Diwali: It’s time to celebrate!

Published: November 14, 2012

As lamps and fireworks illuminate different corners of the globe tonight, I pray that the light brightens up not only your homes but also your hearts. PHOTO: AFP

It was a dark, moonless night when Lord Ram, the banished king of Ayodhya returned home along with his wife, Sita after having vanquished the demon, Ravan (King of Lanka who had abducted Sita) and having completed 14 years in exile.

To honour and rejoice the homecoming of their king, the people of his kingdom lit his path with oil lamps to guide him on his way. Thus began the tradition of decorating homes and public spaces with earthenware oil lamps (diyas) to mark the triumph of good over evil, light over darkness and the five day celebration came to be known as Diwali or Deepavali which means ‘rows of lights/lamps’.

Diwali Trinidad

As a kid, this was my favourite time of the year. Eid and Diwali followed by Christmas and then New Year – a two-three month long party for a child desperate for reasons to celebrate.

A girls shoots bubbles from a gun during the start of Diwali celebrations in Leicester

Diwali, the festival of lights, is a much loved festival celebrated by Hindus, Sikhs and Jains throughout the world. The festival ushers in a period of merriment – a time to revel in the company of loved ones, dress up in finery and gorge on delicious dishes prepared for the event. For wimps like yours truly, it’s an occasion to behold (never light) with childlike wonderment, the colourful fireworks that dazzle the night sky and turn it into a kaleidoscope of myriad hues.

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Diwali is also a time for reflection, a time to re-visit and judge impartially, ones thoughts, actions and words and to rid oneself of the darkness and negativity that dwells within.

diwali

For the uninitiated, the significance of the festival has been elaborated below.

Dhanteras/Dhantrayodashi

This day is considered an auspicious day for merchants to buy their books of accounts. This day marks the commencement of the new financial year for some business communities. It is also regarded as a propitious day for purchasing gold, silver or steel.

Narak Chaturdashi

This day commemorates the victory of lord Krishna and Satyabhama, his wife, over the demon, Narakasura. People rise as early as 3am on Naraka Chaturdashi. The bathing process followed on this day is rather intricate and elaborate; women bathe with utan (mix of ayurvedic herbs) and scented oils. Sounds of firecrackers fill the air by 4am and stop only after sunrise. The day is spent hosting neighbours, relatives and friends, and exchanging gifts and sweets.

Diwali Trinidad

Lakshmi Pujan

The evening puja/arti on this day pays obeisance to the goddess of wealth and prosperity, Lakshmi and devotees seek her blessings. It is imperative to keep the house spotlessly clean during Diwali as the goddess is said to only visit and bless houses that are orderly. Flowers, lamps and rangolis (magnificent decorative patterns/designs made of coloured powder etched on the floor) adorn the doorways of homes.

Diwali, Festival of Lights (Photo: Reuters)

Padwa

Is a day that celebrates the bond between husband and wife. Wives pray for their husband‘s longevity. It is customary for a husband to pamper his wife with gifts.

Bhai Dooj/Bhau Beej

This is a day that symbolises the love between a brother and sister and a time for family reunions when cousins get together to celebrate the day with gaiety and boundless enthusiasm.

Women pray for the well-being and prosperity of their brothers while men vow to protect their sisters and shower them with presents.

Regardless of how tough a year has been – the sights and sounds of Diwali, the love, camaraderie and good cheer that pervades the atmosphere, diminishes sorrows and manages to rekindle hope in the hearts of even the most seasoned cynics. Diwali is a celebration of life and all the good that it has to offer, it is a time for togetherness and bonding.

A girl lights candles on a cricket ground in the northern Indian city of Allahabad

As lamps and fireworks illuminate different corners of the globe tonight, I pray that the light brightens up not only your homes but also your hearts.

Shubh Deepavali!

Read more by Bhakti here.

Bhakti

Bhakti

Passionate about trekking and travelling, Bhakti has just moved to Belfast, UK. Her obsession with the Himalayas grows every passing year and she keeps going back for more.

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • Pessimist

    I liked this article. I hope you and your family had a fun time. I just want to ask one question.
    Is it ‘Happy Diwali’, ‘Diwali Mubarak’ or is there something else? You wrote ‘Suh Deepavali’ in this article. Is that correct? I have an Indian friend so I didn”t exactly know what to say to him! Recommend

  • abhi

    it is Shubh Deepavali. You can say Happy Diwali or Diwali Mubarak it is all same.Recommend

  • Nitish

    And another author on this forum writes an article who is afraid of hindutwa on the eve of Deepavali….Recommend

  • Bhakti V

    @Mods: The link provided for Padwa is incorrect. Padwa celebrated during diwali is different from Gudi Padwa.
    Gudi Padwa is a completely different festival.Recommend

  • erum.shaikh

    @Bhakti V,

    Thank you for pointing out the mistake. The error has now been rectified.
    Thanks again.

    Kind Regards,
    The Express Tribune’s blogs desk.

    Recommend

  • BlackJack

    @Pessimist:
    It doesn’t matter – Happy Diwali will always work. Most of the text msgs that you receive this time will say Diwali ke is subh avsar par hardik subhkamnaye or some such variant – which just means best wishes on this auspicious occasion of Diwali.
    @ET:
    Happy to see the pluralism that this platform promotes. Good stuff.
    @Bhakti V:
    Happy Diwali once again.Recommend

  • Parvez

    Liked the explanation and especially the photos ………Happy Diwali to all.Recommend

  • Bhakti V

    The first day of diwali in Maharashtra is Vasu Baras, I didn’t mention it in the blog because I am not sure if this day is celebrated in other states. Thankyou.Recommend

  • manish rohera

    @Pessimist:
    actually if you will say shubh deepawali your friend will be surprised as it is sanikritised diwali mubarak so it is one and the same Recommend

  • Ayesha Pervez

    Such a niceeeeeeeee and informative blog Bhakti dear :) Loved it…. Recommend

  • Iftekhar Khokhar

    I would like to wish Happy Diwali to Hindu community all over the world. May this day bring more & more blessings & enjoyment to them & and their families.Recommend

  • G. Din

    “Shubh Deepawali” to you, too!Recommend

  • Divya

    I am from Jammu ,and have never heard of ‘Padwa” before.I assume it is a South Indian tradition.Can I know which states it is celebrated in?Recommend

  • gp65

    @Pessimist: Happy Diwali, Diwali Mubarak are both perfectly legitimate ways of i=wishing someone. Shubh DiWali is less common but Shubh means Auspicious.

    In India it is very common when we wish someone of a different faith on their festival that they will wish you back instead of simply saying thank you. So if I wished a Muslim friend Id Mubarak they would say aapko bhi instead of shukriya and vice versa on Diwali. SO hopefully if they wish you back you will not be offended at having been included in a pagan ritual.Recommend

  • gp65

    @Iftekhar Khokhar: Wish you the same.Recommend

  • gp65

    The Padwa is a new year for many trading communities and all Gujaratis who close the books of account on Diwali (which for them is the last day of the year). So typical greeting for that day is Saal Mubarak or Nootan Varshabhinandan. Though this does not apply to all Hindus.Recommend

  • http://gujrat Zalim singh

    @ Pessimist

    anything is ok in Hindu religion. Diwali mubarak is good enough.Recommend

  • Rakib

    @Bhakti V:

    The first day of diwali in Maharashtra is Vasu Baras, I didn’t mention it in the blog because I am not sure if this day is celebrated in other states.

    Remarkable article. I didn’t know the interesting information reg Vasu Baras. Thanks. It is like Parsi “Pateti” which is the last day of the outgoing year. Would “Vasu” mean “Stale” to denote the year gone by? It is intriguing because to my knowledge Maharashtra new year is still way off. Correct me if I am wrong but Maharashtra follows Shalivahan Shaka calender & the new year (Gudi Padwa) is sometime around April. Gujarat follows Vikramaditya calender and new year begins the day after Diwali. Bombay,the microcosmic India,I presume celebrates all including Christian new year & Parsi Navroz apart from Vishu/Baisakhi/Bihu etc. There used to be an interesting custom (probably in disuse now) in certain parts of interior Gujarat. Kids used to go from house to house early in the morning on new year day, wish the Elders Saal Mubaarak & distribute tiny packets of salt for good omen calling it “Sab-Ras” (Repository of all Taste) as the humblest possible & yet most important ingredient to enrich one’s day-today life. I find immense value in its gentle symbolism. It was the done thing for the recipient to gift some money, at times generous amounts, which was used for charity during the day for poor and destitute children.Recommend

  • gp65

    @Divya: “I am from Jammu ,and have never heard of ‘Padwa” before.I assume it is a South Indian tradition.Can I know which states it is celebrated in?”
    Padwa is just the first day of the lunar cycle.As you maybe aware, the traditional Indian calendar is also lunar based. Each month therefore has 2 padwa, 2 dooj, 2 teej, 2 chaturthi or chouth etc. one for the dark half and one for the bright half. The beginning of a month is on a padwa right after amaavasya i.e the no moon night. You probably also know that Diwali is on an amaavasya of the Ashvin month.

    The padwa after Diwali as I have mentioned earlier marks the new year for Gujaratis and many other trading communities and is in the month of Kartik. Gudi Padwa that someone else mentioned is in the month of Chaitra. That is new year for Maharashtrians, Kannadigas (who call it Ugadi) etc.Recommend

  • gp65

    @Rakib: The padwa after Diwali is not a new year for Mahrashtrians. Their new year is in Chaitra – the month that comes right after Holi (which is Fagun). SO vasu does not have the conotation of vaashi or baasi. ‘Vasu-baras’ that comes on tithi ‘Ashwin krushna dwadashi’ as per is a celebration by Mahrastrians to honor cows – regarded as mother by Hindus. Following the rituals of the day married women perform ‘puja’ of cows having calf. The tradition symbolizes a woman’s gratitude towards cow for serving them and their children. Gujaratis also celebrate the same day with the same purpose but call it vagh baras. ‘Vagh’ here does not mean tiger but rther refers to repaying one’s financial debts. Therefore people clear their account books today and do not enter into new transactions, using new ledgers until after Labh Pancham which willl be the 5th day of Kartik shukla paksh..Recommend

  • Rakib

    @gp65:

    Thank you very much!! That was most useful. I used to love the various colloquial & informal prefixes to “Baaras” ( “Bhookdi”-Famished- being one) and of other Days of importance & used to wonder at their evolution. Your explanation of “Vagh” in that sense is very interesting to me. Recommend

  • gp65

    @Rakib: Ah but bhookhdi baarash is actually not a day of the year. It is a way to describe someone who is for ever famished (not truly hungry but constantly asking for food). Someone that we might describe as bhukkad in Hindi.

    Your notion related to stale is not out of place. We do have such festivals also. On sheetala saatam – at least in Gujarat, the stove is not lit (Sheetal means cold as you know and basically the stove stays cold). SO you have to eat what was cooked on the earlier day which is raandhan chhath. (or the day for cooking). The menu for sheetala saatam therefore is different from normal days because it has to be things that would not spoil (remember these customs were designed in the days before fridges) and also which one would be Okay eating cold. Also if you think you will eat little on shitala saatam then that’s not a great idea because the very next day is Janmashtami where you have to fast anyway.Recommend

  • Rakib

    @gp65:

    This is a wonderful blog/thread! Yup…I knew of prefixes to Chhat, Satam, Atham but I was happy to get corroboration on “Shitala Satam”. I once had an argument with a fellow who wrongly believed that the word had something to do with pox & would not believe me when I insisted it was in the sense of “cold”. Wow!! This is great…one recalls the nights of Sharad Poonam & beaten rice with milk on the terrace & Poshi Poonam & the fun that little brothers & sisters would have had & so on.. And so many more..And so are the festivals with different but fascinating names thru the length & breadth of India.. Life was one continuous carnival!Recommend

  • gp65

    @Rakib: “I once had an argument with a fellow who wrongly believed that the word had something to do with pox & would not believe me when I insisted it was in the sense of “cold”. ”

    Both he and you were correct. Shitala Saatam is observed to please Shitala Maata who keeps things cool. If she is displeased it will generate heat in the body in terms of smallpox. Obviously these are myths and no-one believes them any more. Still…Recommend

  • Bhakti V

    Thankyou gp65. The information regarding Vasu baras and Padwa was spot on !

    Ugadi that is celebrated by Kannadigas and in Andhra Pradesh, is called Gudi Padwa in Maharashtra. This marks the new year and is celebrated on the first day of the chaitra month (usually in March/April ).

    Lakshmi Pujan falls on a moonless night (Amavasya) The day after amayasva is Padva/pratipada. Maharashtrian women perform aarti and a tilak ceremony to pray for their husbands wellbeing and receive gifts in return. So Padva is one of the 6 days celebrated by Maharashtrians during diwali.( the other being vasu baras, dhanatrayodashi,narak chaturdashi,lakshmi pujan and bhau beej). Some of these events also overlap. For example this year Narak Chaturdashi and Lakshmi Pujan fell on the same day.

    Padwa after lakshmi pujan is also celebrated as the gujarati new year. ( so if you have gujarati friends on FB , you’ll see the various ‘ Saal Mubarak’ status messages. :P )

    I am aware that Padva after lakshmi pujan is not celebrated in the north ( as far as i am aware it is celebrated only in maharashtra and gujarat ). The main days celebrated in the north are dhanteras,chhoti diwali,lakshmi puja and bhai dooj.

    Sorry for the late reply. I am on UK time.
    Thanks, everyone, for the diwali wishes and for the lovely comments.

    Vaasu Baras as mentioned by gp65 is when married maharashtrian women perform a puja for cows and calves. Vaasu, I think, comes from the word ‘ Vasru ‘ which means calf in Marathi. This day falls on the 12th day of Krishna Paksha.Recommend

  • Rakib

    Ugadi that is celebrated by Kannadigas and in Andhra Pradesh (Bhakti V.)

    Just to share info on a custom in Karnataka (only for a stray reader that may not yet know): On Ugadi day it is customary for the elders to serve a small portion of a unique mixture, a combination of bitter tasting tiny flowers of “neem” (azadirachta indica) called “Bevu” in Kannada and pieces of sweet tasting Jaggery (Gud,unrefined cane sugar) called “Bella”. Eating of pinches of Bevu & Bella simultaneously is symbolic of acceptance of the bitter-sweet of life with equanimity. @gp65: Thanks once againRecommend

  • Bhakti V

    @Rakib:

    Maharashtrians follow the same custom on Gudi Padwa. On this day, the windows of Maharashtrians homes have something called a gudi tied to it. A green or yellow piece of cloth is attached to one end of a long stick,a knot in the cloth contains sugar/jaggery and neem leaves. ( which have the same significance as mentioned in your comment ) Marigold flowers are also tied to the long stick. And then an inverted copper ‘tambya’ ( a small pot ) is placed on top.
    Maharashtrians also start the day by eating the mixture of neem leaves and jaggery. Gudi Padwa signifies the commencement of vasant ritu/spring. For the Marathi community, this day was a tribute to the great warrier,Shivaji Maharaj and his victory in the many battles he fought and won.I should ask my mom for more information on this. Recommend

  • Bhakti V

    Eating ‘puranpoli’ and ‘kata chi amti’ is what I love the most about Gudi Padwa. ;-)Recommend

  • Rakib

    @Bhakti V:

    Thank you! I have gained from the blog & the discussions & for that I am grateful..Recommend

  • Sinclair

    @gp65

    Thanks for all of that great information. You really know your festivals, dont you!

    @Rakib

    Thanks for the information about Ugadi, and for adding information to this discussion.

    @Bhakti V

    Great blog, and I learnt a lot from your article as well as the comments. Thank you.Recommend

  • Bhakti V

    Rakib – Mentioning some more traditions followed during diwali. Didn’t include it in the blog because these are traditions specific to Maharashtra, not all of India…..But since you seem to be genuinely interested here goes -
    As kids, my cousins and I, built mini forts of mud and cement during Diwali and we would place plastic figurines of soldiers atop the fort. This is a tradition that was started by the people of Maharashtra to honour Shivaji Maharaj and it continues to this day.
    As mentioned earlier,the gudi raised on Gudi Padwa too has some historical significance attached to it. -Shivaji Maharaj has played a very vital role in shaping the traditions/culture of the state. Just goes to show the reverence accorded to him.
    Gudi Padwa, is celebrated as new year because it is said that Brahma created the universe on this day but somewhere along the way Maharashtrians gave it a historical flavour and looked at it as another reason to celebrate the most revered Ruler Maharashtra has ever seen. Recommend

  • Absurdist

    Diwali mubarik to all the Hindus on this planet,Indian neighbours and my beloved Hindu brothers in Pakistan.Wish I could personally say this someone but in Pakistani Punjab Hindus are virtually equal to null. Recommend

  • gp65

    @Sinclair: Thank you. Haven’t seen any posts from you lately. I always enjoy those so you are missed.
    Unlike today when you make and eat whatever you want whenever you want, when I was growing up, there were special treats and menus associated with each festival, so one waited for that festival in order to eat the associated delicacy. That’s the most important reason for me to know my festivals.

    @Bhakti, Rakib : Thank you.

    @Absurdist: Thank you and Wish you the same. Recommend

  • Cycloneous

    If there is one thing about Indo-Asian culture it is the festivals! So rich and full of celebration, I wish we in America had festivals like that! We’re stuck only with Christmas, Thanksgiving and Easter!

    Happy Diwali to all!Recommend

  • Divya

    @gp65.Thank you for explaining it so well.

    Thanks to Bhakti V as well.Recommend