A Very Happy Diwali to all of you! I am sure everyone has their own plan to celebrate Diwali today, and last minute preparations are taking place. Diyas, Mithai, Pathake and the long list of other things needed, forcing us into multiple trips to nearby market! Why do we celebrate Diwali? It’s not just the festive mood in the air that makes you happy, or just that it's a good time to enjoy before the advent of winter. There are mythical and historical reasons why Diwali is a great time to celebrate. And of course there is a little bit of science like salt in a dish, to make it complete.
Let’s talk about the reasons to celebrate Diwali, and I hope you pass this on to your kids, not as a printout of this article, but read this, understand, and then explain to them each reason. This will not just bring them upto speed with our culture and religion, but also gives you an opportunity to spend some quality time with your kids. Below are few reasons I know, but as my knowledge is limited in our Mythology and History of our rich culture, it may not be complete. Feel free to add more in the comment section.
Meaning of DeepavaliThe word “Diwali” is the modification of the Sanskrit word “Deepavali”, Deep signifying light and Avali implying a row. It represents a chain of lights and certainly illumination forms its major lure. So, if someone ask, what is the meaning of Diwali or Deepavali, its Row of Lights! But Deepavali is not just a festival of lights, it’s a festival of job, celebration and victory of good over evil!
The five days of Diwali fastivalAlso, Diwali is not just one day festival, actually it runs through for five days, starting from Dhanteras, two day before the actual Diwali and goes till Bhai Dooj, two days after Diwali.
- The first day of Diwali is called Dhanvantari Triodasi or Dhanwantari Triodasi, also called Dhan Theras.
- The second day of Diwali is called Narak Chaturdasi. It is the fourteenth lunar day (thithi) of the dark forthnight of the month of Kartik and the eve of Diwali. On this day Lord Krishna destroyed the demon Narakasur and made the world free from fear.
- The third day of Diwali is the actual Diwali. This is the day when worship for Mother Lakshmi is performed.
- On the fourth day of Diwali, Goverdhan Pooja is performed.
- The fifth day of the Diwali is called Bhratri Dooj. It is a day dedicated to sisters.
Below are some stories behind the celebration. These are mix of Mythology, faith and History.
Ram return home on this dayAccording to the epic ‘Ramayana’, it was the new moon day of Kartik when Lord Ram, Ma Sita and Lakshman returned to Ayodhya after vanquishing Ravana and conquering Lanka. In Ayodhya, the people welcomed them by lighting rows of clay lamps. So, it is an occasion in honor of Rama's victory over Ravana; of Truth's victory over Evil.
Vishnu rescue the Universe and Goddess Lakshmi, from King BaliKing Bali was a generous but very ambitious ruler. He has become very much powerful and controlled all three worlds, The Earth, The Heaven and the netherworld. He also trapped goddess Lakshmi which gives him unlimited wealth. Lord Vishnu in his Vamana Avatar (the Dwarf), approached Bali on the Diwali day, when Bali was about to complete his 100th Ashwamedha Yagna, which would have given him the power of Indra, and asked for three footstep worth of land. Bali, known for his generousness, granted this wish, even when his Guru advice not to accept. Once granted, Vishnu grow himself so large in size, he covered from Earth to Heaven in one step, and to netherworld in second. Bali provided his own head for the third step, to fulfill his grant. Thus Vishnu rescued the world as well as Godess Lakshmi (residing inside Bali’s body), and granted Bali to go and live into netherworld. So, Diwali is celebrated for this as well.
Also, pleased with the generosity of Bali, Vishnu grants him a boon that he could return to earth for one day in a year to be with his people and light millions of lamps to dispel the darkness and ignorance and spread the radiance of love and wisdom. It is this day that is celebrated as the Bali Padyami, day after Diwali, the annual return of Bali from the netherworld to earth.
The Defeat of Narkasur by Lord KrishnaOn the day preceding Diwali, Lord Krishna killed the demon king Narakaasur and rescued 16,000 women from his captivity. This day is called Narak Chaturdasi and the celebration of this freedom went on for two days including the Diwali day as a victory festival.
Naraka, son of Bhudevi, acquired immense power from a blessing given by Lord Brahma after a severe penance. He soon unleashed a reign of terror in the kingdom of Kamarupa, harassing celestial beings with his invincible might. But Naraka could not be easily killed as he had a boon that he would face death only at the hands of his mother Bhudevi. So, Krishna asks his wife Satyabhama, the reincarnation of Bhudevi, to be his charioteer in the battle with Naraka. When Krishna feigns unconsciousness after being hit by an arrow of Naraka, Satyabhama takes the bow and aims the arrow at Naraka, killing him instantly. The slaying of Naraka by Sathyabhama could also be taken to interpret that parents should not hesitate to punish their children when they stray on to the wrong path. The message of Naraka Chaturdasi is that the good of the society should always prevail over one's own personal bonds.
Re-birth of Goddess LakshmiThere are popular belief that Goddess Lakshmi first appeared from the churning of ocean (Samundra Manthan). But according to our Mythology, this is rebirth of Goddess Lakshmi. The Goddess of wealth, Lakshmi incarnated on the new moon day (amaavasyaa) of the Kartik month during the churning of the ocean (samudra-manthan), hence the association of Diwali with Lakshmi Puja.
Goverdhan PoojaThis is a symbolic puja where Goverdhan is symbol of nature, which gives us so much wealth. Krishna persuaded people in Gokul, to worship and take care of Goverdhan mountain, which is the source of their fertile land and natural wealth. This did not please Indra. He sent thunder and torrential rain down on the village. Krishna saved the villagers by lifting the top of the mountain with his finger. The offering of food to God on this day (a day after Diwali) is a reminder of the importance of food and it is a time for being thankful to nature.
DhanterasThere is a story of sixteen year old son of King Hima. As per his horoscope he was doomed to die by a snake-bite on the fourth day of his marriage. On that particular fourth day of his marriage his young wife did not allow him to sleep. She laid all the ornaments and lots of gold and silver coins in a big heap at the entrance of her husband’s boudoir and lighted innumerable lamps all over the place. And she went on telling stories and singing songs. When Yam, the god of death arrived there in the guise of a serpent his eyes got blinded by that dazzle of those brilliant lights and he could not enter the prince’s chamber. So he climbed on top of the heap of the ornaments and coins and sat there whole night listening to the melodious songs. In the morning he quietly went away.
Thus the young wife saved her husband from the clutches of death. Since then this day of Dhanteras came to be known as the day of "YAMADEEPDAAN" and lamps are kept burning throughout the night in reverential adoration to Yam, the god of death.
Dhanteras is also known as Dhantrayodashi, and takes place two days before Diwali, in honour of Dhanavantri, the physician of the gods and an incarnation of Vishnu.
The Return of the Pandavas from exileAccording to the great epic ‘Mahabharata’, it was ‘Kartik Amavashya’ when the Pandavas appeared from their 12 years of banishment as a result of their defeat in the hands of the Kauravas at the game of dice (gambling).
Bhai DoojBhai Dooj is also called 'Yama Dwiteeya' as it's believed that on this day, Yamaraj, the Lord of Death and the Custodian of Hell, visits his sister Yami, who puts the auspicious mark on his forehead and prays for his well being. So it's held that anyone who receives a tilak from his sister on this day would never be hurled into hell. This is also celebrated as Bhai Phota in Bengal, where sister fast till until she applies Phota or mark with sandal wood paste, on her brother’s forehead, praying for his long and healthy life.
Coronation of VikramadityaOne of the greatest Hindu King Vikramaditya was coroneted on the Diwali day, making it a historical event as well.
Special Day for the Arya SamajIt was the new moon day of Kartik (Diwali day) when Maharshi Dayananda, one of the greatest reformers of Hinduism and the founder of Arya Samaj attained his nirvana.
Celebration for Sikh communityThe sixth Guru, Guru Hargobindji. Was released in 1619 on the Diwali day from the captivity of Mughal Emperor Jahegir. People lit the way to Golden Temple in his honour on this day, and this is celebrated till today. This day is also celebrated as Red Letter day when all Sikhs would gather to take Guru’s blessings. The foundation stone of Golden Temple, or Harmandhir Sahib, was laid on Diwali day in 1577.
Celebration for Jain communityDiwali is one of the most important Jain festivals. Mahavir Tirthankar, considered to be the founder of modern Jainism also attained his nirvana on Diwali day.
Celebration for Business communitiesFor the Gujaratis, Marwaris and other business community Diwali marks the worship of Goddess Lakshmi and also the beginning of the new financial year.
Celebration for Bengali communityFor Bengalis, it is the time to worship Goddess Kali on this day. Kali is born out of Maa Durga’s brow, as Kal Bhoi Nashini to destroy evils from Earth. She continued destroying all evils and their cruelty, but was so much engrossed in the killing spree that she went on killing everything within her sight. Lord Shiva threw himself under her feet to stop this. She was so shocked with this act of Lord Shiva, her tongue stuck out.
The love between the Divine Mother and her human children is a unique relationship. Kali, the Dark Mother is one such deity with whom devotees have a very loving and intimate bond, in spite of her fearful appearance. In this relationship, the worshipper becomes a child and Kali assumes the form of the ever-caring mother.
Chothyo PradeepSome Bengalis celebrate the festival of lights for three days. The day before Diwali is known as ‘chothyo prodeep’ (14 diyas) or ‘booth chaturdashi’. On this day, Kali puja is performed from midnight till early in the morning. Chothyo Prodeep is observed to pay homage to 14 ancestors, requesting them to save everyone from evil spirit and ghosts. They light 14 lamps and place them at 14 corners of the house to eliminate evil and darkness. Bengalis cook ‘chothyo saag’ using 14 varieties of green leafy vegetables and eat it with rice.
There are many more such stories, mix with Mythology, faith and history, for the celebration. But the real celebration is not only for these stories, it’s the symbolic meaning of these tales. We celebrate the festival of light, on the dark moonless night. The light represent truth and justice, to eliminate injustice and evils of darkness. We not just fill our surroundings with truthful light, but using firecrackers we fill the skies with light of truth as well. So, go ahead and celebrate this festival, but remember, the real celebration is not in lighting Diyas or firecrackers, its in helping someone in need, doing some good work today, and everyday. When you see the light of happiness on someone’s face, that’s more than 100 Diyas light. When you hear the sound of happiness in their voice, that sound is more than 100 firecrackers to fill your heart with joy. If you find joy and happiness by this, it will be the perfect festival for you!
I should go and do my celebration now, but wait, before I go, I have to complete this article, and one thing is still missing which I promised in the title. The little bit of science in Diwali celebration, like salt in any dish to make it perfect. So, the science is about firecrackers. We have many insects after the rains, which get cleared during the Diwali festival due to firecrackers. If this is not done, then we have a major health issue in our hand to deal with. So, there is a scientific reason to celebrate Diwali as well. Go ahead and enjoy!