These lamps are kept on during the night and one’s house is cleaned, both are done in order to make the goddess Lakshmi feel welcome. Firecrackers are burst because it is believed that it drives away evil spirits. Diwali is a five days celebration. It is celebrated in the following sequence:
Govatsa Dwadashi or Vasu Baras: ‘Go’ means cow and vatsa means calf. On this day the cow and calf are worshiped. The story associated with this day is that of King Prithu, son of the tyrant King Vena. Due to the ill-rule of Vena, there was a terrible famine and earth stopped being fruitful. Prithu chased the earth, who is usually represented as cow, and ‘milked’ her, meaning that he brought prosperity to the land.
Dhanatrayyodashi or Dhan Teras or Dhanwantari Triodasi: ‘Dhana’ means wealth and ‘Trayodashi’ means 13th day. This day falls on the 13th day of the second half of the lunar month. It is considered an auspicious day for buying utensils and gold, hence the name ‘Dhana’. This day is regarded as the Jayanti (Birth Anniversary) of God Dhanvantari, the Physician of Gods, who came out during Samudra manthan, the churning of the great ocean by the gods and the demons.
Nakara Chaturdashi: Chaturdashi is the 14th day; this was the day on which the demon Narakasura was killed by Krishna – an incarnation of Vishnu. It signifies the victory of good over evil and light over darkness.
Lakshmi Puja: marks the most important day of Diwali celebrations in North India. Hindu homes worship Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth, and Ganesh, the God of auspicious beginnings also known as the remover of obstacles, and then light ‘deeyas’ (little clay pots) in the streets and homes to welcome prosperity and well-being.
Bali Pratipada and Govardhan Puja: Bali Pratipada is the 1st day of the new month – Kartik in the Hindu calendar. It marks the start of Hindu financial year. It’s a special day for Husband and wife. The wife puts tilak on her husband’s forehead and he gives her an expensive gift.
In North India, this day is celebrated as Govardhan Puja, also called Annakoot, and is celebrated as the day Krishna – an incarnation of god Vishnu– defeated Indira and by the lifting of Govardhan hill to save his kinsmen and cattle from rain and floods. For Annakoot, large quantities of food are decorated symbolising the Govardhan hill lifted by Krishna.
Yama Dwitiya or Bhaiduj (also Bhayyaduj, Bhaubeej or Bhayitika): On this day, brothers and sisters meet to express love and affection for each other. It is based on a story when Yama lord of Death, visited his sister Yami (the river Yamuna). Yami welcomed Yama with an Aarti and they had a feast together. Yama gave a gift to Yami while leaving as a token of his appreciation. So, the day is also called ‘YAMA DWITIYA’. Brothers visit their sisters’ place on this day and usually have a meal there, and also give gifts to their sisters.
Celebration of return of Pandavas after 12 years of Vanvas and one year of’ agyatavas’ (living incognito). Diwali marks also the end of the harvest season in most of India. Farmers give thanks for the bounty of the year gone by, and pray for a good harvest for the year to come. Traditionally this marked the closing of accounts for businesses dependent on the agrarian cycle, and is the last major celebration before winter. Lakshmi symbolizes wealth and prosperity, and her blessings are invoked for a good year ahead.
While Diwali is popularly known as the “festival of lights”, the most significant spiritual meaning behind it is “the awareness of the inner light”. It is believed that there is something beyond the physical body and mind which is pure, infinite, and eternal, called the ‘Atman’.
The celebration of Diwali as the “victory of good over evil” refers to the light of higher knowledge dispelling all ignorance, the ignorance that masks one’s true nature, not as the body, but as the unchanging, infinite, immanent and transcendent reality. With this awakening comes compassion and the awareness of the oneness of all things (higher knowledge). This brings ananda (joy or peace). Just as we celebrate the birth of our physical being, Diwali is the celebration of this Inner Light.
Today as we pray for our dear Hindu brothers and sisters as they celebrate this beautiful festival of light, let us pray and strive for this awakening of light within, that brings about in us compassion, and awareness of oneness of all things, so that truly we may live on this earth as brothers and sisters in essence and be filled with peace. May this peace reign in our hearts, in our families, our communities, our nation and the whole world.
Sister Betty Cyril, MDR India