I’ve always wondered … why do most of our festivals celebrate somebody’s brutal death?
It’s usually about some demon who obtains special powers or advanced weaponry by propitiating various Gods. He then goes on a global killing and looting spree, thereby becoming a major nuisance to the general public and incurring the wrath of the same Gods who gave him all those powers in the first place. Invariably, a mighty battle follows between said demon and said Gods, and our unfortunate demon is decapitated, eviscerated and/or dismembered, as a stern example to other demons with divine ambitions.
And we mortals rejoice, abandon our work, release malodorous fireworks into the atmosphere, eat and drink lustily, literally burn a lot of money, and generally celebrate the triumph of ‘good’ over ‘evil’.
Yet, most people won’t even know the name of the demon whose death they celebrate.
So it is with Deepavali. When asked, most of my friends give me a vague reply. Something to do with Lakshmi puja or Lord Rama or something, they tell me, before rushing off to Hosur to buy firecrackers at cheap rates – and stocking up on good booze.
If you wish to celebrate a festival, then do it right.
Herewith then, some Diwali fundas …
Diwali is always celebrated during the last four days of Ashvina and the first day of Kartika, these two being the sixth and seventh months in the Hindu calendar. This corresponds to end-October/early November.
The Hindu calendar is based on the waxing and waning of the moon. There is one full moon day every month as you probably know. Therefore, each month has two halves – the fortnight before a full moon and the fortnight after it. The fortnight before the full moon, i.e. the waxing period is called Shukla paksha – the bright half, Shukla meaning white in Sanskrit. The fortnight after the full moon is called Krishna paksha – the dark half, Krishna meaning black.
Diwali is perhaps the oldest of the Indian festivals. In some form or the other, India has celebrated Diwali since the past five thousand years at least.
Diwali is not one festival. It commemorates five separate events from Vedic history. Over the ages, these five festivals merged into one major festival.
Dhanvantari, at Art of Living Ashram, Bangalore. If you look carefully, you can a leech in his right hand.
- The 13th day of the dark half of Ashvina, i.e. Krishnapaksha Trayo-dashi, is the birthday of Dhanvanatri, the celestial physician who appeared during Sagaramanthan, the churning of the ocean. Hence it is called Dhantrayodashi.
People up North also believe that Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth, is in a benevolent mood on this particular day. People light lamps through the night, in the hope that Lakshmi pays them a visit. For this reason, this day is also called Dhanteras.
This year, Dhanteras falls on October 21, Tuesday.
Medical professionals who consider Dhanvantari as their patron god may perform a Dhanvantari puja on this day.
Some others prefer to gamble on this day, in the belief that if they win on Dhanteras they keep winning through the year. They usually lose – heavily.
- The 14th day of Ashvina-Krishnapaksha, i.e. Chatur-dashi, commemorates the death of Narakasura. As described above, this demon procured some special boons and became a really nasty warlord. He had to be slain by Krishna, or in some versions of the legend, by his wife Satyabhama. Apparently, just before he died, Narakasura requested Krishna and Satyabhama that his death should not be mourned by his subjects, but celebrated in a colorful manner.
And since he was slain just before sunrise, Naraka Chaturdashi is celebrated with bright lights and a lot of noise, in the wee hours of the day – unfortunately.
Narakachaturdashi, or Choti Diwali as it is called up North, falls on October 22, Wednesday.
There is a belief that anyone who has a bath-cum-oil massage (or Abhyangsnana) before sunrise on Narakachaturdashi will avoid going to hell. Now you know why your grandma would haul you out of bed at an ungodly hour and dunk your head in water.
Well, if you so believe, the correct time for avoiding hell is 04.39 to 06:19, on October 22.
- The 15th day, i.e. No moon day or Ashvina Amavasya, marks the day on which Lord Rama returned to Ayodhya with Sita and Lakshmana. Rama slew Ravana on Vijayadashami. After handing over Lanka to Vibhishana, he returned to Ayodhya eighteen days after Vijayadashami. Since it was Amavasya, the darkest night of the month, the residents of Ayodhya lit up the whole city with oil-lamps.
That of course, is why it is called Deepavali.
On this day, the goddess Lakshmi is worshipped, specifically during the evening hours, or Pradosh kaal.
Diwali and Lakshmi puja this year are on Thursday, October 23. For those of you who are serious about Lakshmi puja, the correct time is between 19:10 to 20:15.
- The next day is the first day of the bright half of Kartika, i.e. Prathami-Shukla paksha. This day is celebrated as Govardhana Puja, to commemorate Krishna’s feat of lifting the entire Govardhan mountain on his finger, to protect his villagers from Indra’s wrath.
In North and West India, this day is also celebrated as Bali Padyami, believed to be the day on which Raja Bali returns from the depths of the underworld and visits his kingdom on earth. In Kerala however, this day is celebrated during the festival of Onam. That’s why Diwali is not a major festival in Kerala.
Usually, the Gujarati new year also falls on this day.
- The second day of Kartika, i.e. Kartika Dvitiya is celebrated as Bhau Bheej or Bhaya Duj. According to our scriptures, Yama, god of death, visited his sister Yami on this particular day. Brother and sister were very happy with the visit, and Yama assured his sister that any brother who visits his sister on this day will be blessed with long life.
Hence this day is also called Yama Dvitiya.
For those brothers who are unable to visit their sisters (as am I), prayers offered to Yama by the concerned sisters will suffice.
This then is the five-day festival of Diwali, and why you need to celebrate it.
Note however, that nowhere and nowhere in the scriptures, does it specify that Diwali must be celebrated by intense air and noise pollution, extreme drunkenness, rowdy behavior and by a vulgar exhibition of wealth.
Have a happy Diwali everyone. And let me have a peaceful Diwali – for a change.
Cheers … Srini.