|| Diwali or Deepawali, literally 'an array of lamps',
is the festival of lights and is celebrated on the darkest night of Kartik. It
is the most important festival in India. Diwali has a special importance, which
has come up through the last 5000-7000 years. Originally celebrated by Hinduís,
it has now crossed the bounds of religion and is celebrated by all in India with
fervor and gaiety. This day is a public holiday all over India. Diwali is also
perhaps the oldest festival still celebrated today and is mentioned in the Ramayana.
The celebrations include the lighting of lamps and candles, and the bursting of
crackers. Friends and neighbors exchange special sweets. People buy new clothes
and in fact, in certain communities, it is absolutely essential to wear new clothes
on this day.
Diwali in India is equivalent to Christmas in the West. Therefore it is also the
time when people get the festival bonus to their salaries. It marks the beginning
of the New Year for a large majority of Hindus, especially the trader community.
Preparations for the festival begin many days prior to Diwali. It is time for
a thorough cleaning of the house, for the belief is that Lakshmi will enter clean
and nicely decorated houses. The scientific reason is that the monsoon is a time
for insects and fungus to breed. With the end of the monsoon, homes need to be
cleaned and painted, and belongings aired and dried before the onset of winter.
The festival itself extends over about a week even though the most important day
is the new moon day.
| Since Diwali falls on the new moon night, lamps
are lit to brighten this moonless night. According to a myth, Lakshmi will not
enter a dark house. The lamps also welcome home the spirits of dead ancestors,
who are believed to visit on this auspicious night. In addition, the light frightens
away any evil spirit that might be wandering about near the house on this night.
In Orissa, lamps are lit to light up the dark path that the spirits of ancestors
take back to heaven. In modern times, wax candles and colored electric bulbs have
replaced ghee diyas. In many areas, there is a competition of sorts among neighbors
as everyone tries to have the brightest lights.
The origin of Diwali can be traced back to ancient India, when it was probably
an important harvesting season. It was thus extremely important to the largely
pastoral Vaishya community. Their granaries were full, and the weather was good,
at the end of the long monsoon and before the arduous winter. It was therefore
a good time to celebrate. The Vaishya community began their new year with this
happy occasion, after paying their debts and clearing their ledgers. As the religion
developed, various mythological stories and explanations were attributed to this
festival to give it religious sanction.
However today, this historical explanation is all but lost among the many stories
and folklore linked with the origin of the festival. According to the most popular
one, Diwali is celebrated in honor of Rama, his consort Sita and brother Lakshmana,
returning to their kingdom Ayodhya after a 14-year exile. To celebrate this event,
people at Ayodhya are believed to have lit up their houses with lamps. The illuminations
also symbolize the removal of spiritual darkness and the onset of happiness and