Why Diwali is a Happy Time

A scholar explains the significance of the ritual bath, Lakshmi puja, shopping for metal, and the fascinating festival routine.

Published: 22nd October 2014 06:04 AM  |   Last Updated: 22nd October 2014 07:40 AM   |  A+A-

LIGHTS

BANGALORE: An ancient festival, Deepavali or Diwali has seen a marked change in recent years, especially in the metros.

A five-day festival, it is celebrated in different ways in different parts of the country, with rituals and practices varying from region to region. In recent days, shopping and splurging reach a frenzy, obscuring the significance of a festival that honours farming, fertility and regeneration.

Hoary tradition

Festivals give an insight into the value and ethics systems of people. Hindu rituals, sacraments and festivals are related to such systems, and celebrate nature, scholars say.

Hindu theism is not only about God, but also about the triumph of good over evil, a principle shared by Buddhism and Jainism.

Harvest origins

Well-known researcher Githa U Badikillaya,  who teaches religious studies at Christ University, says all Indian festivals are related to agriculture.

Harvesting is cyclical, and festivals are associated with the defeat of asuras, who with their death help the earth regenerate.

In her words: “The legends say the asuras live underground and the devas above the sky and the space in between is their battle ground.

The asuras are generators of wealth and are associated with all plant wealth and minerals. Even Lakshmi resides in Patala, or the nether world. It is the devas who release the underground wealth for the benefit of humanity. The asura’s guru is Sukra who can resurrect the dead with his power of Sanjivani. Hence, when the earth’s fertility is stripped by harvesting, the asuras are able to restore it. Thus, with the death of an asura, the earth’s bounty is harvested.”

If it is Mahishasura during Dasara, it is Narakasura during Deepavali in the South and Ravana in the North.

Bali, defeated by Trivikrama, rises annually at harvest time marked by Onam in Kerala and Deepavali and Balipadyami elsewhere.

Shower with til oil

The myths say Narakasura wreaked havoc, and was killed by Krishna after a fierce battle. He is offered a gingelly oil bath to rejuvenate him from the ordeal.

Hence, in memory of the valiant fight the previous night, on Naraka Chaturdashi day, devotees take a bath around 4.30 am. This is the first day of the festival and is celebrated on October 22 this year.

The second day is welcoming of Goddess Lakshmi while the third day is Balipadyami. The King is welcomed with the lighting of lamps.

In the rural countryside, it is thanksgiving to the animals, especially the bulls that are ornately decorated and fed delicacies.

On the fourth day, married sisters welcome their brothers to their homes and this is known as Yama Dwitheeya.

Dispelling darkness

Githa explains: “In the North, the first day is the celebration of the return of Lord Ram after killing Ravana. 

People welcome him by lighting lamps. A Ganga snan is undertaken, with the body being smeared with oil, prepared the previous night with cumin seeds and peppercorns till it acquires a pleasant aroma. The second day of Amavasya is Lakshmi Puja. This is in commemoration of the emergence of Lakshmi or Sri from the ocean. This is the day of opening of accounts and the start of the New Year. The goddess is welcomed with clay lamps. She does not enter a dark house.”

On Dhanteras or Dhantrayodashi, Goddess Lakshmi is worshiped for prosperity and it holds special significance for the business community, who decorate and renovate their premises.

The whole family gets together for a shopping expedition, buying clothes, ornaments, utensils, and the choicest gifts. On this day, it is a tradition to purchase some or the other precious metal item. "You can see people flocking to buy gold and silver as well as brass and steel. It is good business for the metalware shops here,” says Himanshu Soni, a businessman on Avenue Road.

Protecting cattle

In the rural areas of Karnataka, on Balipadyami, people rejoice late into the night to honour King Bali. They pray for good crops and seek his protection from diseases for their animals. “In Dakshina Kannada, on Balipadyami day also known as Yaksa ratri, it is believed that the earth is handed over to Kubera and the night is celebrated by all the yaksas in his honour. This could relate to an understanding between the Vedic and non-Vedic people, that resulted in the handing over of land taken by the Vedic people back to the original inhabitants. The yaksas could be the non-Vedic people,” she says.

Lights everywhere

Usually, the Hindus pray on Deepavali for prosperity and good fortune round the year. Sikhs light up the Golden Temple to mark the day when Guru Har Govind Singh freed himself and the Hindu kings from the prison of the Mughal rulers. Jains celebrate the festival to mark the final liberation of Lord Mahaveera.

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