Originating from the Sanskrit word ‘Deepavali’, it literally means rows (Avali) of lights (Deepa). This festival of lights is celebrated on the darkest night (Amavasya) of the Kartik month in the Indian calendar, and it symbolizes the vanquishing of ignorance (darkness) by the knowledge (light).
Gurudev explains the reason for playing with fireworks on Diwali. Whatever negativity – anger, jealousy or fear - has accumulated in your mind in the last one year should get dissolved in the form of all the crackers. With each cracker, burst any negativity you may have for any person, or at the most write the name of that person on the cracker and burst it, and just know that all ill feelings, jealousy etc, has got burnt. But what do we do? Instead of finishing the negativity, either we wish that person to get finished or burn ourselves in that fire of negativity. It should be the other way around. Thinking all the negativity or ill feelings have gone out with those crackers, become friendly with that person again. There is a feeling of lightness, love, peace and happiness, and then go and have sweets with that person and celebrate Diwali. This is only true Diwali, by bursting crackers burn the bad qualities of that person, not the person.
The festivities start from the 13th day of the fortnight of the waning moon.
On the first day of celebration, Dhantrayodashi houses and business premises are renovated and decorated. The entrances are made colourful with lovely traditional motifs of Rangoli designs to welcome the Goddess of wealth and prosperity (Lakshmi). To indicate her long awaited arrival, small footprints are drawn with rice flour and vermillion powder all over the house. Lamps are kept burning all through the nights. Believing this day to be auspicious, women purchase some gold or silver or some new utensils, and in some parts of India, cattle are also worshipped.
This day is considered to be the birthday of Dhanvantari – the God of Ayurveda or the Physician of Gods, and celebrated as Dhanvantari Jayanti. On this day, lamps are lit all night in reverence to the Lord Yama – the God of Death and hence also known as ‘Yamadeepdaan’. This is supposed to take away the fear of an untimely death.
On the second day, Narakachaturdashi there is a tradition to wake up early in the morning and have a bath before sunrise. The story goes that the demon king Narakasur - ruler of Pragjyotishpur (a province to the South of Nepal) – after defeating Lord Indra had snatched away the magnificent earrings of Aditi (the Mother Goddess) and imprisoned sixteen thousand daughters of the Gods and saints in his harem. On the day previous to Narakachaturdashi, Lord Krishna killed the demon and liberated the imprisoned damsels and also recovered those precious earrings of Aditi. The womenfolk massaged scented oil to his body and gave him a good bath to wash away the filth from his body. Hence, this tradition of an early morning bath signifies the victory of the Divine over Evil. This day represents the heralding of a future full of goodness.
The most important day of the celebrations is the third day – Lakshmi Puja.This is the day when the sun enters its second course. This day is considered to be very auspicious, in spite of it being the darkest night. The impenetrable darkness of the night slowly disappears as small twinkling lamps light up entire cities. It is believed that Lakshmi walks on this planet on this night and showers blessings for abundance and prosperity. This evening people perform Lakshmi Puja and distribute homemade sweets to everyone.
On this very auspicious day, many saints and great people have taken Samadhi and left their mortal bodies. The great seers include Lord Krishna and Bhagwan Mahavir. This is also the very day when Lord Rama returned home with Sita and Lakshman after 14 years in exile.
One very interesting story about this Diwali day is from Kathopanishad of a small boy called Nachiketa who believed that Yama, the god of Death was as black as the dark night of Amavasya. But when he met the Yama in person, he was puzzled seeing Yama's calm countenance and dignified stature. Yama explained to Nachiketa that only by passing through the darkness of death, man sees the light of the highest wisdom and his soul can escape from the bondage of his body to become one with the Divine. Nachiketa, then, realized the importance of worldly life and significance of death. With all his doubts set at rest, he whole-heartedly participated in the Diwali celebrations.
The fourth day of the celebrations is known Varshapratipada and marks the coronation of King Vikram. This is also the day when Lord Krishna lifted the mighty mountain Govardhan to save the people of Gokul from the torrential anger of Lord Indra.
The fifth day – Bhai-duj
– symbolizes the love between brothers and sisters. The brothers give them a gift as a token of their love.
It is believed that wealth (Goddess Lakshmi) is very transient and it stays only where there is hard work, sincerity and gratefulness. In Shriman Bhagvatam, there is a mention about an incident when Goddess Lakshmi left the body of King Bali and wanted to go with Lord Indra. On questioning, she mentioned that she resides only where there is 'Satya', 'Daan', 'Vrat', 'Tapa', 'Parakram' and 'Dharma'.
This Diwali let us pray and feel grateful – let there be prosperity in every corner of the world – let all people experience love, joy and abundance in their lives.