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Diwali Festival in India

On the 14th day of the dark fortnight of Ashwin to 2nd day of bright half of kartik, 20 days after dassesra, the most awaited, biggest and joyous festivals of hindus is celebrated. It is Diwali or Deepawali – the festival of lights. It is the festival of joy and jubilation for one and all – from man to women, young to old. Even the humblest of the hut is decorated and lighted with oil lamps and tiny electric lights. Crackers resound and light up the earth and sky. The house entrance is made colorful with lovely traditional motifs of rangoli designs.

Diwali (Deepawali) means the row of diyas (Deep – lamp; wali - array). This lighting of lamps is a way of paying obeisance to god for attainment of peace, love, wealth, health and knowledge. On this auspicious day goddess lakshmi is worshipped the symbol of wealth and prosperity. Farmers celebrate their harvest on diwali. When kharif crop is harvested and cotton brings them cash. Temples, river banks and all scared places symbolizes the scattering of spiritual radiance. The radiant sight of everybody adorned in new and bright clothes, especially ladies with the best of ornaments, captures the social mood. All this illumination and fireworks, joy and festivity signifies the victory of divine forces over evil, the truth always wins.

Narakaasura was a demon king ruling over Praagjyotishapura (the present-day Assam). By virtue of his powers and boons secured from God, he became powerful which made him swollen-headed, he conquered all the three lokas and became a menace to the good and the holy men and even the Gods. The Gods headed by Devendra implored Sri Krishna who was at Dwaaraka (in the present-day Gujarat) to come to their rescue. Sri Krishna responded. He marched from the western end of the country to its eastern end, Praagjyotishapura, destroyed the huge army which opposed him finally beheaded Narakaasura himself.

The populace was freed from the oppressive tyranny and all heaved a sigh of relief. The 16,000 women kept in captivity by the demon king were freed. With a view to removing any stigma on them and according social dignity, Sri Krishna gave all of them the status of his wives. After the slaying of Narakaasura Sri Krishna bathed himself with oil in the early morning of Chaturdashi. Hence invigorating vogue of taking an early morning `oil-bath' on that day.

Narakaasura was the son of mother earth, requested Sri Krishna that the day be celebrated with jubilation. Sri Krishna granted the request and since then the day is celebrated as ‘Narakchaturdashi’. Mother Earth reconciled herself to the loss of her son and knowing as she did that the Lord had punished her son for the sake of the welfare of the world, she set a glowing example of how one has to brush aside one's personal joys and sorrows in the interest of society. It is this deliverance of the people from the clutches of the asuras that fill the people with joy.

The second day, Amaavaasya, the new moon day, auspicious day for offering prayers and gratitude to the ancestors of the family and invoking their memories and blessings to follow the path of right conduct. This is also the sacred occasion for the worship of Maha Lakshmi, the goddess of Wealth and Prosperity. It marks the beginning of new business year for business community with her blessings. This reminds us of the famous saying of the sage Vyaasa, 'dharmaadarthashcha kaamashcha...' - it is through right conduct that wealth and fulfillment of desires also accrue.

In northern parts of India, Diwali is associated with the return of Sri Rama to Ayodhya after vanquishing Ravana. The people of Ayodhya, overwhelmed with joy, welcomed Rama with jubilation. They lighted the capital with diyas. Well it has been said that while Sri Rama unified the north and south of our country, Sri Krishna unified the west and the east. Sri Rama and Sri Krishna together therefore symbolize the grand unity of our motherland.

The third day, the first day of Kaartik, is celebrated as Balipratipada, named after the demon king Bali, the ruler of Paataala (the netherworld), who had extended his kingdom over the earth also. One the day, Sri Vishnu, taking the form of a dwarfish brahmin by name Vamana, approached Bali, for a boon of space equal to his three steps. Bali known for his charity, gladly granted the boon. Vamana now grew into a gigantic form; with one step he covered the entire earth, with the second he covered the outer sky, and asked Bali where he should keep his third step.

Bali, left with no other choice, offered his own head. Sri Vishnu placed his foot on Bali's head and pushed him down to the netherworld, the rightful territory of Bali's reign. However, Bali requested Lord that he may be permitted to visit the earth once a year. And he accepted the same. The people too offer their and respect to him on this day.

The annual visit of Bali is celebrated in Kerala as Onam. It is the most popular festival for Kerala where every Hindu home receives him with floral decorations and lights and festoons adorn all public places. Onam, however, falls on the 16th day of Aavani (Sowramaana) in September.

The fourth and final day is Yama Dwiteeya, also called Bahubeej. It is a most auspicious day for the family members when even distant brothers reach their sisters to strengthen that holy tie. The sister applies tilak and waves arati to her brother and the brother offers loving presents to the sister.

To the Jains, Deepawali has an added significance to the great event of Mahaveera attaining the Eternal Bliss of Nirvana. The passing into Eternity on the same Amaavaasya of Swami Dayananda Saraswati, that leonine sanyasin who was one of the first to light the torch of Hindu Renaissance during the last century, and of Swami Ramatirtha who carried the fragrance of the spiritual message of Hindu Dharma to the western world, have brought the national-cum-spiritual tradition of Deepaavali right up to modern times.