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Deepavali - Its significance (Dr.A Sreekumar Menon)

Published on 24 October, 2014
Deepavali  - Its significance  (Dr.A Sreekumar Menon)
Deepavali  also called Deewali in  its contracted or abridged  version, is an important Hindu festival celebrated all over India and many overseas countries where there are expatriate  and naturalized Indians .Other countries  where it is celebrated are Newzeland ,Australia ,Fiji islands ,Malaysia, Singapore ,Thailand ,Srilanka, Nepal  ,Myanmar ,Indonesia ,Japan, Mauritius, Kenya ,South Africa , Tanzania , Trinidad , Tobago , U.K and U.S.A.  It is a major Hindu festival honoring Goddess Lakshmi or the Goddess of wealth and prosperity . The word Deepavali came from two Sankrit words- Deepanaam Avali . Deepa means Lamp, Avali means row. So rows of light . The  distinguishing characteristic of Deepavali celebration is illumination of dark moonless night with arrays of  lamps lit .Although one finds regional variations in the celebrations , there are commonly followed rituals. Deepavali follows very closely Dussera celebrations. It is celebrated on Amavasya night, 15th dark fortnight of Hindu lunar month Ashwin ( Oct –Nov ). It is celebrated over 5 days commencing from Aswayuja Bahula Chathurdasi and culminates on Kartika Sudh vijaya.

There are several interpretations of  the meaning of celebration of Deepavali . Lighting of lamps  is indicative of triumph of good  or virtues over evil or vice and, dispelling  darkness of ignorance to the awakening of knowledge. We are reminded of the value of eschewing  vices  and practicing virtues or human qualities in our lives  and leading our lives  not influenced by superstition, but guided by logical and scientific reasoning .Often we are not aware of ourselves or how we behave  or about our character , attitudes and temperamental dispositions . First of all we should introspect or look within ourselves and try to understand our behavior. We should know what are the virtues and what are the vices , If we find we possess certain vices, we should try to remove them with determination . Similarly, if we lack any virtues, we should try to cultivate and practice them . Both are part of learning which happens due to effort on the part of the person . So festivals provide opportunity for self- judgment and correction. We celebrate a festival in the true sense ,only if we  do this .  Often we don’t think of the values which the festivals imply . we  just take it  as a occasion for fun and merry making and indulging in meaningless rituals.

 Deepavali time is the end of harvest season in most parts of India and it is an occasion to express our gratitude to mother nature for the bumper crops and material plenty. The main deity worshipped during Deepavali is Lakshmi , the Goddess of wealth.

Deepavali celebration has deeper inner or spiritual significance. It is popularly known as festival of lights . The deeper philosophical meaning is ‘awareness of inner light ‘  Central to Hindu philosophy  There is an assertion that there is something  beyond  physical body ,  mind and intellect , about which we are generally  not aware of , which is pure, infinite and eternal . It is called ‘Atman or Self ‘ Just as we celebrate   birth of our physical body , Deepavali is the celebration of ‘inner light’, only which is real and permanent .When we are aware of that light or true or intrinsic nature of ourselves , the darkness of ignorance or Avidya ,out of which crops up egoism or self-centredness, self- aggrandizement, greed and so on disappears and knowledge or vidya  dawns upon us, with the result we understand  our true nature which is unchanging, infinite , transcendental, imperishable and supreme consciousness and its relation  or  unity with the outside world .  With  realization of Atman  or individual self with Brahman or Universal self removes  veil of our perception of life as struggle for existence and survival of the fittest , and make us realize that life is a cooperative endeavor , one of love , compassion and  mutual support that brings enduring joy and happiness .

There are many legends relating to Deepavali celebrations or various reasons have been pointed out for the celebration   of this festival ..One legend pertains to Lord Sri Rama’s home coming to Ayodhya after defeating Demon King Ravana in Lanka. The festival is believed to mark victorious return of  Sri Rama to  his kindom with his consort  Sita Devi and great devotee Hanuman . It appears it took 20 days for Rama to return to Ayodya ,after defeating Ravana. The people of Ayodya being jubilant on the return of Lord Rama lit up their homes as sign of happiness and to accord royal welcome to their beloved king. From that time onwards, celebration followed every year .This episode whether it is a historical fact or not is immaterial. It demonstrates victory of good over evil. Only righteous conduct will prevail. It bacons us to develop good character or follow justice in all walks of life.

 It is to be noted that  Lord Rama tried  his best to avoid battle against Ravana , which he knew would cause death and destruction of  innocent people He sent Hanuman as his emissary to Ravana for counsel . Ravana, with blotted ego  and overconscious of his prowess and  being wicked  paid no heed to Hanuman’s requests to free Sita Devi and come to a peaceful settlement  . Not only that Ravana refused his offer for peaceful negotiation, but he also insulted Hanuman  by setting fire  to his tail  . Hanuman, being divine was not affected by fire. He burnt parts of Lanka by flying over the places. Here we find a lesson of tolerance on the part of Rama.  What it conveys is that  we should not get easily provoked even when the situation is provoking and should have tolerance or self –restraint . Even aggression should be meted out by kindness and peaceful approach rather than by counter aggression. When aggression is meted out by counter aggression, it leads to further aggression .In   aggression, there is no winner or loser, all are losers, though it may seem that one party has won over the other.  Gandhiji, the greatest man ever lived on earth,  met  aggression with non-violence or what is called ‘Sathyagraha’ or passive resistance.  It was shown that his weapon of Sathyagraha was much stronger than the mighty British army. Britishers   found it impossible to stay back   in the face of non-cooperation from the people of the entire nation, so to say.  In fact it is this human value of tolerance and accommodation  that is embedded in our traditional culture and its influence on  people  that  we are able to stay in harmony and maintain sense of unity ,in spite of such diverse    regional variations such as in languages , customs , dress , food habits etc. we have been able to see   diversity in positive manner and as enriching our culture  - the so-called ‘unity in  diversity ‘ as expounded  by our seers of yore . We have such epic saying ‘sathya meva jayathe ‘, truth only triumphs.,

‘Kshema seelam sakthanaam bhushanum ‘, Patience, forbearance and tolerance are ornaments for the mighty and so on .In the above epics, Ravana is embodiment of vices and Lord Rama is the personification of virtues. It was  virtues which Rama possed that led him to victory in the battle .It was  misdeeds of Ravana which lead him to defeat and destruction. We can consider that Sage Valmiki wrote the story to demonstrate  importance of virtues in human life. So while celebrating Deepavali, we should be aware of the merit of virtues and try to cultivate them in our lives. That is the true spirit or way of celebrating Deepavali.Only if we do it, we get long term benefit from the celebration. Crackers were burst and sparklers were lit by people of Ayodhya as symbol of joy  to celebrate victory . This shows that Rama being a righteous king worthy of being called Rajashri   is dear to people of Ajodhya, where he ruled . Those who are rulers should emulate him in the ways they conduct themselves in the field of politics and public affairs.

 Crackers and sparklers made of toxic substances were probably not available in ancient times. In modern times, with new chemicals known to man, crackers are made using harmful chemicals. The fumes they release while burning are too hazardous to human health .Similarly,  high intensity noise which crackers produce leads to permanent impairment of hearing Although Government imposes certain restrictions in regard to the use of crackers ,those are inadequate to ward off the harmful effects . In countries like Dubai, bursting of crackers and lighting of sparklers are totally prohibited. So Indians there celebrate Deepavali silently and peacefully. So our intellect demands that such things which cause atmospheric pollution should not be used. We find people and groups vie with each other in spending money on crackers, decorations and feasts  as mark of their affluence , which is a misplaced act. The money we intend to spend on crackers  and gala feasts should be  diverted to support some charitable cause such as feeding the hungry, monetary help to the sick, sponsoring  students for their studies  and such humanitarian services  .Busting crackers  is not an essential part of Deepavali celebration. It has only peripheral importance . There is another way of looking at the practice of lighting crackers. When they burst, the sound is aversive to our ears. This is in contrast to the sound of music, which is mellifluous.

 During Deepavali day, it is believed that Goddess Lakhmi descends on earth and loiters so as to visit houses and bless people .so she should be enchanted by melodious sound of bhajans and music , instead of  by sound from crackers . Musical sound transmits positive energy and  harsh sound from crackers of high decibels which are used today which is traumatic, transmits negative energy. Negative energy manifests as propensity for disagreement, aggression, violence and destruction. Positive energy leads to tranquility, peace, love, feelings of oneness, cooperation and so on. Again serenity or sacredness or piety of the occasion should also be maintained. Cheap entertainments should not be planned.

Another legend  linked to Deepavali is the story of Mahavishu in the form of Vamana and Demon king Bali  narrated in Vishnupurana .There was an Asura king  by name Maha Bali ruled over  the earth. He gained Prowess by doing penance He misused his might. He started harassing everyone including celestial beings. He felt that no one could challenge him in his might. Lord Vishnu wanted to refine him and also remove him from his power on earth . He plotted a plan taking advantage of his self-aggrandizement. He assumed the form of a poor dwarf Brahmin. He approached Bali for gift. Bali seeing the punitive figure had condescending attitude towards him. He ordered him to ask for anything he wanted. Vamana asked for land which he could measure with his foot thrice. Bali felt because of his power consciousness that it was silly demand. It happens when one is in the veil of his inflated estimation of himself, he loses intellectual and emotional balance and ability for right action. He agreed to Vamana’s demand. He had underestimated the power of Vamana who was God himself. Vamana grew in size to such an extent that he could cover the entire earth with one foot. He covered the entire sky with second foot. The he asked where he would place his third foot. Bali, being man of words, finding no other place left, bowed down and asked him to place his foot on his forehead. He could have broken his promise. But being a man committed to his words, he kept his promise. When Vamana placed his foot on his forehead, he went down to the world below earth. At that time, Lord Vishnu dissolved his ego, made him enlightened, handed over to him the lamp of knowledge and, allowed him to return to earth to dispel the darkness and ignorance of humanity and spread radiance of eternal love. What is the moral of this legend? We should not underestimate any one. We should not have condescending attitude towards anyone .We should not belittle anyone .we should give everything and everyone due importance .Even the dry leaves that fall from trees when wind  blows have  purpose to serve.                      

  There is a story in Ramayana that even the squirrel, smallest of the creatures, assisted in building Ramasethu or the bridge in Rameswaram, for Lord Rama’s army to cross over to Lanka. It rolled on the ground making movement of sand. and taking sand to the site of construction of the bridge . Similarly there is another interesting episode given in Ramayana. After returning from Lanka, while preparations for coronation were going on, duties were assigned to all the people except Hanuman .Hanuman was told that he had toiled enough and that he deserved rest , relaxation and recuperation . But Hanuman was not a person who would like to while away his time or would like to keep idle. He wanted to be of service to his Lord Rama always . So he grew sad over this. He requested Lord Rama to assign him with some work, however minor it may be. No work was left out. Ultimately, Hanuman was told to close Rama’s mouth, whenever he yawned. Keeping mouth wide open while yawning  is not considered as good manners . Hanuman agreed to it. Apparently it is a very simple task or that does not call for much effort. But it was not so. Hanuman had to be vigilant all the time to see whether Rama yawned, to be ready to close his mouth. The moral is that even the task we think minor need not be minor, can be a major one. So there are no significant and insignificant contributions. All big and small have to play their roles in the scheme of things. so there should not be status differences based on the type of work people do. The work done by a sweeper is as important as that done by an officer. If  he does a shoddy work , the officers will not be able to work properly, because  the place is dirty .So everyone, big or small  is a link in the chain and the strength of the chain depends upon the strength of the weakest link . Swami Vivekanda told that the work done sincerely should command more respect than  the nature of work , one does .  Generally we rank low the work that soils our hands, which is a case of false prestige. Dignity of labor is what we should accept as our personal value. The opposite is ‘white collar-orientation’, which does not lead to productive human efforts.

The message conveyed by the above episode is that we should pay mutual respect and live in harmony with in ourselves and with people around us without making any  social  discrimination and stratification , which only divide people and make them to work cross purposes .

There is another legend behind Deepavali Celebration as follows:

There was a small boy named Nachiketha, who believed that Yamaraja, the God who takes away life is  as frightening as  t pitch dark  moonless night. But When he met Yama Raja  he was pleasantly surprised to see him as calm and composed personality , not evoking  any fear .In the discourse that followed between them, Yema Raja explained to lad Nachiketha on the Deepavali  day  that man has to pass through   darkness of death to see light of  higher knowledge and to  escape oneself from the bondage of mortal frame and attain union  with imperishable Brahman .He added that worldly life  is  a training ground  for attaining that state . The moral is that darkness could represent trials and tribulations in one’s life and the sensuous cravings, and movement towards light is facing the ups and downs in life with equanimity and imposing a ceiling on cravings and temptations. Thus this off- repeated Hindu Philosophical truth was beautifully and convincingly narrated during Deepavali Day. This is the symbolic meaning of dispelling darkness of non-moon night with lighting of innumerable lamps by people. The fact that people can turn dark night into bright one implies that the ability for self-correction and transformation is very much within us and it can be achieved by using right knowledge, which again is personified by light or illumination.

Another significance of Deepavali day is that it is on this day Demon Narakaasura who misused his powers obtained by hard penance and harassed all in heaven and earth, particularly women  was killed by Sathyabhama , Consort of Lord Krishna  , empowered by Lord Krishna . After the death of Narakasura, his  mother Bhudevi declared to celebrate the occasion with joy and rejoice .Since then people followed that tradition of celebrating Deepavali day with ardent zeal and enthusiasm .This shows that those whose character is vicious and questionable and detrimental to human welfare will get ultimately destroyed . Human virtues win and they are the basis of life. It is to be noted that Narakasura’s mother  condemned  her son’s behavior  and she was happy  that her son was killed .Normally mother who  has the strongest bond towards  her son  will wish only for good to happen to her son and never entertains  any harm   to him . This shows firstly   that her son’s conduct had been so treacherous that she, inspite of her motherly affection could not tolerate and secondly the sense of morality and ethics  is much more stronger than  the strongest attachment called ‘motherly love’ towards her children .Unruly  conduct ( Adharma) can never be condoned for the safety and security of the society and its people . In Bhagavad Geeta, the sacred Hindu text, Lord Krishna proclaims that God incarnates in human form over ages whenever the moral integrity of the people is at low ebb to reestablish orderliness of the society and save  people  from destruction . Lord Krishna took ten forms or Avatars called (Dashaavatar) to save humanity from different catastrophes. Another note worthy point is that we should use our skills and abilities for constructive purposes and not for destructive purposes. For instance the scientific ingenuity of modern times should be put to promotion of human welfare and world peace and not fordestructive purposes such as building arms or inciting communal tension or invoking violent tendencies or plundering  natural resources and degrading the ecosystem .

There is another legend pertaining to Goddess Lakshmi who blesses people with material prosperity, opulence and richness or material abundance. It is believed that Astalaksmi , Goddess Lakshmi in different  forms  comes down to earth on the Amavasya or third day of Deepavali  , move around the place , getting ready to visit houses of her devotees to shower  prosperity on those who toil earnestly as fruits of their labor . The Ashta Lakshmi’s or 8 forms , Goddess Lakshmi assumes are 1.Dhanalakashmi ,2 DhaanyaLakshmi, 3.DhiryaLakshmi , 4.SouryaLakshmi ,5. VidyaLakshmi ,6.KeerthiLakshmi ,7 Vijaya Lakshmi  and RajaLakahmi.

It is wealth well earned or earned through honest means that is represented by Goddess Lakshmi. In Koutilya’s Arthasastra, the method of acquiring wealth through honest means is dealt with. Such prosperity leads to permanent joy and happiness. On the other hand , Goddess Lakshmi  does not represent ill-gotten wealth or wealth acquired through objectionable means such as committing frauds, earning excessive profit , exploitation of others ,  that is not sharing gains with others who  contributed to the generation of wealth , cheating ,hoarding and creating artificial scarcity  etc . Money acquired by such means is called as ‘tainted’ money or commonly called as black money.   Genuine wealth is sacred, in the sense it has  character of divinity. It is a positive force or energy where as tainted money is a negative force or energy. We find tainted money is used for destructive purposes. Tainted money is acquired by greed which is a human vice, which is insatiable and so tempting that one is prepared to do anything unmindful of the consequences. Genuine wealth leads to the development and welfare of the society. The question is not how much one earns in his life time, but how he earns and how he spends. Those who spend extravagantly, though they can afford, do not consider wealth as sacred or having divine potential. In such cases, money may not bring real joy, happiness and peace of mind. On the other hand, persons who lead a moderate life or life of austerity, in spite of his high earnings and use the savings for humanitarian purposes, will enjoy  blessings of Goddess Lakshmi   and they will  lead   a life of longevity , sound health and lasting contentment, peace of mind and joy .Thus it is made very clear that wealth is sacred and hence it should be acquired by honest means  and utilized   not for just self-gratification, but  for philanthropy or giving back to society. Giving back to society is not charity, as we understand the term, but it is fulfilling one’s duty. It is only because of social support that a person is able to   become rich. It is not only a question of how much a person earns, but also how well he spends it. Money should not be spent extravagantly for over consumption and celebrations  Opulence can follow all unhealthy habits , unless  we check the tendency consciously .Generally money is spent lavishly  on crackers and sparklers , decorations , feasts, gold ornaments etc during Deepavali celebrations, all of   which are unproductive .Austerity  should be the guiding principle  of life  and not conspicuous indulgence in luxuries and comforts of life . The money which will otherwise be spent on such items should be spent  to feed the poor and hungry , giving medical aid , sponsoring children for education ,, training people in job skills , improving sanitary conditions , creating productive assets in the community etc. At the national and international levels, money should not be used for the manufacture and pilling up of weapons of mass destruction, but on those items  that will lead to  economic   development and all round prosperity of the people . Nations today distrust each other and have false sense of security. Each nation, particularly,  advanced nations believe that they should have competitive edge over others in arms strength, both conventional and modern nuclear. They believe that arms strength would act as deterrent to belligerent countries and it would ward off aggression, which is a false belief. Based on this belief there is competition in building up arms. Scientific discoveries are used for destructive rather than peaceful purposes, for building lethal weapons .The accidental use of one atomic or hydrogen bomb by one rogue country   is enough to wipe out the entire humanity from the face of earth and make the earth inhospitable for life for centuries . Man is capable of producing weapons having such destructive power. In star wars , there is no winner or loser, as in the case of conventional war , where the weaponry is  not much developed .Both the aggressor and the nations towards which aggression is directed  are equally in peril .It is a pity that the so-called modern man is unable to realize the gravity of the situation . People have seen  aftermath of Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombing during Second World War. It was the realization of destruction due to war and to prevent the 3rd world war , most of the countries of the world joined together to set up an international organization called United Nations Organization which was set up   as back as in 1945  with equal emphasis on  resolving  conflicts through negotiations ,preventing war and aid back ward nations to fight against poverty and diseases and  to make all countries democratic sovereign republics , free from colonialism .  Ever since its inception, it has been striving to achieve those goals. We cannot say that even after over 6 decades of its existence and with current membership of 192 countries it has achieved much in staling arms race. If the money spent yearly on defense can be diverted to developmental purposes, we will be able to tackle the problem of poverty that exists in the world. In our country itself, it is estimated that there is more than 400 million people who are below poverty or subsistence level.   In countries like Africa and Latin America, conditions of the people are deplorable.  In our country (India) what we see is pockets of richness and islands of poverty. The need of the hour is to ensure that the common man is able to lead a reasonably comfortable life. ‘ . Nobel laureate Amirthya Sen’s welfare economic model   comes to our mind to grapple with  problem of mass poverty and illiteracy . We cannot be proud of our country, unless and until we find that no person suffers from   want of food , shelter and clothing and that unless  they enjoy democratic freedom. He should be in a position to choose his representative who will work for the common good rather than winning election with powers of money, muscle power and influences of caste and community and religion. The leaders whom people chose through ballots should be those who have saintly character in the sense who are self less and ready to make personal sacrifices for alleviating  sufferings of common man  and who are able to empathize with the lot of common man. The joy of serving the community should be motivating force or inspiration for their work .Currently we are moving more and more towards rank materialism. Monetary gain, amassing quick wealth, indulging in luxuries , vying with each other in cornering personal benefits   etc seem to be values which are promoted in personal and social life . Instead of this , we should uphold the value s of austerity ,simplicity , moderation in our consumption habits, humanness , personal  sacrifice , harmony in personal relationships , service to humanity , being active , productive and innovative and other values .If we look at the human life today rather closely , we would wonder whether we are not at the sub-human level .The human life should reflect the influence  of inner light.

Rituals

In preparation for Deepavali celebrations, the entire house is cleaned up and kept neat and tidy. The whole place is decorated with festoons of colored papers and innumerable simmering lights and Rangoli or beautiful  designs made with colors on the floor .  Deities like Mahalakshmi,  Sri Ganesha, and Lord Krishna   are worshipped. Various delicious sweets and, savories are prepared and offered to deities as’ Prasad’. Feasts are also arranged for family members and friends. It is the time for  get- together of family members and people in the neighborhood for promoting friendship and wishing each other success in their lives in the year ahead. Feelings of oneness permeate the life of the community during such festive occasions.  We should earnestly try to develop feelings of oneness with others, the social bond which we thus develops stays till next year till we renew it .

Deepavali celebrations extend 5 days, as pointed out earlier. First day is called ‘Danteras or Danthrodashi’ which is on the 13 th day of the month of Ashwin. On this day the Lord Yamaraja, who liberates the soul from the body envelope is worshipped to avert premature death, and also for prosperity and wellbeing. A single earthen lamp is lit   in his honor .In addition believing this day as auspicious, Business people close their Annual Accounts and open new Accounts for the coming year. There is belief that old things should be discarded and as many new things should be procured during Deepavali as sign of visit of Mahalakshmi. With the result, People are on the shopping spree. Ladies buy gold ornaments, silver   vessels and so on  as a mark of good luck, no matter whether they can afford them or  not . High power advertising makes people gullible. Unfortunately, this is the time consumers are exploited. For traders this happens to be the time for making quick profits. Going by the popular belief that new goods should be bought,  demands  for goods like vessels, dress. T.Vs. Fridge, crackers and what not sour high.  People try to acquire more and more of such luxury items whether they can afford or not. This practice, not originally intended, is the darker side of Deepavali celebration .We has to realize this and put an end to our desires. Many go for higher purchases   and become indebted for the rest of the year till next Deepavali comes when they go for fresh purchase. Thus they keep paying more than the worth of what they get and become permanently indebted.

 There is a legend associated with this day. It is believed that according to horoscopic prediction,  sixteen year old son of king Hima was doomed to die on the fourth of his marriage by snake bite . So, on the fourth day of his marriage, his worried wife lighted innumerable lamps all over the place. She laid all her ornaments and lots of gold and silver in a big heap in front of the room where her husband was resting  and she chanted devotional songs throughout night . when Yamaraja came in the guise of serpent to claim her husband , he found that he was blinded  by the glitter  of gold  and  got mesmerized by t dazzling sights and devotional singing, stayed there witnessing the scene and returned  at the dawn without causing any harm to her husband .  It is a powerful story which reveals the true love of husband and wife and sacred nature of marriage. Hindus have always considered marriage as a sacred union which lasts life time of the partners. The in-laws of boys consider coming of daughter-in-laws to their house as coming of Goddess Lakshmi. The in laws believed that their daughter-in-laws   would stay with them with love and affection and would care them, during their old age . If we look at what happens today, we find it is not happening. No sooner they get married than they set up a separate families called ‘Nuclear families ‘and they neglect their parents. This  is against cultural traditions of India .

  Marriage institution is so strong in Hindu culture that there is hardly any divorce between the partners .It is considered that marriage between a boy and a girl symbolizes coming together of two families and even two communities. These cultural perspectives have helped the couple to adjust mutually and come out with a common life style and has ensured  strong bond  in their marital life  and emotional security of parenthood to children , which is a strong psychological need for the development of healthy personalities of children . As it was the glitter of gold in light that made  retreatof snake possible  , from then on  buying of gold on that day came to be believed as auspicious. The episode makes clear that Yama in the form of serpent  who stands for death, mortality , annihilation and destruction can be won over by dazzling lights and devotional  spirit , which represent  divinity , peace , creation, longevity and sustenance. .

 The second day is celebrated as Naraka chathurdashi, commemorating the death of Narakasura or Demon in the hands of Sathyabhama .This day is also called as ‘chotti Diwali’ Before dawn people take bath smearing scented oil on their bodies . Pooja  is conducted in honor of Lord Krishna .The episode of Sathyabhama’s killing of Narakasura  probably means that when the question of  fighting evil for the restoration of virtues arises , even women  who are normally submissive, become daring. 

  The third day  of the festival  which falls on  Amavasya   or no-moon night or dark night, when earth does not receive reflected light from the moon, because of the relative position of earth, sun and the moon , is the most important day  and it is devoted entirely to the worship of Goddess of Lakshmi , the Goddess of wealth and prosperity .

 A sublime light of knowledge dawns upon the humanity and the self enlightenment is expressed through twinkling of  lamps in the background of darkness all around the place including   mansions of the rich and  hutments of the poor . It is believed that the special power or chithanya of Goddess Lakshmi, being ready to shower prosperity on people  is present on this day . It is believed  that Goddess  Lakshmi descends upon earth on this day to visit houses, which are kept clean and tidy , to shower her blessings  and where  people toil  and strive hard to achieve and where they spend time in piety and devotion and where  they extend colorful welcome .

 Fourth day Govardhanpuja is performed. It is worshipping of Mount Govardhana. There are two legends behind this worship; both speak the glory of Lord Krishna. Another name of Lord Krishna is Govardhana meaning protector of Cows. First legend goes like this. Lord Krishna noticed that people of Vraja , who were farmers spending a  lot of time  conducting elaborate  rituals  of worship to invoke  blessingsof Indra , the God of rain for timely rain . Lord Krishna told them that they, being farmers ought to spend their time in doing real work of cultivation rather than spending time on rituals like pooja . He thus exhorted people to be practical minded and dissuaded them from performing rituals. Indra being angry along with Vayu or Lord of wind let off torrential down pour and whole Vraja was going to be immersed under water. At that time Lord Krishna lifted that hilly region with his fore finger and thus rescued people and their cattle from being drowned.  People worshipped Krishna for this act. From that time. to commemorate the incident , people started performing Govardhan pooja  to propitiate Lord Krishna . On that day, people from U.P, Punjab, Harayana and Bihar build shape of a hill with cow dung and decorate it with flowers, representing Govardhan Mountain and offer worship to Lord Krishna.

 The moral of this legend is very clear. Nothing can come out of miracle. It is  hard and sustained labor that brings fruits.we cannot expect  natural phenomena like rain  occur by performing rituals. We find  people  believe in this even today in this scientific age .we hear people performing  yagas or ceremonial worship  to appease rain God for rains .  Delayed or untimely rain  or shortage of rain fall or climate change happens when we tamper with ecological balance .   so we should avoid plundering nature , if we want timely rain and enjoy other nature’s bounties .If we disturb nature’s balance by over exploitation of nature , natural havocs like earthquake , floods, tsunami , Katarina  and such natural  havocs are likely to happen . Our age old Vedic wisdom proclaims that we should live in  harmony with nature .We have a tradition of worshipping animals, trees, rivers   , earth etc with  firm belief that all those and human life are inextricably, inseparably, symbiotically and irreversibly linked with each other  .The existence of one  depends upon  existence of the other and vice versa  It is a whole, not to be conceived as parts .  This is depicted in the  Upanishadic  verse ‘Purna madaPurna mida …………’

 That day is also celebrated as ‘Annakoot’ meaning Mountain of food. Pious people observe ‘jagaran’ or keep awake the whole night, prepare 56 to 108 types of dishes for the ‘bhog’ or feast   , offer it to Lord Krishna and distribute food to all as ‘Prasad’. In temples in Mathura and Nagawara, deities are given milk bath, dressed in shiny attires, and ornaments of dazzling gold, diamonds, pearls and rubies are put on . After prayers and worship, several items of food are raised in the form of a hill before the deities as ‘bhog’ . Devotees approach the hill of food and take some from it. The offering of food to God is an expression of gratitude of the devotees for the bounty of nature, as it is the time when harvest season comes to an end in almost all parts of north India. What this ritual conveys is that we should be grateful to everybody and to the nature without whose support and nurturance, our life on earth would have been impossible. Everything in this universe is so interrelated and mutually supporting. It is the supreme power which   has created everything and has made this interdependency as law of nature. The second lesson this ritual teaches us is that whatever we have, we should not either hoard it or use it only for oneself, but at least a fair part of it we should share with the needy.  Sharing resources with  needy is a noble act. The act is nobler if we give to others what we have, by forgoing it to ourselves or by making personal sacrifice. That is putting others before self. This is highest form of service. When we develop ‘vyragya ‘or detachment to outside objects or develop mastery of self over the objects of the world and thus become absolute master of ourselves, we find our wants are very few and giving away tends to be irresistible force working within us. One experiences joy in being of service to others rather than living for one self. This is the stage which Vedatins call as ‘Jeevanmukta’ or liberated soul.

Another legend is given in Ramayana. When Lakshmana sethu , the bridge was built by Vanara sena or monkey brigade for crossing over ocean  to reach Lanka in search of Seethadevi , Hanuman , the devotee of Lord Rama and commander-in-chief of Vanara army  was carrying a mountain on his hand as material for the bridge . The call was given that enough materials was already obtained.  Due to want of time, Hanuman could not carry it back to its place. He left it there. The deity presiding over the mountain asked Hanuman the reason for leaving the mountain there. Hanuman replied that the mountain would remain there till Dwapara yuga when Lord Rama would incarnate as Lord Krishna and he would  assume its form , making it worthy of worship. This deity about whom Hanuman spoke   was none other than Lord Krishna himself who manifested in the form of mountain. Thus Govandhan pooja was started which continues even today. What comes out of this legend is the vedantic truth that divinity is present in everything and everywhere. In other words God is omnipresent.  Prahlada ,Vishnu devotee and son of Hiranyakashipu  told his father  that God  was present  every where including in the iron pillar and in the rust as well .  This legend also brings out rather succinctly  importance of protection of eco -system for the survival and welfare of mankind .

Today we find in the name of economic development, large scale destruction of ecosystem takes place. Over exploitation of natural resources, deforestation , pollution of soil , water and air are the order of the day, thwarting  existence of mankind .The  present generation due to avariciousness seems to forget that we owe to the future generation  to pass on to them the earth as a habitable place as handed over to us and as a place where life is possible . Festivals like Deepavali teach us this fundamental lesion .We can see this only if we understand the real meaning of Deepavali celebration, or the meaning of any other Indian festivals for that matter. It is a meaningless exercise to observe  ritualistic aspects alone in the celebration of any festival.

The fifth day is the final day of Deepavali celebration. This day is known as ‘Baiya Dooj ‘ It is special day for cementing the relations between brothers and sisters . The terms brothers and sisters should not be construed narrowly as those born to same parents. All around us are brothers and sisters, the children of God. When Swami Vivekananda, who preached vedantic philophy in the west in his famous Chicago address at Parliament of world religions addressed the audience as brothers and sisters. It had electrifying or mystic effect.

The legend behind the celebration of this day  pertains to Yamaraj , the Goddess of Death in Hindu mythology.It is believed that  he  made a good will visit to her Sister Yamini.Yamini welcomed him  and took arathi (moving the lit traditional bronze lamp with flame , kept in a plate, with right hand , clock wise in front of his face of persons who are welcomed, which is religious  way of welcoming , praying for  blessing of God for protection from evils,  and putting a vermilion mark on his forehead . Sisters also observe fasting (abstain from taking food on that day, which is religious custom for grace of God to persons whom they wish best of luck)  . It is a personal sacrifice made for the wellbeing of brothers. One can see how pure brotherly and sisterly affection towards each other is.

 Yama raj and Yamani dinned and had happy get together.   .He  presented  her gifts  , reciprocating  his love towards his sister . From that day on wards, it is believed that anyone who   receives vermilion mark or bindi   put by his sister will receive  grace of God. Since then it is the practice followed by brothers to pay special visit to their sisters for exchanging good wishes. Those who do not have own sisters consider  other ladies as their sisters and exchange good wishes and gifts. The message that follows from this ritual is that we all should live like brothers and sisters, being affectionate towards each other rather than being indifferent towards each other or having strained relationships. Studies have shown that people who live cordially with each other enjoy both physical and mental health.

 Regional Variations

 In Andhra Pradesh, on Deepavali day, buffalo is given ceremonial bath. In Maharashtra, Deepavali celebration begins from the 12th day of second half of the month Ashbin. They celebrate this day by giving ceremonial bath to the cows and calves and performing ‘Arti’ on them. It is symbolic of wishing long and healthy life to them and also as indicative of love between mother and baby or parent –child relationships It reminds  sanctity  and purity of motherly love or love of universal mother .14 th day of Ashwin is celebrated as Narakachathurdashi . It is followed by Lakshmi pooja or worship of Lakshmi The dark night is illuminated with Diyas and there is spectacular display of fireworks .An interesting feature is that the ‘broom stick’ used for cleaning the house is also worshipped as Goddess Lakshmi in some places. Generally Broom stick is a thing of condemnation. Here it is elevated to divine level. It is the result of high level thinking. Broom stick is the tool to remove dirt and keep the place neat and clean. Lakshmi is present only in clean and tidy places. There is an adage with which we are familiar that’ cleanliness is next to Godliness’. Another message that comes through the act of worshipping Broom stick is that we should not look down upon anything. Everything has its place on earth to make a complete picture.

 Indians who stay overseas for a long time, feel more nostalgic and for them festivals likeDeepavali hold special significance. They herald the feelings of ‘oneness’ among fellow Indians. They apart from conducting  rituals, approximating the way , done back home,  make it a social function or get together for  exchanging wishes and gifts , feasting and  presenting  forms of Indian art and culture  in the alien land, trying utmost to bring their original spirit and ethos .It is time to connect to people , relatives and friends   far and near.

 In Nepal, which is a Hindu kingdom Deepavali is celebrated with much enthusiasm. There it is also called ‘Tihar Swanti ‘Celebration goes on five days. First day is called as ‘kaag Thihar’ or giving ceremonial bath and offerings are given to the cow. Second day is called ‘Kukur Thihar’. On this day dogs are worshipped for its honesty .It conveys that we should not look down upon any being. The dogs which we look down upon have many good qualities, which we ourselves do not display. They are faithful servants of their masters. Honesty, Dependability and other qualities are worthy of cultivation The ritual of worshipping dogs impresses upon us the need to develop qualities like truthfulness, dependability , loyalty etc . Third day is celebrated as Lakshmi pooja . On 4th day is considered as Nepali New Year and on that day human body is worshipped as symbolic of the importance of maintaining stamina and good health.  Without health no one how much talented he may be, will be able to be productive in the economic sense.  5th day is celebrated as ‘Bhaitika ‘. Sisters wish their brothers best of luck by putting vermilion mark on  fore head of their brothers. Brothers give gifts to their sisters in reciprocation. Both acts are symbolic of bond between them.

The significance of Deepavali as per faith in Sikhism.

The Sikhs celebrate Bindichor davas during Deepavali. The following is the legend behind it. It is to commemorate legendary release of Guru Govind singh by Mughal Emperor Jahangir from the Prison of Gwalior for in Madhyapradesh, India. When Jahangir was ready to release Gurugovind singh , put up a condition that he would leave the prison only if other 52 parishioners  were released .It was remarkable  that a prisoner giving conditions to the Emperor . It was an act of self sacrifice .It is said that Jahangir agreed to release other prisoners who held on Guru’s cloak. Guru had a cloak made with 52 strands. The other prisoners held strings and got released. It is said that Sikhs are not celebrating the releasing of their Guru, but celebrating his greatness of conduct, service to others. So it is urged that instead of celebrating a historical event , people  should ask themselves what they are doing to carry on the legacy of their Guru  and that is the spirit of Bindichhor divas .Guru Govind Singh’s action almost 400 years ago is a lesson  for not only Sikhs but for all the humanity . Bandi chhor divas is a reminder to look beyond oneself and to use the privilege conferred upon us by the creator to  serve others who are less fortunate . As pointed out by Rupinder Singh  in his article appeared in Voice of Asia , published from Houston  dt 16th Nov, 2012 , on Bindi chhor Divas – A Reflection  says that  it teaches a lesson in selflessness . Here we find how festival is means to chasten human behavior.

 In U.S.A the practice of  celebrating Deepavali  was started  by U.S Government during President George bush’s tenure .It was celebrated in the Indian Treaty Room in a building annexed to White house. However President Bush  never attended the function . It was after a change of regime in Washington,D.C  that Deepavali made foray into the main White House. President Obama  himself lit the’ diya’ or lamp  on 14th Oct 2009 three days ahead of Deepavali, in the midst of rituals by Indian priests ,  just after signing an executive order restoring  the White House Advisory Commission  and Inter-Agency Working Group  to address issues concerning  Asian  and Pacific islander Community. In his address, President Obama recalled that some of the world’s greatest faiths celebrate the triumph of good over evil.  He added that India is one of the most dynamic, tolerant and diverse societies in the world and hence he would celebrate this year’s Deepavali with young minds in Mumbai to pay tribute to the cultural diversity and its tradition of tolerance. This is the highest honor, which India received for her traditional cultural excellence.

 Similarly in Newzeland, Deepavali is celebrated at official level in the parliament house. Deepavali is the festival which integrates all Indians and people of Indian origin in overseas and all people in our country and brings to them the common feeling that they are Indians. In addition Deepavali celebrations can enlighten us and reform us, if we follow the moral/ethical human values which  the  rituals clearly bring out, rather than observing just the rituals.
Deepavali  - Its significance  (Dr.A Sreekumar Menon)
Tom Abraham 2014-10-24 15:42:37
Very interesting article. In Orlando, the Temple is celebrating Deepavali  with a Multi-Faith workshop on World Peace and Women s rights. At least an IMAM and a few muslim women will attend with Hindu, Christian members of New Age Group on Nov. 2 nd. I want to add how in modern feminism, a trace of paganism is present. Each celebration, with Light has pagan spirit.
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