Here are five things to know about the five-day Hindu festival of Diwali, based on the knowledge of Sharbari Maitra Joshi, president of Bichitra Inc.
Significance of lamps
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 decorating homes with rows of lamps that are kept burning all night long. For many, Diwali is synonymous with earthen lamps that light up homes, gifts, sweets and other seasonal delicacies, and of course, fireworks that light up the sky and fill the air with a festive spirit for five days in the Hindu calendar, beginning Nov. 11 this year. In its true essence, Diwali signifies the victory of Goodness over Evil, Light over Darkness and Knowledge over Ignorance.
The Dhanteras—or the first day of the Diwali—is being celebrated Sunday in 2012. On this day, Laxmi, the Goddess of wealth, was incarnated during the churning of the ocean by gods and demons. Hence almost all Indian communities worship Goddess Laxmi for wealth and prosperity on this dark, moonless night. Golden-footed Laxmi alights on earth in all her celestial glory amidst chanting of Vedic hymns and earthen lamps lit at every corner of homes. This day is looked upon as the most auspicious day to start any new venture.
On Dhanteras, Hindus consider it auspicious to purchase gold or silver articles or at least one or two new utensils. It is believed that some form of precious metal is a sign of good luck. "Laxmi-Puja" is performed in the evenings when tiny lamps of clay are lit to drive away the shadows of evil spirits.
Things to do
Playing cards is one of the oldest traditions of the Diwali Festival. According to the legends, Goddess Parvati was playing dice with her spouse Lord Shiva when she enjoyed herself so much that she said that whoever would gamble on Diwali would remain prosperous throughout the year.
Fireworks are one of the major attractions of Diwali. People of all ages — from children to the elderly — enjoy “bursting crackers” on the occasion. Fireworks are traditionally burst to ward off the evil spirits.
Bhayya Duj marks the end of Diwali celebrations. The fifth day of Diwali is marked by brothers going to the houses of their sisters. On the arrival of their brothers, the sisters perform “aarti” (of their brothers) and apply a beautiful “Tilak” or “Teeka” on their forehead. The sisters traditionally cook for their brothers and they exchange gifts.
Days before the celebration of Diwali, celebrants clean every nook and corner of their homes. It is believed that on Diwali, Goddess Laxmi visits only those homes, which are kept spotless. Homes are then decorated beautifully with flower garlands, strings of colorful LED lights, ribbons and streamers. Women sift powder through their fingers to make beautiful patterns of rangoli — decorative folk art — in front entrances, using vibrant colors of rice powder.
The actual legends that go with the festival are different in different parts of India and therefore the customs and traditions vary from state to state but, but it is an official holiday in several countries including India, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Malyasia, and Singapore.
Regardless of the mythological explanation one prefers, the festival of light even today stands for a reaffirmation of hope, a renewed commitment to friendship and a religiously sanctioned celebration of simple joys of life. Diwali is the celebration of illuminating one’s own soul with the light of hope and positive energy. It brings people together in spite of religious, cultural, social or geographical barriers.
Bichitra Inc. is a nonprofit organization dedicated to promoting Bengali culture in Detroit and neighboring communities in Michigan. For more information, visit bichitrainc.com.