09 October 2011

Diwali: The Hindu, Jain, Sikh and Buddhist Hanukkah (Festival of Lights)

  • Deepavali ki Shubhkamnayein (दीपावली की शुभकामनाएं): Greeting in Hindi
  • Deepavali Nalvaazhtukkal (தீபாவளி நல்வாழ்த்துக்கள்) :Greeting in Tamil
  • Deepavali Shubhakankshalu (దీపావళి శుభాకా౦కలు) :Greeting in Telugu
Diwali (also spelled Devali in certain regions) or Deepawali, popularly known as the "festival of lights", is an important festival in Hinduism, Jainism, and Sikhism, celebrated for different reasons, occurring between mid-October and mid-November. For Hindus, Diwali is one of the most important festivals of the year and is celebrated in families by performing traditional activities together in their homes. For Jains, Diwali marks the attainment of moksha or nirvana by Mahavira in 527 BC. For Sikhs, Diwali is celebrated as Bandhi Chhor Diwas (The Celebration of Freedom), and celebrates the release from prison of the sixth guru, Guru Hargobind, who also rescued 52 Hindu kings held captive by Mughal Emperor with him in the Gwalior Fort in 1619.

Deepavali is an official holiday in India, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Myanmar, Mauritius, Guyana, Trinidad & Tobago, Suriname, Malaysia, Singapore, and Fiji.

The name "Diwali" is a contraction of "Deepavali" (Sanskrit: दीपावली Dīpāvalī), which translates into "row of lamps". Diwali involves the lighting of small clay lamps (diyas or dīpas) in Sanskrit: दीप) filled with oil to signify the triumph of good over evil. During Diwali, all the celebrants wear new clothes and share sweets and snacks with family members and friends.

Diwali commemorates the return of Lord Rama, along with Sita and Lakshmana, from his 14-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 and by bursting firecrackers.

The festival starts with Dhanteras on which most Indian business communities begin their financial year. The second day of the festival, Naraka Chaturdasi, marks the vanquishing of the demon Naraka by Lord Krishna and his wife Satyabhama. Amavasya, the third 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 dwarf incarnation vanquished the Bali, and banished him to Patala. It is on the fourth day of Deepawali, Kartika Shudda Padyami, that Bali went to patala and took the reins of his new kingdom in there. The fifth day is referred to as Yama Dvitiya (also called Bhai Dooj), and on this day sisters invite their brothers to their homes.

Besides Hindus, Buddhists, Sikhs, and Jains also celebrate Diwali.

In each legend, tradition and story of Deepawali lies 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 into 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 is a celebration of South-Asian identities.

While Deepavali is popularly known as the "festival of lights", the most significant spiritual meaning is "the awareness of the inner light". Central to Hindu philosophy is the assertion that there is something beyond the physical body and mind which is pure, infinite, and eternal, called the Atman. The celebration of Deepavali as the "victory of good over evil", refers to the light of higher knowledge dispelling all ignorance, the ignorance that masks one's true nature, not as the body, but as the unchanging, infinite, immanent and transcendent reality. With this awakening comes compassion and the awareness of the oneness of all things (higher knowledge). This brings anand (joy or peace). Just as we celebrate the birth of our physical being, Deepavali is the celebration of this Inner Light.

While the story behind Deepavali and the manner of celebration varies from region to region (festive fireworks, worship, lights, sharing of sweets), the essence is the same – to rejoice in the Inner Light (Atman) or the underlying Reality of all things (Brahman).

Diwali falls on the one new moon night between mid-October and mid-November. Deepavali is celebrated for five days according to the lunisolar Hindu Calendar. It begins in late Ashvin (between September and October) and ends in early Kartika (between October and November). The first day is Dhan Teras. The last day is Yama Dvitiya, which signifies the second day of the light half of Kartika. Each day of Deepavali marks one celebration of the six principal stories associated with the festival.

Hindus have several significant events associated with Diwali:
  • The return of Rama after 14 years of Vanvas (banishment). To welcome his return, diyas (ghee lamps) were lit in rows of 20.
  • The killing of Narakasura: Celebrated as Naraka Chaturdashi, one day before Deepavali, it commemorates the killing of the evil demon Narakasura, who wreaked havoc. Krishna's wife Satyabhama killed Narakasura during the Dwapara yuga. In another version of the belief, the demon was killed by Krishna or Krishna provoked his wife Satyabhama to kill Narshna, defeating Indra.
  • Govardhan Puja is celebrated the day after Deepavali and is the day Krishna defeated Indra, the deity of thunder and rain. According to the story, Krishna saw preparations for an annual offering to Lord Indra and asked his father Nanda about it. He debated with the villagers about what their 'dharma' truly was. They were farmers, they should do their duty and concentrate on farming and protection of their cattle. He said that all human beings should do their 'karma' to the best of their ability and not pray for natural phenomenon. The villagers were convinced by Krishna, and did not proceed with the special puja (prayer). Indra was then angered, and flooded the village. Krishna lifted Mount Govardhan and held it up to protect the people and cattle from the rain. Indra finally accepted defeat and recognized Krishna as supreme. Although this aspect of Krishna's life is sometimes ignored[citation needed] it sets up the basis of the 'karma' philosophy later detailed in the Bhagavat Gita.
  • Return of Pandavas after 12 years of Vanvas and one year of agyatavas (living incognito).
Deepavali celebrations are spread over five days, from Dhanteras to Bhaiduj. In some places like Maharshtra it starts with Vasu Baras. All the days except Diwali are named according to their designation in the Hindu calendar. The days are:
  1. Govatsa Dwadashi or Vasu Baras (27 Ashvin or 12 Krishna Paksha Ashvin): Go means cow and vatsa means calf. Dwadashi or Baras means the 12th day. On this day the cow and calf are worshiped. The story associated with this day is that of King Prithu, son of the tyrant King Vena. Due to the ill rule of Vena, there was a terrible famine and earth stopped being fruitful. Prithu chased the earth, who is usually represented as cow, and ‘milked’ her, meaning that he brought prosperity to the land.
  2. Dhanatrayodashi or Dhan teras or Dhanwantari Triodasi (28 Ashvin or 13 Krishna Paksha Ashvin): Dhana means wealth and Trayodashi means 13th day. This day falls on the 13th day of the second half of the lunar month. It is considered an auspicious day for buying utensils and gold, hence the name ‘Dhana’. This day is regarded as the Jayanti (Birth Anniversary) of God Dhanvantari, the Physician of Gods, who came out during Samudra manthan, the churning of the great ocean by the gods and the demons.
  3. Naraka Chaturdashi (29 Ashvin or 14 Krishna Paksha Ashvin): Chaturdashi is the 14th day This was the day on which the demon Narakasura was killed by Krishna – an incarnation of Vishnu. It signifies the victory of good over evil and light over darkness (Gujarati: Kali Chaudas, Rajasthan : Roop Chaudas). In southern India, this is the actual day of festivities. Hindus wake up before dawn, have a fragrant oil bath and dress in new clothes. They light small lamps all around the house and draw elaborate kolams /rangolis outside their homes. They perform a special puja with offerings to Krishna or Vishnu, as he liberated the world from the demon Narakasura on this day. It is believed that taking a bath before sunrise, when the stars are still visible in the sky is equivalent to taking a bath in the holy Ganges. After the puja, children burst firecrackers heralding the defeat of the demon. As this is a day of rejoicing, many will have very elaborate breakfasts and lunches and meet family and friends.
  4. Lakshmi Puja (30 Ashvin or 15 Krishna Paksha Ashvin): Lakshmi Puja marks the most important day of Diwali celebrations in North India. Hindu homes worship Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth, and Ganesh, the God of auspicious beginnings, and then light lamps in the streets and homes to welcome prosperity and well-being.
  5. Bali Pratipada and Govardhan Puja (1 Kartika or 1 Shukla Paksha Kartika) : In North India, this day is celebrated as Govardhan Puja, also called Annakoot, and is celebrated as the day Krishna – an incarnation of god Vishnu – defeated Indra and by the lifting of Govardhana hill to save his kinsmen and cattle from rain and floods. For Annakoot, large quantities of food are decorated symbolizing the Govardhan hill lifted by Krishna. In Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu and Karnataka, it is celebrated as Bali-Pratipada or Bali Padyami. The day commemorates the victory of Vishnu in his dwarf form Vamana over the demon-king Bali, who was pushed into the patala. In Maharashtra, it is called as Padava or Nava Diwas (new day). Men present gifts to their wives on this day. It is celebrated as the first day of the Vikram Samvat calender, in Gujarat.
  6. Yama Dwitiya or Bhaiduj (also Bhayyaduj, Bhaubeej or Bhayitika) (2 Kartika or 2 Shukla Paksha Kartika): on this day, brothers and sisters meet to express love and affection for each other (Gujarati: Bhai Bij, Bengali: Bhai Phota). It is based on a story when Yama, lord of Death, visited his sister Yami (the river Yamuna). Yami welcomed Yama with an Aarti and they had a feast together. Yama gave a gift to Yami while leaving as a token of his appreciation. So, the day is also called 'YAMA DWITIYA'. Brothers visit their sisters’ place on this day and usually have a meal there, and also give gifts to their sisters.
Deepavali marks the end of the harvest season in most of India. Farmers give thanks for the bounty of the year gone by, and pray for a good harvest for the year to come. Traditionally this marked the closing of accounts for businesses dependent on the agrarian cycle, and is the last major celebration before winter. Lakshmi symbolizes wealth and prosperity, and her blessings are invoked for a good year ahead. ...
There are two legends that associate the worship of Lakshmi on this day. According to the first legend, on this day, Lakshmi emerged from Kshira Sagar, the Ocean of Milk, during the great churning of the oceans, Samudra manthan. The second legend (more popular in western India) relates to the Vamana avatar of the big three Vishnu, the incarnation he assumed to kill the demon king Bali. On this day, Vishnu came back to his abode the Vaikuntha; so those who worship Lakshmi receive the benefit of her benevolent mood, and are blessed with mental, physical and material well-being.

As per spiritual references, on this day "Lakshmi-panchayatan" enters the Universe. Vishnu, Indra, Kubera, Gajendra and Lakshmi are elements of this "panchayatan" (a group of five). The tasks of these elements are:

  1. Lakshmi: Divine Energy (Shakti) which provides energy to all the above activities.
  2. Vishnu: Happiness (happiness and satisfaction)
  3. Kubera: Wealth (generosity; one who shares wealth)
  4. Indra: Opulence (satisfaction due to wealth)
  5. Gajendra: Carries the wealth

Diwali has a very special significance in Jainism, just like Buddha Purnima, the date of Buddha's Nirvana, is for Buddhists as Pascha/Easter is for Christians. Lord Mahavira, the last of the Jain Tirthankaras, attained Nirvana or Moksha on this day at Pavapuri on Oct. 15, 527 BC, on Chaturdashi of Kartika, as Tilyapannatti of Yativrashaba from the sixth century states:
Mahavira is responsible for establishing the Dharma followed by Jains even today. According to tradition, the chief disciple of Mahavira, Ganadhara Gautam Swami also attained complete knowledge (Kevalgyana) on this day, thus making Diwali one of the most important Jain festivals.
Mahavira attained his nirvana at the dawn of the amavasya (new moon). According to the Kalpasutra by Acharya Bhadrabahu, 3rd century BC, many gods were present there, illuminating the darkness. The following night was pitch black without the light of the gods or the moon. To symbolically keep the light of their master's knowledge alive:
16 Gana-kings, 9 Malla and 9 Lichchhavi, of Kasi and Kosal, illuminated their doors. They said: "Since the light of knowledge is gone, we will make light of ordinary matter" ("गये से भवुज्जोये, दव्वुज्जोयं करिस्समो").
Dipavali was mentioned in Jain books as the date of the nirvana of Mahavira. In fact, the oldest reference to Diwali is a related word, dipalikaya, which occurs in Harivamsha-Purana, written by Acharya Jinasena and composed in the Shaka Samvat era in the year 705.
ततस्तुः लोकः प्रतिवर्षमादरत् प्रसिद्धदीपलिकयात्र भारते |
समुद्यतः पूजयितुं जिनेश्वरं जिनेन्द्र-निर्वाण विभूति-भक्तिभाक् |२० |
tatastuh lokah prativarsham-araat ako
prasiddha-deepalikaya-aatra bharate
samudyatah poojayitum jineshvaram
jinendra-nirvana vibhuti-bhaktibhak
Translation: The gods illuminated Pavanagari by lamps to mark the occasion. Since that time, the people of Bharat celebrate the famous festival of "Dipalika" to worship the Jinendra (i.e. Lord Mahavira) on the occasion of his nirvana.
Dipalikaya roughly translates as "light leaving the body". Dipalika, which can be roughly translated as "splendiferous light of lamps", is used interchangeably with the word "Diwali".

Vira Nirvana Samvat: The Jain year starts with Pratipada following Diwali. Vira Nirvana Samvat 2534 starts with Diwali 2007. The Jain business people traditionally started their accounting year from Diwali. The relationship between the Vir and Shaka era is given in Titthogali Painnaya and Dhavalaa by Acharya Virasena:
पंच य मासा पंच य वास छच्चेव होन्ति वाससया|परिणिव्वुअस्स अरिहितो तो उप्पन्नो सगो राया||Thus the Nirvana occurred 605 years and 5 months before the Saka era. On 21 October 1974 the 2500th Nirvana Mahotsava was celebrated by the Jains throughout India.
For Sikhs, Diwali is important because it celebrates the release from prison of the sixth guru, Guru Hargobind Ji, (hence also called "Bandi Chorr Devas"), and 52 other princes from the Gwalior Fort in 1619. The Sikhs celebrated the return of Guru Hargobind by lighting the Golden Temple and this tradition continues today.

An important Sikh event associated with Diwali is the martyrdom of the elderly Sikh scholar and strategist Bhai Mani Singh in 1737. Bhai Mani Singh was the Granthi (keeper/reader of Sikh scripture) of Harmandir Sahib (popularly known as the Golden Temple). He transcribed the final version of Guru Granth Sahib dictated to him by Guru Gobind Singh in 1704.

Bhai Mani Singh assumed charge of Harmandir Sahib's management in 1708. In 1737, he received permission from Zakariya Khan, the then Mughal governor of Punjab, to hold a religious gathering of the Khalsa for celebrating Bandi Chhorh Diwas on the auspicious day of Diwali for a large tax of 5000 Rupees. He expected to put together the required sum from contribution made by the Sikhs who would assemble that day. But on discovering Zakariya Khan's plot to kill the Sikhs during the gathering, he sent out messages warning them not to turn up for the meeting. As a result the tax could not be paid and Zakariya Khan ordered Bhai Mani Singh's execution at Lahore. It is also believed that this event, along with other Sikh martyrdoms, gave further momentum to the Khalsa struggle for freedom and eventual success in establishing the Khalsa rule in the north of Delhi.

The festival of Diwali became the second most important day after Baisakhi, when the Khalsa was formally established by the Tenth Guru Guru Gobind Singh in 1699.

The Sikh struggle against Mughal Empire's atrocities on non-Muslims, especially on Sikhs, which intensified in the 18th century, came to be centred around this day. After the execution of Banda Bahadur in 1716, who had led the agrarian uprising in Punjab, the Sikhs started the tradition of deciding matters concerning the community at the biennial meetings which took place at Amritsar on the first of Baisakh and at Diwali. These assemblies were known as the Sarbat Khalsa and a resolution passed by it became a Gurmata ('Decree of the Guru').

While not a large occasion in some Buddhists including Newar Buddhists celebrate Diwali through the chanting of mantras and remembering Emperor Ashoka who converted to Buddhism on this day, and therefore Buddhists also know the festival as Ashok Vijayadashami. Their temples and monasteries are well decorated during this time and the Buddha is worshiped with full honors.

Diwali is celebrated in various parts of the world, particularly those with large populations of Indian and Hindu origin. These include countries such as Sri Lanka, Myanmar, Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia, Australia, New Zealand, Fiji, Mauritius, Kenya, Tanzania, South Africa, Guyana, Surinam, Trinidad and Tobago, Canada, the United Kingdom and the United States. With more and more Indians now migrating to various parts of the world, the number of countries where Diwali / Deepavali is celebrated has been gradually increasing. While in some countries it is celebrated mainly by Indian expatriates, in others it has become part of the general local culture. In most of these countries Diwali is celebrated on the same lines as described in this article with some minor variations. Some important variations are worth mentioning.

In Nepal, Diwali is known as "Tihar" or "Swanti". It is celebrated during the October/November period. Here the festival is celebrated for five days and the traditions vary from those followed in India. On the first day (Kaag tihar), crows are given offerings, considering them to be divine messengers. On the second day (Kukur tihar), dogs are given food for their honesty. On the third day, Laxmi puja is performed. This is the last day according to Nepal Sambat, so many of the businessmen clear their accounts on this day and on finishing it, worship goddess Laxmi, the goddess of wealth. The fourth day is celebrated as new year. Cultural processions and other celebrations are observed in this day. The Newars celebrate it as "Maha Puja", a special ritual in which the body is worshipped to keep it fit and healthy for the year ahead on this day. On the fifth and final day called "Bhai Tika", brothers and sisters meet and exchange gifts.

In Nepal, family gathering is more significant during Diwali. People in the community play "Deusi and Bhailo" which is a kind of singing and dancing forming a group. People go to all the houses in the community and play songs and dance, and give blessing to the visited house, whereas the home owner gives some food like rice grains, Roti, fruits and money. After the festival, people donate some part of collected money and food to the charity or welfare groups and rest of the money and food, they go for picnic. People also play swing called Dore Ping made out of thick ropes and Pirke Ping or Rangate Ping made out of woods.

In Sri Lanka, this festival is also called "Deepavali" and is celebrated by the Tamil community. On this day, it is traditional for people to wear new clothes and exchange gifts. Burning of firecrackers in the evening of the festival is a common practice of this festival. Hindus light oil lamps to invite the blessings of Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth. The festival is marked by illumination, making of toys of enamel and making of figures out of crystal sugar popularly known as Misiri. Srilanka's celebration may lack many of the traditional aspects of Diwali such as games, fireworks, singing and dancing, but the tradition of a large meal is admirably preserved.
In Malaysia, Diwali is known as "Hari Deepavali," and is celebrated during the seventh month of the Hindu solar calendar. It is a federal public holiday throughout Malaysia. In many respects it resembles the traditions followed in the Indian subcontinent. 'Open houses' are held where Hindu Malaysians (Malaysian Tamils) welcome fellow Malaysians of different races and religions to their house for a scrumptious meal. This is a practice unique to Malaysia and shows the goodwill and friendly ties practised by all Malaysians during any festive occasion. Telugu Malaysians, Malayalee Malaysians, and other non-Tamil speaking Malaysian Indians celebrate Diwali on different days so as not to coincide with the Tamil Diwali celebration.

In Singapore, the festival is called "Deepavali", and is a gazetted public holiday. Observed primarily by the minority Indian community (Tamils), it is typically marked by a light-up in the Little India district, the heart of the Indian community. Apart from the light-up, other activities such as bazaars, exhibitions, parades and concerts will also take place in Little India. The Hindu Endowment Board of Singapore along with Singapores' government organizes many of these cultural events during the Deepavali period.

In Trinidad and Tobago, communities all over the islands get together and celebrate the festival. One major celebration that stands out is the Diwali Nagar, or Village of the Festival of Lights. It features stage performances by the east Indian cultural practitioners, a folk theatre featuring skits and plays, an exhibition on some aspect of Hinduism, displays by various Hindu religious sects and social organizations, nightly worship of Lakshmi, lighting of deeyas, performances by various schools related to Indian culture, and a food court with Indian and non-Indian vegetarian delicacies. The festival culminates with magnificent fireworks displays ushering in Diwali. Thousands of people participate in an atmosphere devoid of alcohol and in a true family environment.

In Britain, Hindus and Sikhs celebrate Diwali with great enthusiasm. People clean and decorate their homes with lamps and candles. A popular type of candle is a diya. People also give each other sweets such as laddoo and barfi, and the different communities may gather for a religious ceremony and get-together. It is also an important time to contact family in India and perhaps exchange gifts. Diwali is becoming well known in Britain and some non-Indians join in. Leicester plays hosts to some of the biggest celebrations outside of India. Diwali also coincides with British Bonfire Night traditions on November the 5th. In the East End of London, a kind of joint festival has evolved where everyone enjoys the same fire and fireworks for their own diverse reasons.

In the United States, with increasing Indian population, Diwali is assuming significant importance year after year. Diwali was first celebrated in the White House in 2003 and was given official status by the United States Congress in 2007. Barack Obama became the first president to personally attend Diwali at the White House in 2009. On the eve of his first visit to India as the President of United States, Obama released an official statement sharing best wishes with "Hindus, Jains and Sikhs" for Diwali. Indians in the US celebrate Diwali in different parts of the US, just as in India. The Diwali Mela in Cowboys Stadium boasted an attendance of 100,000 people in 2009. In 2009, San Antonio became the first U.S. city to sponsor an official Diwali celebration including a fireworks display and 5000 people in attendance.

In Australia, Diwali is celebrated publicly among the people of Indian origin and the local Australians in Melbourne. On 21 July 2002 an organisation “The Australian Indian Innovations Incorporated” (AIII) consisting of a conglomerate of independent organisations and individuals was formed to celebrate Indian Festivals In Melbourne. AIII facilitated opportunities to depict the cultural kaleidoscope of India and assist Indians in Melbourne to showcase Indian art, culture, style, traditions and food via various activities, seminars, festivals, fairs and events. The first Inaugural Diwali Festival-2002”, was held at Sandown Race Course on Sunday 13 October 2002. Since then until October 2008, about 140000 people visited this Australian Indian Cultural Extravaganza filled with culture, fun and cuisine. This 10 Hour Festival is depicting India through 50 Stalls, 10 Food stalls and an 8 hour cultural programme with Dj, Children's rides and spectacular fire works over the last 7 years.

In New Zealand, Diwali is celebrated publicly among many of the South Asian diaspora cultural groups. There are main public festivals in Auckland and Wellington, with other events around the country becoming more popular and visible. An official reception has been held at the New Zealand Parliament since 2003. Divali is celebrated by Hindus. The festival signifies the triumph of light over darkness, justice over injustice, good over evil and intelligence over ignorance. Lakshmi Mata is worshipped at this festival. Lakshmi Mata is the goddess of light, wealth and beauty. Special Divali foods are barfi and Prasad.

J-List has thousands of rare products from Japan - click now
Post a Comment
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...