Deepavali or Diwali is a major Indian festival, which celebrates & signifies the victory over evil & the removing spiritual

darkness. It is also called as the Festival of Lights. Deepavali is taken from the Sanskrit words Deep & Avali, Deep means "light of the dharma", and Avali means "a continuous line". Diwali is the easy-to-pronounce form of Deepavali. It is significantly celebrated by Hindus, Sikhs & Jain’s all around the world. Deepavali is a festival where people from all age groups participate. They give expression to their happiness by lighting earthen 'diyas' (lamps), doing Puja’s, decorating the houses, wearing new cloths, sharing sweets & snacks, bursting firecrackers and inviting near and dear ones to their households for partaking in a sumptuous feast. The lighting of lamps is a way of paying obeisance to god for attainment of health, wealth, knowledge, peace, valour and fame. In 2008, Deepavali starts from the 25th to 30th of October 2008.

The origin of Deepavali dates back to periods, when there were little or no writings, and knowledge used to be transferred through generations, purely by listening, memorizing, and then speaking it out to someone else. Thus the process continued, there have been many theories about its origin. It was even theorised that Deepavali might have originated from a harvest festival, as it is the last harvest season of the year before winter. The history of Deepavali is related to the Hindu Puranas. Hindus believes that whenever the power of evil increases in the world, Lord Vishnu comes down to earth in a different form to defeat evil. These forms are called Avataras. Rama and Krishna are two popular Avataras of Vishnu. Deepavali celebrations are especially a time for telling stories about Lord Vishnu and his wife Lakshmi, and about Krishna, Rama and his wife Sita. There are many several significant events associated with Deepavali, such as: The return of Lord Rama who was the King of Ayodhya, with his wife Sita & brother Lakshmana, after a long 14 year exile & war in which he killed the tremendously powerful demon King Ravana of Lanka. When Lord Rama came to the city, the people of Ayodhya are believed to have lit the entire city with diyas & celebrated their return. Another popular event is the killing of an evil demon called as Narkasura, by Satyabhama, who was provoked by her husband Lord Krishna. Satyabhama was believed to be the Avatar of Bhoodevi, the mother of Narkasura. It is believed that just before his death he requested for a boon from Satyabhama, requesting that his death be celebrated by everyone with colour light signifying the victory of goodness over evil. Hence we celebrate Naraka Chaturdasi, which occurs 2 days before the Deepavali day.

Lord Krishna saw huge preparations for the annual offering to Lord Indra (King of gods & the deity of thunder and rain) and questioned his father Nanda about it. He debated with the villagers about what their 'Dharma' truly was. Since they were farmers, they should do their duty and concentrate on farming and protection of their cattle. Lord Krishna continued to say that all human beings should merely do their 'karma', to the best of their ability and not pray for natural phenomenon. The villagers were convinced by Krishna, and did not proceed with the special Puja for Lord Indra. Indra, who then got angered, flooded the village. Lord Krishna then lifted Mt Govardhan and held it up as protection to his people and cattle from the rain. Indra finally accepted defeat and recognized Lord Krishna as supreme. This day is usually celebrated as Govardhan Puja; it is celebrated the day after Deepavali. Another famous legend is that of an emperor named Bali who was a generous but ambitious King, he with the blessings of gods, became allpowerful and many lesser gods were defeated by him, so they requested Lord Vishnu to defeat him. As Bali was a god-loving person & had many good deeds, Lord Vishnu wouldn’t kill him, so Lord Vishnu is said to have come to earth in the form of a short Brahmin (The Vamana Avatar), and presenting himself before the mighty Bali asked for "as much land as three of my footsteps would cover." As no king should refuse a Brahmin's appeal for charity, Bali readily granted what seemed to him a trifling request. Then the diminutive Brahmin resumed his all-pervasive, omnipresent form and covered the heavens with one foot and the world below with another. The Lord Vishnu asked Bali as to where he should place his foot for the third step. Bali bowed before him and offered his own head for Lord Vishnu to place his foot on. This pleased Lord Vishnu, as it showed that King Bali was a man of his word & let him rule for another Mahasamvatsara, & then gave him a place in heaven. The fourth day of Deepavali is observed called as Balipadyami & is King Bali is remembered on that day. Jain’s celebrate Deepavali as the day that Lord Mahavira achieved Nirvana, (which is said to have occurred on October 15, 527 BCE). Deepavali is also mentioned in many Jain Books, with the oldest reference to the related word, dipalikaya or deepalikaya, which occurs in Harivamsha-Purana, written by Acharya Jinasena and composed in the Shaka Samvat era in the year 705. For the Sikhs Deepavali is a story of the Sikh struggle for freedom. From the time of Guru Nanak (1469 – 1539), the founder of Sikhism, popular seasonal or folk festivals like the harvest festival of Baisakhi, or previously ancient Hindu festivals such as Holi and Deepavali began to take on a new significance for the Guru’s students, the Sikhs. The Guru used these festivals and special days e.g. first day of each lunar month, as symbols or pegs for his teaching themes. The enlightened ideology of Guru Nanak gave new significance to ancient festivals like Deepavali and Baisakhi.

But it was the release of Guru Hargobind Ji, the Sixth Guru on the Deepavali day, the Sixth Guru, from imprisonment along with 52 Hindu Kings (political prisoners) whom he had arranged to be released as well. After his release it is believed that he went to Darbar Sahib (golden temple) in the holy city of Amritsar. There, he was greeted by Sikhs and many other people. In happiness they lit candles and diyas to greet the Guru. This is said to be celebrated even today as Deepavali by the Sikhs. In 1699, on the festival of Deepavali, the group Khalsa, the Sikh saintsoilders, was formally established by the Tenth Guru Gobind Singh. The Sikh struggle for freedom against the Mughals, which intensified in the 18th century, came to be centred on this day. After the execution of Banda Bahadur in 1716, who had led an uprising in Punjab, the Sikhs started the tradition of deciding matters concerning the community at the biennial meetings which took place at Amritsar on the first of Baisakhi and at Deepavali. These assemblies were known as the "Sarbat Khalsa" and a resolution passed by it became a "Gurmata" (decree of the Guru). In Maharashtra, the thirteenth day of Ashwini, the trayodasi, is observed as a festival commemorating a young prince whom Yama, the God of Death, had claimed four days after his marriage. Filled, however, with compassion for the luckless youth, the legend goes, Yama promised that those who observed the day would be spared untimely death-and so the lamps that are lit to mark the festival are placed facing south, unlike on other festive days, because south is the direction mythologically assigned to Yama.

Deepavali has much significance; from Ramayana we get the return of faith & goodwill after the absence for a period of time. Narkasura’s story gives us the significance of victory of good over evil & the removal of the spiritual darkness. The lights/lamps also signify victory of good over the evil within every human being. A wonderful significant spiritual meaning of Deepavali is the awareness of the Inner Light in a human being. A very central feature in the Hindu Philosophy is the existence of the Atma, which is a pure, infinite & eternal part of any human; it has no death or birth, & can never die. Deepavali is the celebration of this Inner Light is us, which has the power to outshine all inner & outer darkness like obstacles, ignorance, & awakens the individual person to their true spiritual nature. With the realisation of a human that he is part of an unchanging, universal, infinite, pure, & transcendental truth, he achieves universal

compassion, unconditional love, & the awareness that everything is connected. This brings a joy, peace or happiness which nothing else can. The custom of lighting diyas, signify a welcome to prosperity in the form of Lakshmi, and the fireworks are supposed to scare away evil spirits.

Deepavali is usually celebrated on different days by different communities. It is usually spread over a period of 6 days. It usually starts in the last 4 days of Ashwini month & ends on the 2nd day of the next month Karthika. In parts of North India, Deepavali occurs in the middle of the Ashwini month. In the Gregorian calendar it usually falls in the months of October or November. In Nepal, it is celebrated for 5 days, starting on the last 3 days of one month & ending on the 2nd day of the next month. Each of these 6 days have been designated a name in the Hindu calendar. They are: 1. Vasu Baras (First day): Baras means 12th day and Vasu means Cow. On this day Cow and calf is worshipped. Since it is believed that Cow is symbol of God, Deepavali is begun by worshipping Cow and Calf, which is a symbol of love between mother and her baby. 2. Dhanatrayodashi (Second day): Dhan means "wealth" and Trayodashi means "13th day". Thus, as the name implies, this day falls on the 13th day of the second half of the lunar month. It is an auspicious day for shopping of utensils and gold. This day is also regarded as the Jayanti of Goddess Dhanvantri who came out during the churning of the great ocean by the gods and the demons. It is also called as or Dhan teras or Dhanvantri Jayanti. 3. Naraka Chaturdashi (Third day): Chaturdashi is the 14th day on which demon Narakasura was killed. In south India, this is the actual day of festivities. This being a no moon day, many will offer special tarpana (offerings of water and sesame seeds) to their ancestors. This day is also called as Roop Chaturdashi. 4. Lakshmi Puja (Fourth Day): Lakshmi Puja marks the most important day of Deepavali celebrations. Hindu homes worship Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth, and Ganesha, the God of auspicious beginnings, and then light lamps all across the streets and homes to welcome prosperity and wellbeing. 5. Govardhan Puja (Fifth Day): This day is celebrated as the day Krishna defeated Indra. On this day mountain of food is decorated symbolizing Govardhan Mountain lifted by Lord Krishna. In Maharashtra it is celebrated as Padva or Bali Pratipada. The day

commemorates King Bali. Men present gifts to their wives on this day. In Gujarat, it is celebrated as New Year, as Vikram Samvat starts on this day. Also called as Balipadyami. 6. Bhaiduj (Sixth & Last Day): On this day, brothers and sisters meet to express their love and affection for each other (especially in Gujarat & Bengal). Most Indian festivals bring together families; Bhaiduj brings together married sisters and brothers, and is a significant festive day for them. This festival is ancient, and pre-dates 'Raksha Bandhan' another brother-sister festival celebrated in the present day. It is also called as Bhayyaduj, Bhaubeej or Bhayitika. On the Naraka Chaturdashi, Hindus wake up way before dawn, some as early as 2:00 in the morning, have a fragrant oil bath and wear new clothes. (On this day it is believed that taking a bath before sunrise, when the stars are still visible in the sky is equivalent to taking a bath in the holy river Ganges.) They perform a special Puja with offerings to Lord Sri Krishna or Lord Sri Vishnu, as he liberated the world from the demon Narakasura on this day. After the Puja, children burst firecrackers heralding the defeat of the demon. As this is a day of rejoicing, many will have very elaborate breakfasts and lunches and meet family and friends. In the evening, lamps are lit and Goddess Lakshmi is worshipped and offered special dishes. Traditionally Deepavali marks the closing of accounts for businesses dependent on the agricultural cycle. Since Goddess Lakshmi symbolizes wealth and prosperity, she is worshiped and her blessings are invoked for a good year ahead. As per spiritual references, on this day "Lakshmi-panchayatan" enters the Universe. Sri Vishnu, Sri Indra, Sri Kuber, Sri Gajendra and Sri Lakshmi 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) Kubera: Wealth (Generosity; one who gives away wealth) Gajendra: Carries the wealth Lakshmi: Divine Energy (Shakti) which provides energy to all the above activities.

In South India the Naraka Chaturdashi is the main day of the festival. Where as in North India the main day is on the 4th day. The third day is celebrated as the Balipadyami, as the day of Vamana’s victory over Mahabali. Homes are usually thoroughly cleaned & decorated before Deepavali. Many offices perform Puja’s on the day and grant Bonuses & holidays to their employees, some companies even give gifts to all their employees & their family members on these auspicious days. Some North Indian business communities start their financial year on Deepavali and new account books are opened on this day. People buy property & gold on these days as it is considered auspicious & lucky. Most people buy new cloths for the festival. The bursting of crackers (Fireworks) is a major part of the festival. Sweets & snacks are an integral part of the Puja’s. Apart from these, there are many Mela’s (Fairs) held throughout India, usually in towns & villages. All these make Deepavali the most eagerly awaited festival of the year.

Earlier Deepavali was celebrated only in India, & soon became its national festival, soon Deepavali spread to its neighbouring countries too. Now with the Indians migrating & settling down in many different parts of the world, with the advent of globalism, & an ever growing interest in the world about India & its traditions, Deepavali has become famous all over the world & is being celebrated in many countries. The United Kingdom, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Suriname, Canada, 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, celebrate Deepavali on the same lines as in India, with a few minor changes. In some countries it is only the Indians, or people from Indian origin celebrating the festival, in other countries Deepavali is becoming a part of the countries local culture. Gradually the celebration of Deepavali in other parts of the world is increasing. In Nepal on the first day of the festival called Kaag tihar, crows are given offerings, considering them to be divine messengers. On the second day, Kukur tihar, dogs are worshipped for their honesty. On the third day, Lakshmi Puja and worship of Cow is performed. This is the last day

according to Nepal Sambat, so many of the businessmen clear their accounts on this day and on finishing it, worship goddess Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth. The fourth day is celebrated as New Year. Cultural processions and other celebrations are observed in this day. The Newars celebrate it as "Mha Puja", a special ritual in which the body is worshipped to keep it fit and healthy for the year ahead on this day. On the fifth and final day called Bhai Tika, brothers and sisters meet and exchange pleasantries. In Trinidad and Tobago, communities all over the islands get together and celebrate the festival. One major celebration that stands out is the Diwali Nagar, or Village of the Festival of Lights. It features stage performances by the east Indian cultural practitioners, a folk theatre featuring skits and plays, an exhibition on some aspect of Hinduism, displays by various Hindu religious sects and social organizations, nightly worship of Goddess Lakshmi, lighting of lamps, performances by various schools related to Indian culture, and a food court with Indian and non-Indian vegetarian delicacies. The festival culminates with magnificent fireworks displays ushering in Deepavali. Thousands of people participate in an atmosphere devoid of alcohol and in a true family environment. In Malaysia, Deepavali 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. 'Open houses' are held where Hindu Malaysians welcome fellow Malaysians of different races and religions to their house for a sumptuous meal. 'Open house' or 'rumah terbuka' is a practice very much unique to Malaysia and shows the goodwill and friendly ties practised by all Malaysians during any festive occasion. In Singapore, the festival is a gazetted public holiday. Deepavali is one of the festivals that unite the people irrespective of their religion and nationality in Singapore. The festival is typically marked by a light-up in the Little India district. The Hindu Endowment Board of Singapore along with Singapore’s' government organizes many cultural events around Deepavali time. In Sri Lanka, this festival is celebrated by the Tamil community. On this day, it is traditional for people to wear new clothes and exchange pleasantries. In Britain, Hindus and Sikhs celebrate Deepavali with great enthusiasm and in most ways very similarly to as in India. People clean and decorate their homes with lamps and candles. A popular type of candle used to represent this holiday is a diya. People also give each other sweets, and the different communities may gather from around the country for a religious ceremony and get-together. It is also an important time to contact family in India and perhaps exchange gifts through the post. It is a

greatly celebrated holiday and is a great way to connect with the culture and heritage of India. Deepavali is becoming a well known festival in Britain and non-Indians also join in the festivities. Leicester plays hosts to some of the biggest celebrations outside of India itself. In New Zealand, Deepavali is celebrated publically among many of the South Asian Diaspora cultural groups. There are main public festivals in Auckland and Wellington, with other events around the country becoming more popular and visible. An official reception has been held at the New Zealand Parliament since 2003. In Australia Deepavali is one of the major festivals that are celebrated with great enthusiasm by the Indian community there. The lightening of diyas on Deepavali is a common practice. However, the non-availability of the appropriate material of or some other reason have influenced the celebrations and has given in the touch of modernity in the celebration of the festival of light in Australia.

Now we have a really good question as to who all can celebrate Deepavali. Yes it was a festival started by Hindus, yes Jains, Sikhs, & even Buddhists (in Nepal), who were all part of Hinduism before they changed into different religions, celebrate Deepavali. But it is also true that many people in India celebrate Deepavali regardless of their faith or religion. There is no bar on who can celebrate Deepavali. People from any religion, caste, creed, age & gender can celebrate it, because it has more of a spiritual meaning than a religious meaning, & for most people, including Hindus, today it has more spiritual significance. So whether you are Christian, Muslim, Orthodox, Jewish, Parsi, or anything, you are free to celebrate this great festival, thereby celebrating the inner you. There is no rule that you have to pray or worship a Hindu god or goddess, you can pray or worship your own god. But do light the lamp of brightness inside yourself. I wish you and your family a very Happy & Prosperous Deepavali.

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