Diwali, also known as Deepavali is arguably one of the most popular Indian festivals that is celebrated every year around the globe. Diwali 2021 is approaching. So let’s try and find out how much do we really know about this famous Hindu festival.
BTW if you didn’t already know, Deepavali is also known as the festival of lights, the reason for which will be explained below. Diwali symbolizes the victory of good over evil. It is the day when light conquered darkness and knowledge won over ignorance. This festival mostly extends from three to five days.
Without further ado, let’s jump right in and know why Diwali is celebrated and how it’s celebrated especially in India.
When Is Diwali 2021?
Before knowing the reason and the method of celebrating the festival of lights, let’s find out the Diwali 2021 date. Deepavali usually falls on the twenty-first day from Dussehra. Dussehra 2021 is being celebrated on Friday, October 15. Counting 21 days from the Dussehra day will bring us to 5th November.
So Diwali 2021 is on November 5th, Friday.
Diwali always coincides with the Hindu months Ashwayuja and Kartika. It starts on the Trayodashi day of Ashwayuja month and extends until the second day of the bright half (first fortnight) of the Kartika masa (month).
As told earlier Deepavali is celebrated for a period of 5 days, mostly in the North and eastern parts of India. In the South, Diwali is mostly celebrated for 3-4 days.
The 5 days Diwali celebration
The 1st day is Dhanteras or Dhana Trayodashi
The 2nd day is Naraka Chaturdashi/Choti Diwali
The 3rd day of Diwali celebrations is Lakshmi Pooja/Main Diwali
The 4th day is Bali Pratipada/Annakut/Govardhan pooja
The 5th day is Bhai Dooj/Bhaiya Dooj
This year Dhanteras or Dhana Trayodashi is being celebrated on November 2nd 2021. Naraka Chaturdashi and Lakshmi Pooja are being celebrated on the same day which is November 4th 2021. Bali Pratipada/Annakut/Govardhan pooja falls on November 5th 2021. And Bhai Dooj is on 6th of November 2021.
The 3-4 Days Diwali Celebration (Especially in South India)
In South India, the 5th day is eliminated from the above list. In some places, both the 1st and the 5th days are eliminated and Diwali is celebrated only for 3 days. The Deepavali celebrations start on Naraka Chaturdashi.
- Dhana Trayodashi- 1st day
- Naraka Chaturdashi/Small Deepavali- 2nd day
- Lakshmi Pooja-3rd day
- Bali Pratipada/Govardhana Pooja/Big Deepavali-4th day
Why Is Diwali Celebrated?
As with other festivals, even Deepavali has many stories and legends woven around it which form a basis for the origin of these celebrations. Below you will find the most important reasons for which Diwali is celebrated.
The main reason why Deepavali is celebrated is linked with the epic Ramayana. As you already may be knowing Lord Rama was given 14 years of Vanavasa (living in the forest) by his father Dasharatha maharaja. Even Lord Rama’s wife Sita and brother Lakshmana follow him on this 14-years long journey.
During their stay in the forest, Maa Sita gets kidnapped by the ten-headed demon king Ravana who takes her to Lanka (which is now, SriLanka) and keeps her under arrest in Ashoka Vatika or Ashoka Vana.
And it was, for this reason, that whole of Ramayana took place. Lord Rama along with Lakshmana decide to bring back Seeta Mata after freeing her from the captivities of Ravana, by killing him.
They take the help of Vanarasene (the monkey army) along with Hanuman and Vibhishana and attack Lanka after building the Sri Rama Sethu to cross the sea which separated Shrilanka from India, remnants of which can be seen even today.
A fierce war takes place and Ravana along with his brother, sons and the whole army is killed except Vibhishana who surrenders and takes the shelter under Rama. And finally, Sita Mata is freed.
The day on which Ravana was killed is celebrated as Dussehra.
After freeing Sita Mata and crowning Vibhishana the king of Lanka Lord Rama along with his wife, brother and the team start the return journey towards Ayodhya, as the 14 year Vanavasa period was getting over.
It takes 18 days for them to finish all the formalities in Lanka and take the Pushpaka Vimana ( the aeroplane of Ravana which he had taken from Kubera) and reach Ayodhya.
When they start approaching Ayodhya in footsteps, the people light their paths with Diyas (earthen lamps) in the mark of celebrating their victory over Ravana and also to illuminate their path.
And that’s how the name Deepavali originated and that’s how the Diwali celebrations started.
And this is also the reason why Diwali is called the ‘festival of lights’.
The Story of Nachiketa and Yama
This is the other reason why Deepavali is celebrated on this day.
Hundreds of years ago there lived a sage Vajashrawas who one day was performing a Yagya or Yajna. During this Yajna, Vajashrawas grandly announces that he will be giving away all his earthly possessions and starts giving away a large herd of cows.
Nachiketa, the learned son of Vajashrawas was standing nearby when this was happening. He notices that Vajashrawas was, in fact, giving away old and weak cows which were of no good for anyone.
Nachiketa immediately realizes that his father has still not conquered his desires and isn’t free from the Moha and Maya of this world.
Nachiketa starts pestering his father and asks ” Father, you haven’t given away all of your possessions yet. Am I not one of your dearest possessions? To whom are you giving me as ‘Daan’?”
When he keeps pestering his father Vajashrawas gets angry and immediately announces “I am giving you to the lord of death, Yama”.
Vajashravas immediately realizes his mistake and asks his son to forgive him. But it was already too late and Nachiketa had already made up his mind. Although he wasn’t angry with his father, he was firm in his decision.
He told his father, “Father, our ancestors have never gone back on their words. So even you and I should follow in their footsteps. So I have decided to go to Yama”.
Vajashrwas finally gives in and permits Nachiketa to go to Yamaloka to meet Yama.
But when Nachiketa arrives at Yama’s doorsteps, he wasn’t inside. So Nachiketa waits for 3 days on Yama’s doorsteps without eating or drinking anything.
When Yama returns back he sees Nachiketa and comes to know that he was starving for 3 days. He feels disappointed as the guest who visited him remained hungry for 3 days without food or water.
So Yama decides to give him 3 boons.
Nachiketa makes his wishes.
The 1st boon Nachiketa asks is for his father. He wishes that his father shouldn’t be angry with him and his father should be granted immense wealth and be made a king. Yama approves and grants the boon immediately.
The 2nd boon of Nachiketa is for the common men and women of this world. He asks Yama a surefire way to reach Swarga where there are no sorrows, old age or death. That’s the Agni Vidya. Yama fulfils Nachiketa’s this wish too.
In fact, Yama becomes really happy because Nachiketa didn’t ask anything for himself. All he asked was for the welfare of his father and the people on this earth.
Now the third boon. This wish puts Yama in a dilemma. Nachiketa asks the third wish in the form of Atma Vidya or Atma Tattwa. Nachiketa wants to know what happens to the soul after the death of a being. All he wanted to know the secret of death and beyond.
This was a very tough answer. Not because Yama didn’t know the answer. But because this secret should only be shared with a worthy one. A person who has conquered all desires or Vasanas, and won over Moha and Maya. So Yama starts to lure Nachiketa with other, worldly rewards.
Yama asks Nachiketa to take back his wish in return for wealth, riches, gifts, siddhis and other temptations. But Nachiketa was firm in his decision and stood by his demands. He wanted to know the secret of death and the Atman.
Finally, Yama surrenders to his wish and grants him access to the secret and sacred knowledge. One can read all of this in Kathopanishad.
The day when Yama returned to Yama Loka and had this dialogue with Nachiketa was this Amavasya day.
That’s the reason for the celebration of Diwali when the knowledge conquered ignorance and Nachiketa got the secret knowledge of Atma Tattwa and became immortal.
How Exactly Is Diwali Celebrated in India?
As told earlier it is celebrated for 3 to 5 days. During all these five days houses and shops are cleaned and decorated. All the nooks and corners of the buildings are illuminated with lamps and candles on these festival days.
Parapets of temples and houses are decorated with the rows of earthenware lamps.
Dhanteras or Dhana Trayodashi
The 5 day Deepawali celebration starts with Dhanteras or DhanaTrayodashi. Dhan means wealth or money. Teras means thirteenth which in this case is Trayodashi.
Here ‘Dhan’ may also symbolize ‘Dhanvantari’ the god of health and well being. The god Dhanvantari emerged from the Ksheera Sagara ( The Milky Ocean) during the Manthana or the grinding of the ocean by the demons and gods.
He emerges from the sea with the pot of heavenly nectar or AMRITA in his hands. It was the same time when the goddess Lakshmi also emerged from the same sea.
During the Dhanteras celebration, all the household is cleaned and decorated. The doorways of homes and offices are decorated with Rangoli and flowers. Rangoli are these decorative designs that are believed to prevent negative energies from entering the building or the houses where they have been installed or drawn.
The worship of Dhanwantari god is carried out across the country along with Lakshmi on this day. More so by the people who practice Ayurveda and related practices, whose god is Dhanvantari itself.
There are two main reasons why Naraka Chaturdashi is celebrated. ‘Naraka’ means hell and ‘Chaturdashi’ means the ‘fourteenth day’ of the ‘dark half ‘of the month.
It was on the same day when Narakasura a demon, was demolished by Sri Krishna and 16000 princesses were freed, who were held captive by Narakasura.
Naraka Chaturdashi is also the day when we remember and pray for the liberation of souls who might have ended up in ‘Naraka or hell’ due to bad Karmas.
The Naraka Chaturdashi day is all about visiting your friends, relatives and close ones. It is also about purchasing and exchanging sweets, new clothes, and gifts.
Some people take Abhyanga snana or Abhyanjana snana on this day. This means getting an oil massage all over the body and taking a bath. It is also the day to visit temples.
This is always celebrated on the Amavasya day or the last day of the dark fortnight of the lunar month. On this day, most of the shops are closed. Lakshmi is the goddess of wealth. So everything that has got to do with money and wealth is worshipped on this day.
All the houses are illumined with lights. People light firecrackers and perform Poojas to Goddess Lakshmi and pray for health, wealth and prosperity.
They also perform pooja to the gold and silver ornaments present at their homes. Many people perform Pooja rituals in their shops and business establishments with the hope of bringing in great profits in the upcoming year with the blessings of Maa Lakshmi.
People also perform Poojas to their vehicles and machinery on this day.
Bali Padya/Govardhana Pooja/Anna Koot
The next day of Amavasya is Padya, which is the first day of the bright half of the next lunar month. Padya is also called Pratipada. Many people worship Maharaja Bali’s idol on this day, which will then be immersed in the water later in the day.
In South India, most people consider this day to be the main Deepavali or Big Deepavali.
People believe that it was on the same day thousands of years ago when Maharaja Bali was defeated by Lord Vishnu in Vamana Avatar.
This day is also celebrated as the day of ‘Govardhana Pooja’. It was on the same day that Sri Krishna in Dwaparayuga lifted the Govardhana Giri with his little finger to protect the cowherd and farming communities from the heavy rains caused by Indra’s anger.
For some people, the festival of Diwali is a kind of harvest festival. So this day is also celebrated as ‘AnnaKoota’ or ‘mountain of food’. Different communities and families from various walks of life prepare more than a hundred varieties of dishes and gather together.
They pile these preparations (especially sweets) in the form of small mounds or mountains and dedicate it to Lord Krishna. After the Pooja rituals, this food is distributed among devotees.
Bhai Duj or Bhaiyya Duj
This is the last day of the 5 days of Diwali celebrations. This day is all about celebrating the brother-sister bondage. This is somewhat similar to Rakhi or Raksha Bandhan celebrations. On this particular day, brother travels to meet his sister and her family.
It is believed that on this day of Bhai Duj, Lord Srikrishna went to meet his sister Subhadra at her house after defeating Narakasura on the Naraka Chaturdashi day.
On the same day many years ago Yama the god of death went to meet the Yamuna, his sister. So basically this day is all about celebrating the brother-sister love and bondage.
This Bhai Duj celebration concludes the Diwali festival for that particular year.
Importance of Diwali in Other Religions
Although Diwali is predominantly a Hindu festival few other religions too have religious importance for this festival.
Diwali in Jainism
Jains celebrate Deepavali as ‘Mahavira Nirvana Diwas’, the day when Vardhaman Mahaveera took Nirvana and left the body. Jain’s light lamps on Diwali day to respect and remember Mahavira and his teachings.
Not all Buddhists celebrate Deepavali. Newar people from Vajrayana Buddhism celebrate Diwali and perform Lakshmi Pooja.
Sikhs celebrate Diwali as Bandi Chhor Divas. It is celebrated in the remembrance of the release of Guru Hargobind. Guru Hargobind was kept in arrest at a prison in Gwalior by Jahangeer, a Mughal emperor. However, some people believe that Sikhs used to celebrate Deepavali even before the incident of the release of Guru Hargobind took place.
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