More than eight hundred million Hindus across the world celebrate the Deepavali festival in a bid to fulfill their spiritual needs and to also enjoy their secular lives. Deepavali, which is purely a religious festival that also provides the opportunity for jubilation, is celebrated by all irrespective of religious, social or ethnic differences to ward off the darkness of evil, thereby embracing and welcoming the light of fortune and prosperity. This is certainly victory over evil.
Defeat of demon king Narasura
Demon King Narasura who had amassed a lot of power and strength by engaging in spiritual acts had used his forte to bring untold miseries and harassment. He had been arrogant and tyrannical. Even the Devas and deities had not been able to stand the sufferings caused by him. The adversely-affected people had then prayed to Lord Krishna to destroy the evil and to protect the innocent people by liberating them from the wicked hands of Narasura. In the scriptures, it states that when Adharma (unrighteousness) outweighed the merciful, the Lord manifests himself on earth to fight for righteousness and save the world from mere destruction.
Narasura repented for his wickedness
In response to the supplications, the Lord appeared with his consort Satyabama and killed Narasura Sanharaya. In his deathbed, Narasura repented and was regretful of his wickedness and begged the Lord to direct the world to celebrate his death which was the end of a period of terror and the victory of good over evil.
Since then, it had become an annual celebration which fell on the 14th day of the darker-half of the month of Aippasi (October/November). In the eve of this day, the Hindus clean their houses during dawn and take a ritual bath.
Deepavali celebrations in Sri Lanka
Deepavali is a festival celebrated with eminent faith and spirit by Sri Lankans as a national festival irrespective of ritual, religious, linguistic and racial differences. The Hindus in Sri Lanka make figures out of crystal sugar which take the place of sweets. This is the festival of illumination. Towards the dusk of the festive day, the Hindus light oil lamps and invoke the blessings of Goddess Lakshmi.
Deepavali, literary meaning a row of lamps, is a festival symbolising the triumph of good over evil. It is one of the most popular and glamorous festivals celebrated from ancient times as a day of rejoicing.
In India, the thresholds of houses are illuminated to resemble the kingdom of heaven. Doorsteps are decorated with ‘Thoranas’ (pandols) of Mango leaves and Marigolds. Rangolis are drawn with coloured powders to invite guests. The traditional motifs are often linked with auspicious symbols like ‘good luck.’ Because of these flickering lamps, the festival has acquired the name ‘Deepavali.’ Itis celebrated by the Hindus of all sects and all linguistic groups, and is truly a national Indian festival.
Ganga Snan - Ritualistic bath in River Ganga
In India, the ritualistic bath is taken in the Holy Ganges – the sacred River Ganga. They call it ‘Ganga Snan.’ They believe that they are immensely blessed with the bath as the filth of evil is washed away from their bodies. They wear new clothes and sing the glories of the Lord. Afterwards, they engage in prayers at home and in temples.
Love and peace are the central themes of Deepavali. The Hindus deem that the oil lamps lit by them will burn the evil and reduce it to ashes, thus bringing them fortune.
Deepavali - An age-long tradition in Mauritius
Deepavali is an age-long tradition in Mauritius. This is a significant festival for the natives who believe that it had been celebrated even long before the return of Rama after fourteen years exile and his coronation as king. In that country, the festival is marked by lighting earthen lamps in rows. Lakshmi is worshiped as the goddess of wealth and crackers are burnt to scare the evil.
Tihar - Deepavali in Nepal
In Nepal, Deepavali is known as ‘Tihar.’ As is done in most parts of India, Deepavali is celebrated in Nepal to honour Goddess Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth and God Ganesha, the god of prosperity. In this country, the festival is continued for five days. The first day is set apart and dedicated to cows. People cook rice and feed the cows believing that Goddess Lakshmi comes on a cow. The second day is set apart for dogs as the dog is regarded as the vehicle of Bhairava, a Hindu deity. On this day, delicious food is prepared specially for dogs. On the third day, the entire surrounding is illuminated with lights and Deepavali lamps and special items of food are prepared. Fireworks, oil lamps and crackers are used widely in the celebrations.
The fourth day is dedicated to Yama, Hindu God of death, while the fifth day is dedicated to the long lives of their sisters.
Lamps made of Banana leaves
In Japan, Deepavali is celebrated in a unique manner. Here the people go out to orchards and gardens and hang lanterns made of Banana leaves or cloths on branches of trees. People sing and dance throughout the night. They wear new clothes on this festive day and go on boating trips. They sweep and clean their abodes and decorate the places of worship with beautiful wallpaper, to bring in a festive mood and auspicious beliefs related to the festival. In Thailand, Deepavali is known as Lam Krilangh. Devotees use Diyas (lamps) made of Banana leaves for illumination. These lamps with candles lit on them are floated in rivers. They also put coins on these Diyas and incense is burnt giving good fragrance. It is a pleasant view when hundreds of thousands of Divas float in rivers. People greet each other and exchange good wishes. They also offer sweets to neighbours, relatives and well-wishers.
In the island of Bali in Indonesia, Deepavali is celebrated on a grand scale as the majority of the population are of Indian origin. Rituals followed by Hindus in this country are mostly similar to those followed by their counterparts in India.
Hari Deepavali - Deepavali in Malaysia
Malaysians call this festival ‘Hari Deepavali.’ The South Indian tradition of oil bath precedes the festival. The devotees also visit the temples and pray at their homes. Small lamps made of clay are filled with coconut oil and lit on the Deepavali day, and places of worship as well as individual residences are illuminated. This festival is celebrated in most parts of Malaysia and the traditions followed are mostly those followed in the Indian sub-continent. Hindus in Malaysia invite Malaysian and Chinese residents to their homes on the festive day presumably to build a sense of togetherness.
Deepavali in Great Britain
In Britain, it is the cold, damp and windy season when the Hindus from India and other Eastern countries commemorate Deepavali. In spite of snowy, cold weather, Deepavali is celebrated as Indians are the second largest ethnic minority in Britain. Deepavali is marked by visits to local temples and shrines of Goddess Lakshmi. They share Deepavali sweets, burn incense sticks, illuminate homes and the surroundings with lighted Deepavali Diyas and blow conch shells. They also attend prayers and rituals in Lakshmi temples.
Deepavali in modern times
Nearly one hundred thousand Indians have settled down in Australia and they make Deepavali a grand festival there. Although the non-availability of material is a problem for Hindus in Australia, they manage to celebrate Deepavali by giving it some modernity, substituting electricity for traditional oil lamps. Deepavali is celebrated in many other countries including South Africa, Netherlands, Canada, Myanmar, Singapore, Trinidad, Arab Emirates and Tobago.
Myths to the significance of Deepavali
The festival has an ancient history and is therefore surrounded by more than one explanatory myth as to the significance of four days preceding the new moon day; the new moon day and the day following are the days for celebration. Generally, for South Indians, the first two days are important while for North Indians, especially Gujarat and Marwari, it is the last two days. The entrances to all homes are lit up and decorated to welcome Lakshmi, the radiant consort of Vishnu and the goddess of wealth and luster. Special Poojas to Goddess Lakshmi take place with offerings including coins, preferably Silver coins, believing that they will be endowed with wealth and prosperity. To mark the occasion, special Poojas are held in Hindu Kovils and other places of religious worship.
Blessings of Goddess Lakshmi
As mentioned earlier, Deepavali is celebrated to invoke the blessings of Goddess Lakshmi, the provider of peace, prosperity, fertility, beauty, fragrance, love and many other virtues. Goddess Lakshmi possesses the virtues of compassion.