Thursday 21 October 2021

Diwali - The festival of lights

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Diwali - The festival of lights

Diwali or Deepawali is a festival of lights and is one of the major festivals celebrated in India by Indians -Hindus, Jains, Sikhs and Buddhists. The festival usually lasts five days and is celebrated during the Hindu month of Kartika (between mid-October and mid-November). Traditional diya and colourful lighting, home decoration, shopping, fireworks, puja, gifts, feast, and sweets are all part of the festivities. It is celebrated all over India and by the Indian diaspora around the world.

Coming soon, Diwali will be celebrated all over India and by the Indian community all over the world. It is the festival of lights, bringing happiness and celebration of victory of good over evil. Everywhere and in every home you get to see colourful lights, traditional lamps, decorated lanterns, feasts and an assortment of sweets. New clothes and dresses are bought and worn especially giving kids a feeling of the festivity.

In Malaysia, the traditional Indian festival of Diwali is celebrated as Hari Diwali in the month of Aswayuja. It is a national public holiday as in India during Diwali. Diwali is also celebrated with much fervor wherever Indians have settled overseas, like USA, UK, Fiji, Mauritius, Hong Kong, Singapore, Europe and where ever Indians have settled abroad. The festival connects them to their Indian roots, culture and tradition. Also reminds them of the celebration of their ancestors in India earlier.

Diwali or Divali is derived from the Sanskrit dīpāvali meaning row or series of lights. The term is derived from the Sanskrit words dīpa, lamp, light, lantern, candle, that which glows, shines, illuminates or knowledge and āvali, a row, range, continuous line, series. Normally it is referred to as Diwali and the traditionalists call it Deepawali. Both mean the same and describe it as the festival of lights.

The five-day celebration is observed every year in early autumn after the conclusion of the summer harvest, it coincides with the new moon (amāvasyā) and is deemed the darkest night of the Hindu lunisolar calendar. The festivities begin two days before amāvasyā, on Dhanteras, and extend two days after, on the second day of the month of Kartik. (According to Indologist Constance Jones, this night ends the lunar month of Ashwin and starts the month of Kartik.

In India, almost all schools have Diwali vacation. Children anxiously wait for the festival, to wear new clothes, fire crackers and enjoy a wide range of sweets. The market is flooded with colourful lamps, decorated lanterns of various shapes and sizes, along with a wide range of crackers and fireworks, including lanterns and fireworks, even coming from China. In recent years, Indians have started boycotting Chinese products which to a great extent has affected their business. People are coming back to the traditional clay lamps, which has its own fervor.

The whole of India is in a festive mood with Indian community overseas in festive spirit to celebrate the festival of lights. Diwali is also the festival of overindulgence in delicacies and sweets, decorating of homes, giving gifts, special offers in shops and malls, with wide options of clothes, gifts, etc for your loved ones.

Being one of the most popular festivals of Indians, especially Hindus, Diwali symbolizes the spiritual victory of light over darkness, good over evil and knowledge over ignorance. The festival is widely associated with Lakshmi, goddess of prosperity, with many other regional traditions. In most regions,  it is celebrated as the auspicious day when Lord Rama returned to his kingdom Ayodhya with his wife Sita and his brother Lakshmana after defeating Ravana in Lanka and serving the fourteen years of exile.

In the lead-up to Diwali, people prepare by cleaning, renovating, and decorating their homes and workplaces with diyas (oil lamps) and rangolis (colorful art circle patterns). During Diwali, people wear their finest clothes, illuminate the interior and exterior of their homes with diyas and rangoli, perform puja and special ceremonies for Lakshmi, the goddess of prosperity and wealth, light crackers and fireworks, and enjoy family feasts, where mithai (sweets) and gifts are shared. Diwali is also a major cultural event for the Hindus, Sikhs and Jains.

The five-day long festival originated in the Indian subcontinent and is mentioned in early Sanskrit texts. Diwali is usually celebrated twenty days after the Vijayadashami (Dussehra) festival, with Dhanteras, or the regional equivalent, marking the first day of the festival when people prepare by cleaning their homes and making decorations on the floor, such as rangolis. The second day is Naraka Chaturdashi. The third day is the day of Lakshmi Puja and the darkest night of the traditional month. In some parts of India, the day after Lakshmi Puja is marked with the Govardhan Puja and Balipratipada (Padwa). Some Hindu communities mark the last day as Bhai Dooj or the regional equivalent, which is dedicated to the bond between brother and sister, while other Hindus and Sikh craftsmen communities mark this day as Vishwakarma Puja and observe it by performing pujas in their work spaces and offering prayers for good luck and prosperity.

Some other faiths in India also celebrate their respective festivals alongside Diwali. The Jains observe their own Diwali which marks the final liberation of Mahavira, the Sikhs celebrate Bandi Chhor Divas to mark the release of Guru Hargobind from a Mughal rulers captivity, while Newar Buddhists, unlike other Buddhists, celebrate Diwali by worshipping Lakshmi, while the Hindus of Eastern India and Bangladesh generally celebrate Diwali, by worshipping goddess Kali. The main day of the festival of Diwali (the day of Lakshmi Puja) is an official holiday in India, Fiji, Guyana, Malaysia, Mauritius, Myanmar, Nepal, Singapore, Sri Lanka, Suriname, and Trinidad and Tobago.

The darkest night is the apex of the celebration and coincides with the second half of October or early November in the Gregorian calendar. The festival climax is on the third day and is called the main Diwali. It is an official holiday in a dozen countries, while the other festive days are regionally observed as either public or optional restricted holidays in India. In Nepal, it is also a multiday festival, although the days and rituals are named differently, with the climax being called the Tihar festival by Hindus and Swanti festival by Buddhists. And few days after Diwali comes Tulsi Puja or Tulsi Vivah, which too is observed and celebrated all over India. Tulsi Vivah is a Hindu festival in which a ceremonial marriage of the Tulsi with god Shaligram or Vishnu is held. The Tulsi wedding signifies the end of the monsoon and the beginning of the wedding season in Hinduism. The ceremonial festival is performed anytime between Prabodhini Ekadashi and Kartik Poornima.

Tulsi is venerated as a goddess in Hinduism and is sometimes considered as a wife of Vishnu, with the epithet, Vishnupriya, the beloved of Vishnu. The legend behind Tulsi Vivah and its rites are told in the scripture, Padma Purana. According to Hindu scripture, the Tulsi plant was a woman named Vrinda (Vrinda; a synonym of Tulsi).She was married to the Asura king Jalandhar, who due to her piety and devotion to Vishnu, became invincible. Even Devtas could not defeat Jalandhar, so they requested Vishnu - the preserver in the Trinity - to find a solution. When leaving for war Vrinda promised Jalandhar for doing Sankalpa for his victory till he returns but Lord Vishnu disguised himself as Jalandhar and she saw him, she left her Sankalpa and touched his feet. With her Sankalpa destroyed, Jalandhar lost his power and was killed by Shiva and his head fell in Vrinda's palace.

Seeing this she realized it was not her husband but Lord Vishnu. Vrinda cursed Lord Vishnu to become Shaligram and to be separated from his wife, Lakshmi. This was later fulfilled when he was transformed into the black Shaligram stone (actually a fossil), and in his Rama avatar, was separated from his wife Sita, who was kidnapped by Ravana. Vrinda then drowned herself in the ocean, and the gods (or Vishnu himself) transferred her soul to a plant, which was henceforth called Tulsi. As per the blessing by Vishnu to marry Vrinda in her next birth, Vishnu – in form of Shaligram - married Tulsi on Prabodhini Ekadashi. To commemorate this event, the ceremony of Tulsi Vivah is performed.

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