Diwali, also called Deepavali (Sanskrit: दीपावली, Tamil: தீபாவளி Kannada:ದೀಪಾವಳೀ Sinhala:ද්ර්පවාලි) is a major Hindu festival. Known as the “Festival of Lights,” it symbolises the victory of good over evil, and lamps are lit as a sign of celebration and hope for mankind. The festival of Diwali is rooted in the mythological epic Ramayana, and is a celebration of the return of Lord Ram after killing Ravan the Demon during his exile for 14 years. The day of killing Ravan is celebrated as Dussehra (19 to 21 days before Diwali). Celebrations focus on lights and lamps, particularly traditional diyas (as illustrated). Fireworks are associated with the festival in many regions of India.
Diwali is celebrated for five consecutive days in the Hindu month of Ashwayuja. It usually occurs in October/November, and is one of the most popular and eagerly awaited festivals of India. Hindus, Jains and Sikhs alike regard it as a celebration of life and use the occasion to strengthen family and social relationships. For Jains it is one of the most important festivals, and beginning of the Jain year. Jains celebrate Diwali because Lord Mahaveera has gone to Moksha. It is also a significant festival for the Sikh faith.
Word Diwali is derived from Sanskrit word Deepawali. This is a compund of two words Deepa and Avali. Deepa means light and Avali means row or line. Thus the literal meaning of the word is ‘line of lights’.
Dates in various calendars
During this festival one must fast for three days. The festival is worshipped on exactly the same set of days across India, it falls in different months depending on the version of the Hindu calendar being used in the given region.
The Amantnm (“ending on the no-moon”) version of the Hindu Calendar has been adopted as the Indian national calendar. According to this calendar, which is prevalent in southern India and Maharashtra, deepavali falls in the middle of the month of Ashwayuja. According to the Purnimanta (“ending on the full-moon”) version prevalent in northern India, the 5-day celebration is spread over the last three days of the month of Ashwayuja and the first two days of the new month of Kartika. According to this calendar, the festival of Deepavali marks the new year’s day of this calendar and is therefore an especially significant festival.
In the Gregorian calendar, it falls generally in the months of October or November. In 2005, the new moon day which is the third and most important day of the festival fell on November 1. In 2006, it will be celebrated on October 21 (Saturday).
Significance in Hinduism
The festival marks the victory of good over evil. The Sanskrit word Deepavali means array of lights that stands for victory of brightness over darkness. As the knowledge of Sanskrit diminished, the name was popularly modified to Diwali, especially in northern India.
On the day of Diwali, many wear new clothes, share sweets and light firecrackers. The North Indian business community usually starts their financial new year on Diwali and new account books are opened on this day.
Hindus find cause to celebrate this festival for different reasons:
* As per sacred texts, according to Skanda Purana, the goddess Shakti observed 21 days of austerity starting from ashtami of shukla paksha (waxing period of moon) to get half part of the body of Lord Shiva. This vrata is known as kedhara vrata. Deepavali is the completion day of this austerity. This is the day Lord Shiva accepted Shakti into the left half of the form and appeared as Ardhanarishvara. The ardent devotees observe this 21 days vrata by making a kalasha with 21 threads on it and 21 types of offerings for 35 days. The final day is celebrated as kedhara gauri vrata.
* Diwali also celebrates the return of Lord Rama, King of Ayodhya, with his wife Sita and brother Lakshmana to Ayodhya from a war in which he killed the demon king Ravana. It is believed that the people lit oil lamps along the way to light their path in the darkness. In North India, the festival is held on the final day of the Vikram calendar. The following day marks the beginning of the North Indian new year, and is called Annakut.
* It commemorates the killing of Narakasura, an evil demon who created havoc, by Lord Krishna’s wife Sathyabhama. This happened in the Dwapara Yuga during this time of Lord Krishna’s avatar. In another version, the demon was killed by Lord Krishna himself. In South India, Diwali does not coincide with the beginning of a new year as South Indians follow a different calendar, the Shalivahana calendar.
* In Bhavishyottara and Bramhavaivarta Purana, Diwali is associated with the Daitya king Bali, who is allowed to return to earth once a year.
The Five days of Diwali
Diwali is celebrated over five days in most of North India. All the days except Diwali are named using the designation in the Indian calendar. A lunar half-month is 15 days. Diwali as a new-moon day, marks the last day of a 15-day period.
1. Dhan-trayodashi or Dhan teras: Dhan means “wealth” and Trayodashi means “13th day”. Thus, as the name implies, this day falls on the 13th day of the first half of the lunar month. It is an auspicious day for shopping. (Gujarati: Dhan Teras)
2. Naraka Chaturdasi: Narak means ‘of a new era of Light and Knowledge’. Chaturdasi implies fourteenth day. (Gujarati: Kali Chaudas)
3. Diwali: the actual day of Diwali, is celebrated on the third day of the festival, when the moon completely wanes and total darkness sets in the night sky.
4. Varsha-pratipada or Padwa: Beginning of the New Year (Kartikadi Vikram). Pratipada means the first. (Gujarati: Bestu Varas)
5. Bhayiduj (also Bhayyaduj, Bhaubeej or Bhayitika) — on this day, brothers and sisters meet to express their love and affection for each other. (Gujarati: Bhai Bij, Bengali: Bhai Phota)
The celebrations vary in different regions:
* In Southern India, naraka chaturdashii is the main day, with firecrackers at dawn.
* The main festival is on Amavasya evening with Lakshmi Puja which is followed by lighting of oil lamps around the house.
As per spiritual references, on this day ‘Laxmi-panchayatan’ enters the Universe. Sri Vishnu, Sri Indra, Sri Kuber, Sri Gajendra and Sri Laxmi are elements of this ‘panchayatan’ (a group of five).
The tasks of these elements are:
Vishnu: Happiness (happiness and satisfaction)
Indra: Opulence (satisfaction due to wealth)
Kuber: Wealth (one who gives away wealth)
Gajendra: Carries the wealth
Laxmi: Divine Energy (Shakti) which provides energy to all the above activities.
Importance of Laxmi Pujan
A. Destruction of distressing energies On this particular day, Goddess Laxmi’s destroyer (marak) form is active, since it is the new moon day. The spiritual emotion of the person doing ritualistic worship, activates Goddess Laxmi’s marak form and destroys the distressing frequencies in the environment.
B. Arrival of other Gods (Devtas): Lord Indra and other male deities also get drawn to the place of ritualistic worship and follow Goddess Laxmi. Thus happiness, opulence, prosperity, stability and wealth is maintained in the premise (Vastu) by worshiping the 5 elements or Deities
Diwali in Sikhism
Sikhs celebrate Diwali to commemorate the laying of the foundation stone for the Golden Temple in 1577. It is also known as Bandi Chhorh Divas. The Mughal emperor Jahangir arrested the Sikh Guru Hargobind and imprisoned him in Gwalior. Later Jehangir relented and released the Guru. The Guru asked that 52 rulers imprisoned with him should also be released. To the joy of the Sikhs the Guru returned to Amritsar on Diwali and it prompted the followers to celebrate the day with joy and happiness.
On Diwali the Sikhs illuminate their Gurdwaras and homesare with Deewé (earthen oil lamps) or candles. Early in the morning, Sikh pilgrims take a dip in the sacred tank while reciting Japji Sahib, and then pray at the Golden Temple. Circumambulation of the tank is done.
Diwali in Jainism
Lord Mahavira, the last of the Jain Tirthankaras, attained Nirvana on this day at Pavapuri. According to Jain tradition the chief disciple of Mahavira, Ganadhar Gautam Swami also attained complete knowledge on this very day, thus making Diwali a really special occasion for the Jains to celebrate.
Diwali is first mentioned in Jain books as the date of the nirvana of Lord Mahavira. The oldest use of the word “Diwali/Dipavali” occurs in Harivamsha-Purana written by Acharya Jinasena, composed in Shaka Samvat 705. The sample of text containing the word Diwali is below:
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Thus people in Bharata every year celebrate famous “Dipalikaya”, to reverently worship the Jinendra on the occasion of his nirvana on the amavasya of Kartika month.
Significance of lamps: The Kalpasutra by Acharya Bhadrabahu, 3rd century BC, explains the significance of lights: “??? ?? ?????????, ??????????? ????????”, with light of knowledge gone, we make light of ordinary matter.
The way Jains celebrate Diwali is different in many respects. There is a note of asceticism in whatever the Jains do, and the celebration of Diwali is not an exception. The Jains celebrate Diwali during the month of Kartik for three days. During this period, among the Shvetambaras, devoted Jains observe fasting and chant the Uttaradhyayan Sutra, which contain the final pravachans of Lord Mahavira, and meditate upon him.
Vira Nirvana Samvat: The Jain year starts with Pratipada following Diwali. Vira Nirvana Samvat 2532 starts with Diwali 2005. The Jain businessmen traditionally started their accounting year from Diwali.
To add to the festival of Diwali, fairs called Melas are held throughout India.  Melas are to be found in many towns and villages. A mela generally becomes a market day in the countryside when farmers buy and sell produce. Girls and women dress attractively during the festival. They wear colourful clothing, new jewelry and their hands are decorated with henna designs.
There are plenty of activities that take place at a mela. These activities include performances from jugglers, acrobats, snake charmers and fortune tellers. Food stalls are set up, selling sweet and spicy foods. A variety of rides are present during the fair, which include Ferris wheels and rides on animals such as elephants and camels. Another attraction are the puppet shows that are shown throughout the day.
Diwali in other parts of the world
Diwali is celebrated in various parts of the world, in countries such as Britain, The Netherlands, Suriname, Canada, Guyana, Mauritius, Fiji, Japan, Indonesia, Malaysia, Myanmar, Nepal, Singapore, Sri Lanka, South Africa, Trinidad and Tobago, Thailand, United Arab Emirates, Australia, much of Africa, and the United States. With more and more Indians now migrating to various parts of the world, the number of countries where Diwali is celebrated has been gradually increasing. While in some countries it is celebrated mainly by Indian expatriates, in others it has become part of the general local culture. In most of these countries Diwali is celebrated on the same lines as described in this article with some minor variations. Some important variations are worth mentioning.
In Malaysia, Diwali is known as “Hari Deepavali,” and is celebrated during the seventh month of the Hindu solar calendar. It is a federal public holiday throughout Malaysia. In many respects it resembles the traditions followed in the Indian subcontinent.
In Nepal, Diwali is known as Tihar and celebrated during the October/November period. Here, though the festival is celebrated for five days, the traditions vary from those followed in India. On the first day, cows are given offerings, in appreciation of the food they have given and agricultural work they have performed. On the second day, dogs and all living animals are revered and offered special food. On the third day, celebrations follow the same pattern as in India, with lights and lamps and much social activity. On the fourth day Yama, the Lord of Death, is worshipped and appeased. On the fifth and final day, brothers and sisters meet and exchange pleasantries.
In Singapore, the festival is called “Deepavali”, and is a gazetted public holiday. Observed primarily by the minority Indian community, it is typically marked by a light-up in the Little India district and is most known for the fire-walking ceremonies not practised as part of the festival in other countries. Hindu Endownment Board of Singapore along with Singapore Government organises lot of cultural events around Diwali time.
In Sri Lanka, This festival is called as Deepavali and is celebrated by the Tamil community. On this day people wear new clothes and exchange pleasantries.
Diwali is celebrated in the Caribbean Islands as well. Especially in Trinidad and Tobago, Diwali is marked as a special occasion and celebrated with much fanfare. It is observed as a national holiday in this part of the world and some Ministers of the Government also take part in the celebrations publicly. Diwali is also celebrated in the South American country of Guyana.
Economics of Diwali
Diwali is an annual stimulus for the Indian economy. Indians purchase gold, gifts, decorations, crackers (fireworks) and household appliances during this festival and many Indian films (Bollywood, Kollywood, etc.) are released during this period. Companies offer huge discounts during the Diwali season to attract customers, which helps the economy and also helps the poor. Food distributed as acts of charity during community festivities also helps the underprivileged . Diwali also brings tourists to the country.Also, schools in India are closed during this festival, and many young people have the free time and the money to spend on luxury items.