Guest Author - April Alisa Marquette
Known as the Festival of Lights, Diwali, for Hindus is one of the most important festivals. Many families gather, to celebrate, using traditions passed down from generation to generation. For Jains, Diwali marks the attainment of nirvana. For Sikhs, Diwali is also a five day celebration. According to the lunisolar Hindu calendar, Diwali which is known in Sanskrit as Deepavali has traditionally fallen on the one new moon night between mid-October and mid-November.
The name "Diwali" translates into 'row of lamps,' thus the celebration involves the lighting of small clay lamps that are called diyas or dipas. This holiday is significant because it celebrates the 'Inner Light,' the triumph of good over evil -- the return of Lord Rama a Hindu deity revered for his courage and compassion. Diwali also celebrates Lord Rama's wife Sita, and his brother Lakshmana. The trio returned from Lord Rama's fourteen-year exile where in a colossal battle he vanquished the demon-king who'd kidnapped his wife. In celebrating his return, Lord Rama's people lit up the kingdom with diyas, oil lamps...
Thus, during this holiday, lights are not only lit to illuminate the homes of believers, but their hearts as well. Every believer is encouraged to journey from darkness into the light that enables them to carry out the good and sacred deeds that get them closer to divinity. In doing so, they will also receive ananda, joy or peace, and the awareness of being one with all things.
The first day of the festival of lights is Dhanteras on which most Indian businesses begin their financial year. Nakara, the second day, marks the vanquishing of the demon Nakarka. Amavasya, the third day of Diwali centers around Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth who fulfills the desires of her devotees. The fourth day is Kartika Shudda Padyami new kingdom day. The fifth day Yama Dvitiya is also called Bhai Dooj. On this day sisters invite their brothers to their homes to strengthen the familial bonds between them.
Festivities begin almost a month before Diwali, and the sales of silk saris, jewelry, ornaments, and household goods increase. Along with the lighting of innumerable lamps, as well as the bursting of firecrackers -- exciting for children, the time for rejoicing is mainly early morning and late night. The darker hours are preferred as a backdrop in order to highlight the festival's illuminations. A significant ritual is the necessary visit to the Temple. Traditionally, people also visit the homes of others in their communities where they sing, dance, and offer blessings. Those living elsewhere, contact loved ones back home in India. They also exchange gifts, including words from the heart.
I am aware that I have simplified most everything, but to truly understand this most fascinating festival and all that it commemorates, I would suggest you start at your local library. I will tell you though, that Diwali is not just celebrated in India, but around the world. Due to the vast migration of Indian people, Diwali is no longer just a Hindu festival, but it is now also celebrated in Canada, the United Kingdom, and the United States. The sovereign states of Nepal and Guyana, and the island countries of Sri Lanka, Malaysia, and Singapore also celebrate. In the island nations of Trinidad and Tobago, and Fiji, Diwali/Deepavali is also a major holiday. In commemorating this special time, let us do as revelers do. Contact family and friends; let them know the place they hold in our hearts, and celebrate the 'Inner Light' -- the triumph of good over evil.