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by Smt. Anjali Ambekar
“Diwali, the festival of lights, dispels the darkness, & strengthens our close friendship & leads us to the path of knowledge-enlightenment.”
The festival of Diwali has been celebrated for ages and the history of Diwali celebrations is as old as the history of India. Everyone on this festival enjoys the delicious Diwali sweets, the brightly lit Diwali Lamps (Diwali diyas) and the unique excitement grips people around this time. There have been so many important legends associated with the occasion of Diwali that five days have been accredited for the celebration of Diwali in India with each day holding importance of its own.
History & Origin :-
The history of Diwali is related to the Hindu Purana(s). Hindus believe that whenever the power of evil increases in the world, Lord Vishnu comes down to earth in a different form to defeat evil. These forms are called Avataras. Krishna and Rama are the popular Avataras of Vishnu. Goddesses accompany gods. Diwali celebrations are especially a time for telling stories about Vishnu and his wife Lakshmi, and about Krishna, Rama and his wife Sita.
The Story of Rama and Sita :-
Lord Rama was the seventh incarnation of Lord Vishnu. He was a great warrior King who was exiled by his father Dashratha, the King of Ayodhya. Lord Rama’s wife Sita and his brother Lakshmana accompanied him in his exile. Lord Rama returned to his Kingdom Ayodhya after 14 years of exile, in which he put an end to the demon Ravana. After this victory of Good over Evil, Rama returned to Ayodhya. The people welcomed them by lighting rows of clay lamps. Great celebrations were held and everyone was happy for Rama to be the King of Ayodhya. So, it is an occasion in honour of Rama's victory over Ravana.
Five days of Diwali:-
The following are the five days of Diwali, each having the rituals and myths of its own.
The first day of Diwali is known by the name of Dhanteras or Dhanatrayaodashi, which falls on the thirteenth day of the latter half of the month of Ashwin. The word 'Dhana' signifies wealth and hence this day holds utmost importance for the business houses and for the rich people's community. According to a legend associated with this particular day sixteen-year-old son of King Hima according to his horoscope was doomed to die on the fourth day of his marriage by snakebite. Thus on the fourth day of his marriage his much worried young bride lighted innumerable lamps all over the place and laid all kinds of ornaments and lots of gold and silver coins in a big heap at the entrance of her husband's boudoir and went on telling stories and singing songs through the night. When Yama, the god of death, arrived there in the guise of a serpent, the dazzle of those brilliant lights blinded his eyes and he could not enter the prince's chamber. So he climbed the heap of the ornaments and coins and sat there whole night listening to the melodious songs. In the morning he went away quietly. Thus the wife saved her husband and since then this day of Dhanteras came to be known as the day of "Yamadeepadan".
The second day of the festival Naraka Chaturdashi marks the vanquishing of the demon Naraka by Lord Krishna and his wife Satyabhama.
Puranas have it that the demon Naraka, son of Bhudevi, acquired immense power from a blessing given by Lord Brahma after a severe penance. He soon unleashed a reign of terror in the kingdom of Kamarupa, harassing celestial beings with his invincible might. Unable to bear the tyranny of the demon, the celestial beings pleaded with Lord Krishna to save them from his torture. But Naraka could not be easily killed as he had a boon that he would face death only at the hands of his mother Bhudevi. So, Krishna asks his wife Satyabhama, the reincarnation of Bhudevi, to be his charioteer in the battle with Naraka.
When Krishna feigns unconsciousness after being hit by an arrow of Naraka, Satyabhama takes the bow and aims the arrow at Naraka, killing him instantly. Later Lord Krishna reminds her of the boon she had sought as Bhudevi. The message of Naraka Chaturdasi is that the good of the society should always prevail over one's own personal bonds.
The Third day of the festival of Diwali is the most important day of Lakshmi-Puja, which is entirely devoted to the propitiation of Goddess Lakshmi. This day is also known by the name of "Chopada-Puja". The day of Lakshmi-Puja falls on the dark night of Amavasya.
Entrances are made colorful with lovely traditional motifs of Rangoli designs to welcome the Goddess of wealth and prosperity. To indicate her long-awaited arrival, small footprints are drawn with rice flour and vermilion powder all over the houses. Lamps are kept burning all through the nights. Believing this day to be auspicious, women purchase some gold or silver or at least one or two new utensils. "Lakshmi-Puja" is performed in the evenings when tiny diyas of clay are lighted to drive away the shadows of evil spirits. "Bhajans"-devotional songs- in praise of Goddess Lakshmi are sung and "Naivedya" of traditional sweets is offered to the Goddess. There is a peculiar custom in Maharashtra to lightly pound dry coriander seeds with jaggery and offer as Naivedya.
In villages cattles are adorned and worshipped by farmers as they form the main source of their income. In South, cows are offered special veneration as they are supposed to be the incarnation of Goddess Lakshmi and therefore they are adorned and worshipped on this day.
The Fourth day is called Padwa or Varsha Pratipada that marks the coronation of King Vikramaditya and the starting of the Vikarama-Samvat. The legend related to this day is about King Bali of the nether world whose mighty power had become a threat to the gods. In order to curb his powers Lord Vishnu in the guise of a small boy visited him and begged him to give him only that much land which he could cover with his three steps. Known for his philanthropy King Bali proudly granted him his wish. So with his first step Lord Vishnu covered the entire heaven and with the second step the earth and asked Bali where to keep his third step. Bali offered his head and putting his foot on his head Vishnu pushed him down to the underworld. Though for his generosity, Lord Vishnu allowed him 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.
In many Hindu homes it is a custom for the wife to put the red mark of tilak (made up of vermillion powder pasted with oil) on the forehead of her husband, garland him and do his "Arati" with a prayer for his long life. In appreciation of all the tender care that the wife showers on him, the husband gives her a costly gift. This custom is symbolic of mutual love and respect between the wife and husband. On this day newly married daughters with their husbands are invited for special meals and given presents.
Govardhana-Puja is also performed in the North on this day. As per Vishnu-Purana, the people of Gokul used to celebrate a festival in honor of Lord Indra and worshipped him after the end of every monsoon season. Though one particular year the young Krishna stopped them from offering prayers to Lord Indra, who in terrific anger sent a deluge to submerge Gokul. Krishna saved his Gokul by lifting up the Govardhana Mountain and holding it over the people as an umbrella. On this day Annakoota and prayers are offered in the temples. After the prayers and traditional worship, innumerable varieties of delicious sweets are offered to the deities as "Bhog" and then the devotees approach and take Prasad.
This day is observed as a symbol of love between sister and brother. The festival of Diwali is not complete without this festival, known by the name of "Bhayya-Duj" in the Hindi-speaking belt, "Bhav-Bij" in the Marathi-speaking communities, "Bhai Phota" to the Bengalees and in Nepal by the name of "Bhai-Tika". It is observed on the next day after Padwa or the new moon. As the legend goes, Yama the God of Death, visited his sister Yami on this particular day. She put the auspicious tilak on his forehead, garlanded him and offered him special dishes and both of them together ate the sweets, talked and enjoyed themselves to their heart's content, while parting Yama gave her a special gift as a token of his love and in return Yami also gave him a lovely gift which she had made with her own hands.
That day Yama announced that anyone who receives tilak from his sister will never be thrown. That is why this day of Bhayya-duj is also known by the name of "Yama-Dvitiya" Since then this day is being observed as a symbol of love between sister and brother. On this day the brother goes to his sister's house to celebrate Bhayya-duj.
About Rangoli :-
Rangoli is means a creative expression of art through the use of color. The word ‘Rangoli’ may also have come from "ranga" (color) + "avali" (row), which means row of colors, or from ranga + valli, which means creeper of colors. Basically, Rangoli is the art of drawing images and motifs on the floor and walls of one's home using different color powders. Designed with a beautiful combination of various colors, the Rangoli images create an enchanting piece of art. Basically a floor painting, a rangoli image stands for a sign of welcome. The main purpose of making Rangolis in Diwali is to welcome Goddess Lakshmi, the Goddess of wealth, to individual homes apart from warding off the evil eye. The art of Rangoli is known by different names in different regions such as "Rangoli" in Maharashtra, Alpana in Bengal, and Kolam in South India. One of the most popular arts among Indian women, Rangoli is an age old custom of India, and is practised all over the country.