This blog is dedicated to my friends from Europe whom I recently met and shared memorable moments with..
All through our travel across Europe I met more and more people who were in awe of India. For them India meant color, culture, smiling faces and an unraveling mystery. For most of them it was simply difficult to accept diversity that India offers – the number of languages, distances, festivals, food and so much more. Today let me tell you something about Diwali the festival of lights and what better time to tell you than on the festival day itself?
So for those who are wondering what is Diwali / Deepavali and why is Diwali celebrated, here we go….
Diwali is the festival of lights. The tradition of celebrations goes back to the ancient times & can be traced to the Golden days of Ayodhya. (A full account of this is a tale called Ramayana, a book available at all book stores selling Indian titles). The story unfolds like this – Lord Rama was sent on an exile for 14 years by his father Dashratha from the kingdom of Ayodhya. Lord Rama’s wife Sita and brother Laxman accompanied him into the forest. Somewhere near the end of his exile, The Demon King of Lanka – Ravana tricked Queen Sita by appearing in the form of a golden deer and abducting her to Lanka the island nation.
Lord Rama then met Sugreeva, the King of Monkeys in the forest, who then helped him in locating Queen Sita by sending Lord Hanuman – a monkey who had divine blessings and who could fly over the ocean to Lanka. In his adventures there he burnt some of Lanka with his tail and returned to Lord Rama and told him about Queen Sita. Lord Rama along with the help of a fleet of monkeys then made their way to Lanka and defeated Ravana. By then the 14 years of exile was over & so Lord Rama returned to his Kingdom – Ayodhya. It is said that people welcomed him back by lighting clay oil lamps, hence illuminating the whole place, signifying the belief of victory of good over evil.
Diwali / Deepavali – a Sanskrit word, is formed of two words “Deepa” meaning light and “avali” meaning a row. Besides lighting up the house & its surroundings with rows of lights which is the main attraction of this festival, distributing sweets and bursting crackers are the other highlights associated with this festivity. Irrespective of their social status, the rich & the poor, everyone’s home is lit up with tiny twinkling orange glows of the clay lamps called “diya”. People even put colored electrical lights to add to the brightness all around their homes.
Floral decorations and “Rangolis” (coloured carpet) add to the color of this festival. On this day people dress in new clothes and visit friends offering sweets and wishing a prosperous life for each other. Deepavali is also seen as the beginning of a new year by many, hence most people also clean up their homes and perform a puja for “Goddess Laxmi” (Goddess of wealth) and “Lord Ganesha” (God for all auspicious beginnings).
Although I come from Kerala, where Diwali is not a much celebrated festival as compared to Christmas, my love for this festival is dated from my growing years in the North of India where Diwali is celebrated as a very big festival.
The preparation for this festival starts a few weeks before. I remember my mother preparing sweets at home with us around her chipping in to help in small possible ways. The house was thoroughly cleaned and even freshly painted. A trip to the market to buy fire crackers and new clothes was always looked forward to by all of us kids. Two days before the big Diwali day, on the occasion of “Dhanteras” named after Dhanvanthri the physician of Gods, my mother used to visit the local market and pick either a new utensil / silver / gold, as purchases made on this day are considered as auspicious. A day after the big Diwali day, falls “Bhai dooj” – a festival symbolizing love between brother and sister. On this day the sister applies a vermilion colored “Tilak” on her brother’s forehead hence praying for his wellness and success.
All said, Diwali is a people’s festival where everyone comes together forgetting rivalries and celebrate with lights thus illuminating ones soul and surroundings.