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Diwali, a diminutive form of Deepavali, etymologically
means a row of lights ('Deep'- light and 'Avali'-a row). Hence it is festival
of lights. Marked mainly by four days of celebration it certainly illumines
the country in its brilliance and brightens all with its joy. Diwali is
a pan-Indian festival. It is celebrated on a grand scale in almost all
the regions of India and is looked upon mainly as the beginning of New
Year. As such the blessings of Lakshmi, the celestial consort of Lord
Vishnu, are invoked with prayers. Even people of Indian origin in countries
like Kenya, Thailand, Trinidad, Siam, Sri Lanka and Malaya celebrate this
festival but in their own ways.
Diwali is a time to lit up 'diyas' in and around the house, and kindle the dark, moonless night-sky with dazzling display of fireworks. It is a time for rejoice, time to go berserk. It is also a time to put on new things, time for exchanging gifts and greetings and wishing each other. It is time for the children to seek the blessings of the elderly and for the elderly to bless the children profusely.
Diwali is also time of transition from darkness unto light - the light that empowers us to commit ourselves to good deeds and which brings us closer to divinity. And hence it is time to keep at bay all parochial interests and fling open all the doors of our mind so that it is a-washed thoroughly by the lights of joy and righteousness.
In each of the simple traditions and rituals at Diwali there is a tale of significance and credo. Apart from the celebration of Rama's return to Ayodhya, historically too, the origin of Diwali can be traced back to ancient India, when it was probably an important harvest festival.
Diwali that is the 15th day of the month of Kartik is a holiday and is celebrated with fervor and gaiety. Being a New Year day all financial transactions remain closed on this day. Lord Ganesh, the elephant-headed god, the symbol of auspiciousness and wisdom, is also worshipped in most Hindu homes on this day.
In North India on the day of the Diwali the children emerge, scrubbed clean to get into their festive attire, and light up little oil lamps, candles and agarbathis the wherewithal for setting alight crackers and sparklers.
On this day there is a traditional practice, specially in Maharashtra, of taking bath before sunrise with oil and "Uptan" (paste) of gram flour and fragrant powders.
In South India the day is celebrated in a unique way. People wake up before sunrise prepare blood by mixing Kumkum in oil and after breaking a bitter fruit that represents the head of the demon King that was smashed by Krishna, apply that mixture on their foreheads. Then they have an oil bath using sandalwood paste.
The illumination of homes with lights and the skies with firecrackers is an expression of obeisance to the heavenly for the attainment of health, wealth, knowledge, peace and fame. According to one belief, the sound of fire-crackers are an indication of the joy of the people living on earth, making the gods aware of their plentiful state. Still another possible reason has a more scientific basis: the fumes produced by the crackers kill a lot of insects, found in plenty after the rains.
The tradition of gambling on Diwali also has a legend behind it. It is believed that on this day, Goddess Parvati played dice with her husband Lord Shiva and she decreed that whosoever gambled on Diwali night would prosper throughout the ensuing year.
Apart from the epical attributions Diwali is regarded as a pious day for other reasons as well.
To the Jain's, Deepavali has an added significance to the great event of Mahaveera attaining the Eternal Bliss of Nirvaana.
It is on the same day of Amavasya Swami Dayananda Saraswati, that leonine sanyasin who was one of the first to light the torch of Hindu Renaissance during the last century, passed into Eternity.
Swami Ramatirtha who carried the fragrance of the spiritual message of Hindu Dharma to the western world, also passed into eternity. The lights kindled on this day also mark the attempt of their followers to immortalize the sacred memories of those great men who lived to brighten the lives of millions of their fellow beings. The passage of these great men have indeed brought the national-cum-spiritual tradition of Deepavali right up to modern times.