Diwali... the Indian Festival Of Lights
Diwali diva / diya
Diwali, the Hindu festival of lights, is the most popular of all the festivals from Southern Asia. Its name comes from the Sanskrit word dipavali, meaning "row of lights".
Diwali (also called Deepavali in southern India) is known as the Festival Of Lights because houses, shops and public places are decorated with small earthenware oil lamps called diyas (or divas, dipas, deepas or deeyas). These lamps, which are traditionally fuelled by ghee (clarified butter) or mustard oil, are placed in rows in windows, doors and outside buildings to decorate them.
The festival is very significant in Hinduism, Sikhism and Jainism. It symbolises (among other things) the victory of good over evil, light over darkness, and knowledge over ignorance... the lamps are a sign of celebration and hope for mankind. Fireworks and flowers are also associated with the festival.
The date of Diwali is set by the Hindu calendar and so it varies in the Western calendar. It usually falls in October or November, and extends over five days.
It's similar in many ways to the western celebration of the New Year, so the festival is a time for thoroughly spring-cleaning the home and for wearing new clothes. For many Indians the festival honours Laxmi, the goddess of wealth. They say prayers to the goddess for a successful year.
Also, like Christmas in the west, Diwali is very much a time for buying and exchanging gifts.
Two of the legends of Diwali show the triumph of good over evil, and tell of the destruction of two monsters that preyed on humanity...
The killing of the demon Narakaasura -
The demon was the evil king of Pragjyotishpur, near Nepal. He ruled with a reign of terror, abducted 16,000 daughters of the gods, and stole the earrings of Aditi, mother of the gods.
The gods asked Lord Krishna for help, and after a mighty battle he killed the demon, freed the girls, and recovered the earrings.
The rescue of the 16,000 girls is said to be the origin of the story that Krishna had 16,000 wives. After his victory Krishna returned very early in the morning and was bathed and massaged with scented oils. Taking an early morning bath with oil is
still a Diwali tradition.
The killing of the demon Ravana -
Ravana, who had ten arms and ten heads, was the wicked king of the island of Sri Lanka, who kidnapped the wife of Lord Rama. Rama had been in exile for 14 years because of a disagreement as to whether he or his brother should be the next king in Ayodhya.
After a great battle Rama killed the demon and recovered his wife. Rama's return with his wife Sita to Ayodhya and his subsequent coronation as king is celebrated at Diwali.
When Rama and Sita first returned to Ayodhya it was a dark moonless night and they couldn't see where they were going. Their people put little lamps outside their houses so that the new king and queen could find their way, thus beginning the tradition of the festival of lights.