On the eve of Deepawali I extend my warm greetings to all my well-wishers. May the festival of lights be the harbinger of joy and prosperity. As the holy occasion of Diwali is here and the atmosphere is filled with the spirit of mirth and love, here’s hoping this festival of beauty brings your way, bright sparkles of contentment, that stay with you through the days ahead.
Deepawali or Diwali is certainly the biggest and the brightest of all Hindu festivals. It’s the festival of lights (deep = light and avali = a row i.e., a row of lights) that’s marked by four days of celebration, which literally illumines the country with its brilliance, and dazzles all with its joy. Each of the four days in the festival of Diwali is separated by a different tradition, but what remains true and constant is the celebration of life, its enjoyment and goodness.
Historically, the origin of Diwali can be traced back to ancient India,
when it was probably an important harvest festival. However, there are
various legends pointing to the origin of Diwali or ‘Deepawali.’ Some
believe it to be the celebration of the marriage of Lakshmi with Lord
Vishnu. Whereas in Bengal the festival is dedicated to the worship of
Mother Kali, the dark goddess of strength. Lord Ganesha , the
elephant-headed God, the symbol of auspiciousness and wisdom, is also
worshiped in most Hindu homes on this day. In Jainism, Deepawali has an
added significance to the great event of Lord Mahavira attaining the
eternal bliss of nirvana . Diwali also commemorates the return of Lord
Rama along with Sita and Lakshman from his fourteen year long exile and
vanquishing the demon-king Ravana. In joyous celebration of the return
of their king, the people of Ayodhya, the Capital of Rama, illuminated
the kingdom with earthen diyas (oil lamps) and burst crackers.
Each day of Diwali has its own tale, legend and myth to tell. The first
day of the festival Naraka Chaturdasi marks the vanquishing of the demon
Naraka by Lord Krishna and his wife Satyabhama. Amavasya , the second
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 dwarfs
incarnation, vanquished the tyrant Bali, and banished him to hell. Bali
was allowed to return to earth once a year, to light millions of lamps
to dispel the darkness and ignorance, and spread the radiance of love
and wisdom. It is on the third day of Deepawali — Kartika Shudda Padyami
that Bali steps out of hell and rules the earth according to the boon
given by Lord Vishnu. The fourth day is referred to as Yama Dvitiya
(also called Bhai Dooj ) and on this day sisters invite their brothers
to their homes.
All the simple rituals of Diwali have significance and a story to tell.
The illumination of homes with lights and the skies with firecrackers is
an expression of obeisance to the heavens for the attainment of health,
wealth, knowledge, peace and prosperity. According to one belief, the
sounds of fire-crackers are an indication of the joy of the people
living on earth, making the gods aware of their plentiful state. Still
another possible reason has a more scientific basis: the fumes produced
by the crackers kill a lot of insects and mosquitoes, found in plenty
after the rains.
The tradition of gambling on Diwali also has a legend behind it. It is
believed that on this day, Goddess Parvati played dice with her husband
Lord Shiva , and she decreed that whosoever gambled on Diwali night
would prosper throughout the ensuing year. Diwali is associated with
wealth and prosperity in many ways, and the festival of ‘ Dhanteras ‘
(‘dhan’ = wealth; ‘teras’ = 13th) is celebrated two days before the
festival of lights.
In each legend, myth and story of Deepawali lays the significance of the
victory of good over evil; and it is with each Deepawali and the lights
that illuminate our homes and hearts, that this simple truth finds new
reason and hope. From darkness unto light — the light that empowers us
to commit ourselves to good deeds, that which brings us closer to
divinity. During Diwali, lights illuminate every corner of India and the
scent of incense sticks hangs in the air, mingled with the sounds of
fire-crackers, joy, togetherness and hope. Diwali is celebrated around
the globe. Outside India, it is more than a Hindu festival; it’s a
celebration of South-Asian identities. If you are away from the sights
and sounds of Diwali, light a diya , sit quietly, shut your eyes,
withdraw the senses, concentrate on this supreme light and illuminate
the soul.

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