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Diwali is one of the most popular festivals of India and is celebrated with great enthusiasm and fervor throughout the world.
The delight of this festival is reflected in the soft glow of Diwali lights, Diwali Gifts and the colorful Diwali fireworks.
It is also known as the ‘Festival of lights’ which is celebrated by all age groups with relatives and friends.
The festival symbolises unity in diversity as every State in India celebrates it in its own special way.
‘Naraka Chathurdasi,’ marking the vanquishing of demon Naraka by Lord Krishna and his Consort Sathyabhama, is celebrated on the First Day in the five Southern States of Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana and Kerala.
People in North India celebrate Diwali as the return of Lord Rama to Ayodhya, with His wife Sita and Brother Lakshman after successfully completing 14 years of exile in the forest, the last part of which was spent in killing Ravana who had kept Sita captive in his Ashoka Gardens.
In Gujarat, the festival honours Lakshmi, the Goddess of Wealth.
In West Bengal, Diwali is associated with the Goddess Kali.
In every region, the festival signifies the renewal of life, and accordingly it is common to wear new clothes on the day of the festival.
Diwali also heralds the approach of winter and the beginning of the sowing season.
Some families celebrate this Festival with religious fast and other rituals while for others it is primarily a social occasion of visiting relatives and friends, exchange of sweets and food items, and a time of giving and receiving new clothes or utensils for the year.
Some Indian merchants, especially those in Gujarat and Rajasthan, begin their fiscal year at this time, seeking the Grace and Blessing of Goddess Lakshmi.
Similarly, gambling is a favourite past time during this festival because it is believed that the winner will have financial success during the year.
Some families keep a special box for Goddess Lakshmi and begin their ‘savings’ with gold or silver coins.
Row of Lamps
As we have written in several of our Diwali Special Issues in the past years, the literal meaning of ‘Diwali’ in Sanskrit is ‘row of lamps.’
The most popular tradition of Diwali is filling little clay lamps with oil and wick and lighting them in rows all over the house.
Even today, these values are upheld in homes.
The lamps, known as Diyas are lit to signify the removal of darkness and ignorance, as well as the awakening of the inner self.
It is the perfect time for Poojas, family gatherings and celebrations.
Goddess Lakshmi plays a major role in this Festival, that is usually observed for five days, each with its own significance.
People renovate and decorate their houses and business places.
Entrances are made colourful with lovely traditional motifs of Rangoli designs (see separate article in this Special) to welcome Goddess Lakshmi. Signifying the long wait, small footprints are drawn with rice flour and vermilion powder (kumkum) in various parts of the house, while lamps are kept burning throughout the night.
While South Indians usually perform the Pooja in the morning, people in the North and West of the country conduct elaborate prayers in the evening, in the presence of a large number of relatives and friends. The opulent, with large houses would make elaborate arrangements with the help of interior decorators and extensive banquets, while the common people would organise a simple Pooja and offer a few items as Mahaprasad to visiting relatives and guests.
Flowers, coconuts, fruits, uncooked rice, dry fruits, paan leaves, kumkum, camphor, incense sticks (Agarbhatti) are the most important items required for the Pooja, placed in front of the Deities of Ganesha, Lakshmi and others including Lord Shiva, Goddess Parvathi, Lord Vishnu, Goddess Saraswathi and Lord Hanuman. Some houses also worship Goddess Mahishasura Mardhini, Goddess Santoshi Mata, and Goddess Durga.