I’ve always wondered … why do most of our festivals celebrate somebody’s 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 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, 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 buy Chinese firecrackers at cheap rates – and stocking up on booze.
If you wish to celebrate a festival, then do it right.
Herewith then, some Diwali fundas …
Diwali is always celebrated during the last six 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.
This year, 2016, that period is between Oct 26th and November 2nd.
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 six separate events from Vedic history. Over the ages, these six festivals merged into one major festival.
OK, here goes:
The 12th day of Ashvina-Shuklapaksha, is Govatsa Dwadashi. As you can figure out from the name, this day is dedicated to cows and calves. Those who celebrate Govatsa Dvadashi perform a puja for their cows and do not consume milk products on this day, This year, Govatsa Dvadashi falls on Thursday, Oct 27th.
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 28th, Friday.
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.
In some parts of west and north India, it is believed that evil spirits are at their strongest on this night, and some perform a Hanuman puja.
– The 14th day of Ashvina-Krishnapaksha, i.e. Chatur-dashi, commemorates the death of Narakasura. The son of Bhoodevi (Mother Earth) and Lord Vishnu in his Varaha (boar) incarnation, Narakasura became a nasty warlord due to special boons given to him by Vishnu himself.
He had to be slain by a later incarnation of Vishnu, i.e., 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 with a lot of light and colour.
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 morning – unfortunately.
Narakachaturdashi, or Choti Diwali as it is called up North, falls on October 29, Saturday.
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 hot water.
Well, if you so believe, the correct time for avoiding hell is 04.58 to 06:15, on October 29.
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 Sunday, October 30. For those of you who are serious about Lakshmi puja, the correct time is between 18:50 to 20:19.
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.
Usually, the Gujarati new year also falls on this day or on the day before. Traditional Gujarati businessmen close their account books (or Chopda) and open a new Chopda, with a Chopda puja.
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 six-day festival of Diwali.
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.