Diwali (also called Dipawali), is the biggest and most important holiday of India. The festival gets its name from two sanskrit words, the row (avali) of clay lamps (deepa) that traditional Indians light outside their homes to symbolize and celebrate victory over darkness from their lives.
This festival shares many similar themes with Christmas. It is widely celebrated all over India, with all the pomp and glamour one can afford, in the winter months when the gloomy weather tends to make days shorter and spirits depressed. While Christmas is often associated with “the season to be jolly” and “the joy of giving”, Diwali is more about “celebrating success and prosperity” and “being victorious over darkness”.
Diwali is celebrated over a period of five days and starts the Hindu New Year. Each day is symbolized with its own importance and traditions.
On the first day, people buy silver utensils as an auspicious sign and decorate the house with earthen lamps and candles. The belief is that if the Goddess of Wealth (Lakshmi) is pleased with you, She will shower you with wealth and abundance. The silver utensils are meant to be symbolically filled with Her auspicious blessings.
On the second day, people decorate their houses by making rangoli, which are mandala patterns made on the ground using colored powders and flower petals.
On the third day, people light candles and clay lamps, and exchange sweets and gifts with friends and family. It is important that every room of the house is lighted, so that there is no darkness to be found anywhere. It is believed that Goddess Lakshmi enters homes and blesses devotees with good fortune and wealth on this day. Children (and adults alike) play with firecrackers on the streets.
On day four, people make a mount filled with food in their homes… offering it metaphorically to God as a spiritual remembrance, to renew their faith and express their gratitude.
On the last day, the celebrations end with a tribute to strengthening familial bonds. Five days of ecstasy, joy, festivizing and bliss come to an end.
Even though Diwali originated as a Hindu festival, it has crossed the barriers of religion, and is celebrated by Indians of all faiths.
There are many theories and very few facts to back them, but as per some historians, Diwali originated around 5000 BC. It started as a celebration to memorialize the return of their king, Lord Ram after spending 14 years in exile. During his exile, he fought a holy war against a demon king and vanquished him in battle.
Ram is symbolized as a righteous and fair king, obedient son, and ideal husband (though many would agree with me, that he was far from being the perfect husband).
It’s interesting to see how the current mindset in our modern life (the kali yuga or literally “the dark age”) has seeped into this festival. The festival started off a symbol for victory over darkness through righteousness, fair play, respect for elders and humility.
How things have changed! While these were valuable traits to armor oneself with to fight the victorious fight at some point in history, that is definitely not perceived as the case now.
We now see idols of Lakshmi and Ganesh being worshiped during Diwali, and not Ram. It is almost as if people have realized that in order to win the war against darkness, one needs wealth and luck more than good morals and righteous beliefs.
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