their new clothes. And we would worship goddess Lakshmi (Goddess of wealth).

Special varieties such as rice pudding, tamarind rice, vadas (vary from place to place) are made as offerings to the Goddess. After a busy morning and heavy lunch, we would have a tiny rest before the evening when all the action is set to come.

In the evening the house is lit up with “row of lights” in clay lamps. This is where the name comes “Diya” or “Deepam” means light and “Avali” is a row hence the name “Diwali” or “Deepavali”. The near and dear ones exchange sweets and gifts. We decorate the house with flowers, garlands, coloured patterns with rice-flour called Rangoli’s. The sky is then filled with firecrackers for a few hours and this is my favourite bit.

I fondly remember my Dad repeatedly telling us about the significance of burning firecracker. He used to say “Everytime you light a firecracker, you are trying to conquer your ignorance!”  I have lit a firecracker every year since.

Diwali is celebrated on a New moon day called  “Amavasya” of Kartika month of lunar calendar in India. This is the time when the summer harvest ends and marks the beginning of autumn. All Indian festivals are closely associated with agriculture as perhaps it was the main occupation when the civilisation began. Harvest time is the time when people had cash or other forms of wealth that they could spent. It is the reason for decorating home, buying new clothes or jewellery.

Diwali is celebrated over five days. The first day is called ‘Dhanteras” which is two days before the New moon day and this is when the house is cleaned and the front yard of houses are decorated with Rangoli. It is considered very auspicious to buy some gold on this day (Remember the harvest has yielded money and in those days, it was best to invest in gold when there were no banks, shares or concept of real estate).

The second day is called “Narakchaturdasi” ,according to Indian mythology, on this day the  Evil demon Narkasura ( as Evil as hell) was killed by Sathyabhama, wife of  Lord Krishna (one of incarnations of Lord Vishnu). This legend signifies the female power ( Sathyabhama who is personified Mother Earth in the story) and more so that when earth is threatened by Evil  forces Mother Earth will herself intervene to maintain the balance. This is a way of educating the lay person to be respectful to the environment. Following the death of the demon, the people celebrated by decorating their homes with lights. In North India Diwali is celebrated to mark the victory of Lord Rama when he kills demon Ravana (another story from Hindu mythology set in the time period before Lord Krishna). In Eastern part of India Goddess Kali is worshipped to mark her victory over evil demon.

The third day of celebration is Diwali which is followed by, Govardhan Puja/Balipratapada which is the fourth day and is dedicated to celebrate the bond between a Husband and a Wife. Bhaidooj is the fifth day which is dedicated to bond between Brother and Sister. In some communities “Vishwkarma puja” is performed on the fifth day. This is where we perform worship at workspaces (Vishwakarma is a divine architect /carpenter/engineer mentioned in oldest Vedas in Hinduism).

Sikhs celebrate Diwali to mark release of Gurugobind singh from a Moghul emperor and Jains celebrate to mark liberation of Mahavir.

In terms of science, it’s the time when summer harvest comes to end and it is time to relax, celebrate and enjoy. In days of no electricity, the New moon day of this lunar month is the start of the darkest nights to come. The lamps that decorated the houses would indicate that household existed and marked their entrance. Except for chrysanthemums no other plant flowered in this season and all the trees looked dry with autumn fall. The colourful rangolis was the only way to add colour to the atmosphere. The colourful rangolis in my village would continue until mid-January which would then mark another harvest festival.

Spiritually Diwali symbolises the light of knowledge that we fill ourselves and the world with when we are able to kill the Evil forces and ignorance within ourselves and be a good human being.  This fascinating festival does not have religious or regional boundaries. It is celebrated all over the world not only because it is fun but because of the inherent message it passes onto generations to come.