Diwali - The festival of Lights
Diwali is certainly one of the biggest, brightest and most important festivals of India. While Diwali is popularly known as the "festival of lights". The celebration of Diwali as the "victory of good over evil" refers to the light of higher knowledge dispelling all ignorance. While the story behind Diwali and the manner of celebration of the festival differ greatly depending on the region, the essence of the festival remains the same - the celebration of life, its enjoyment and goodness.
The word Diwali is derived from the Sanskrit term "Deepavali", which translates to "Rows of lamps". Based on the Hindu lunar calendar, Diwali falls between October and November on an Amavasya or moonless night. Celebrated as the victory of good over evil, the festival is associated with the legend of the Hindu god, Lord Ram's return to his kingdom Ayodhya, after 14 years in exile. The Demon king Ravan of Lanka had abducted Lord Ram's consort Sita only to invite his own death as a result. Lord Ram, along with his brother Laxman and an army of monkeys defeated and killed Ravan and returned to his kingdom with Sita. According to mythology the people of Ayodhya lit up clay lamps known as diyas to welcome him on his return from exile.
Diwali is a five-day affair and kicks of with Dhanteras. 'Dhan' means wealth, hence this day is considered auspicious for buying items related to prosperity like utensils or gold. Vijay and his family also plan to buy something in keeping with the customs of Dhanteras.
The day after Dhanteras is known as Narak Chaudas or Choti Diwali. In short, it is Diwali on a smaller scale, with fewer rituals. Hindus get up before dawn, clean their houses, take a fragrant bath and dress up in festive clothes. Vijay and his family follow suit; they are decorating their house with much excitement to invite Goddess Lakshmi. The whole family rejoices on the occasion by singing aartis or religious hymns while they take part in the puja.
The third day of the festival, also known as Lakshmi puja, is the main Diwali celebration. The day is devoted to Goddess Lakshmi - Goddess of Wealth and Lord Ganesh, the 'Lord of auspicious Beginnings' and 'the Remover of Obstacles'. The devotees worship them seeking prosperity and wealth.
Govardhan puja is the fourth day of the Diwali festival. In some parts of India this day is also known as 'Annakoot'. Legend says that Lord Indra, the Hindu Lord of rain and the king of gods, got angry with the people of the land of Gokul, the birthplace of Lord Krishna. To punish the villagers, the rain god poured out endless rain flooding the village. However, Lord Krishna came to the rescue of the village and sheltered the villagers under Govardhan hill by lifting the entire hill onto his little finger, thereby protecting the villagers and their livestock. Since then this day is celebrated to thank Lord Krishna. This day is also known as Padwa in some parts of the country and people visit their friends and family with gifts and goodies on this day. Vijay's family has a tradition of celebrating this day. The women of the family and neighborhood make a cow dung hillock to perform the ritual of the day. The hillock is built symbolizing Govardhan hill and then decorated with flowers and other elements. The menfolk then pay obeisance to this symbolic hillock by circling around it and singing religious songs. Vijay and Vishal joins in the prayers.
Bhai Duj marks the end of the five days of the Diwali celebrations. Diwali is known as the festival of lights but with so many rituals and traditions it can also be named as the festival of sweets, gifts, fireworks and family.
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