Deepavali: Festival of Lights
In West Bengal, it is time to worship Kali, the goddess with the fearsome strength, and in Bihar and Uttar Pradesh it is time to remember Dhanvantari, the divine physician. To some, the lights are a reminder of the return of Rama to his home after 16 years of exile.
But clearly, it is goddess Lakshmi, who remains a dazzling presence in the minds of people all over the country. Who wouldn't want to persuade the goddess of wealth to smile kindly upon them? And, being a festival that invokes a spirit of goodwill much like Christmas, it is celebrated by people from all communities today.
The festival of lights is celebrated throughout the country on Amavasya, the darkest night of the month at the end of Ashwin or the beginning of Kartik. Ashwin and Kartik are the months in the Hindu calendar that correspond to days in the months of September, October and November in the Roman calendar.
Spring cleaning in autumn It literally is spring-cleaning in autumn. The preparations for Diwali begin many days in advance as houses get a new coat of whitewash or paint, in anticipation of a visit by the chief guest - goddess Lakshmi, whose benign gaze translates into prosperity.
The real reason for the sudden accent on cleaning houses is linked to the season that Diwali falls in - autumn. The monsoon season that precedes autumn is a time for insects and fungus to breed. The end of this season means that homes must be cleaned and painted, and belongings aired and dried before the onset of winter.
The festival of Diwali carries on for five days, and each day has a specific significance for a specific part of India, with different gods being worshipped for different reasons. The main or 'badi' (big) Diwali falls on the third day, and has been reserved for unlimited fun - new clothes, mouthwatering eats and firecrackers though, over the years the last element of fun has proved to be a problem at various levels.
Bihar Worships the Divine Physician In east Bihar and the northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh, people celebrate Dhanteras on the first day, in remembrance of the legend of Dhanvantari, the physician of gods,who is believed to have emerged with a pot of 'amrit' or nectar, during the 'samudra manthan' or the churning of the ocean when the gods and the demons fought with each other. So cleanliness and hygiene are an essential aspect of this day.
An early morning bath and fast are a part of the daytime ritual. At sunset, the fast is broken with a vengeance, with sweetmeats, 'puris' and other delicacies. Women buy gold and silver and new utensils as part of the ritual.
This is followed by Lakshmi puja in the evening. A special feature of this puja is the lighting of tiny lamps of clay.
'Chhoti' or the 'small' Diwali The day before Diwali is celebrated as Narka-Chaturdashi in Uttar Pradesh, what is popularly known as Chhoti or small Diwali. It is Diwali on a smaller scale, with fewer lights lit and fewer crackers burst.
[Features for kids]
By Brishti Bandyopadhyay ; Illustrations by Anup Singh, Sudheer Nath, Shiju George
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