Festival of Lights

Deepavali/The Festival of Lights and its significance

Deepavali ” “Deepa” means lamp“avali” means an array or a row.

Deepavali ,the festival of LIGHTS , is celebrated with an array of lamps . An Indian festival celebrating the triumph of LIGHT over darkness, good over evil, knowledge over ignorance.

This year Deepavali is celebrated on November 4th, 2021 on a Thursday.

Why do we light a ‘Deepa’ / Lamp in Indian homes ?

Lakshmi Vilaku/Lamp

“In almost every Indian home a lamp is lit daily in the prayer altar. In some houses it is lit at dawn, in some, twice a day – at dawn and dusk – and in a few it is maintained continuously (Akhanda Deepa). All auspicious functions commence with the lighting of the lamp, which is often maintained right through the occasion.

Light symbolizes knowledge, and darkness, ignorance. The Almighty is the “Knowledge Principle” (Chaitanya) who is the source, the enlivener and the illuminator of all knowledge. Hence in India, light is worshiped as the Almighty.

Knowledge removes ignorance just as light removes darkness. Also knowledge is a lasting inner wealth by which all outer achievement can be accomplished. Hence we light the lamp to bow down to knowledge as the greatest of all forms of wealth.” ~ Swami Chinmayananda

What is the spiritual significance behind lighting a lamp in Indian culture ?

The traditional Indian oil lamp/KuthuVilaku

The traditional oil lamp that is lit in every Indian home has a spiritual significance. Do you know what that is ?

The oil or ghee in the lamp symbolizes our vaasanas or negative tendencies and the wick, the ego. When lit by spiritual knowledge, the vaasanas get slowly exhausted and the ego finally perishes. The flame of a lamp always burns upwards. Similarly we should aim to acquire such knowledge that take us towards higher ideals.

What is the Sanskrit shloka/hymn recited while lighting the lamp

Scriptures written in Sanskrit

śubham karōti kalyāṇam
ārōgyam dhana saṁpadaḥ
śatrubuddhi vināśāya
dīpa jyōtir namōstutē!

Sanskrit to English Meaning:

Subham = good / auspiciousness; karoti = which does/brings; kalyanam = prosperity; arogyam = freedom from disease (good health); dhana = money (currency); sampadah = abundance of wealth; shatru = enemy; buddhi = intellect; shatrubuddhi = enemy of the intellect (ignorance); vinaasha =  complete destruction; deepa = lamp;  jyothi = light /glow / illumination; namaha = salutation / paying respect; astu = let it be; te = you; namosthute = I salute you.


Meaning (taatparya): I pay my salutation (namaskara) to the light / lamp which brings auspiciousness; prosperity, good health, abundance of money and wealth, and the destruction of the intellect’s enemy/ignorance.

Festival of Lights
Why is Deepavali called the festival of lights?

Deepajyothi parabrahma

Deepa sarva tamopahaha

Deepena saadhyate saram

Sandhyaa deepo namostute

Meaning : I prostrate to the dawn/dusk lamp; whose light is the Knowledge Principle (the Supreme Lord), which removes the darkness of ignorance and by which all can be achieved in life.

What is the religious significance of Deepavali ?

Many of these stories are about the triumph of good over evil. In northern India, a common tale associated with Diwali is about King Rama, one of the incarnations of the god Vishnu. When an evil king in Lanka (which some people associate with Sri Lanka) captures Rama’s wife Sita, he “builds up an army of monkeys” to rescue her, from the Asura/evil King Ravana.

Rama’s return to Ayodhya

The monkeys build a bridge over from India to Sri Lanka, and they invade Sri Lanka and free Sita and kill that evil king. Since it was a new moon day in the month of Kartik season, it was dark all around.As Rama and Sita return to the north, “millions of lights are spread out across the city of Ayodhya, to welcome them back home.” Lighting lamps has long been one of the ways that Hindus celebrate Diwali.

In the south, Deepavali is popularly linked to a story about the Hindu god Krishna, a different incarnation of Vishnu, in which he frees some 16,000 women from another evil demon king Narakasura. Hence in South India , Deepavali is celebrated as Naraka Chaturdashi triumph of good over evil.

Krishna’s victory over Narkashura

During his death Naraka requested that people celebrate the victory of good over evil with wearing new clothes, bursting fire crackers etc, hence the tradition still continues. On the day of Naraka Chaturdasi, it is believed that Krishna returned to his palace and had a bath to cleanse himself of the blood stains and the sin of slaying the demon. Since then it has become the practice to take bath with scented oil before sunrise.

How is Deepavali celebrated in North India ?

Map of North India

In North India, the celebrations of Diwali start with Dussehra, where Ramlila, a dramatic rendition of the story of the Ramayan is depicted. It continues for several nights ending with the defeat of Ravana (evil ) by Ram (good).

In Himachal Pradesh, Delhi and Punjab people are also engaged in gambling on Diwali night, which is considered to be auspicious. Lakshmi puja is performed at night. In some houses, there is a tradition of putting a silver coin in a tumbler of milk, which is then sprinkled in all the rooms. Shopping, cleaning, gambling, redecoration, whitewashing, home decoration, exchanging of gifts and sweets are part and parcel of the celebrations.

How do people in Western India (Gujarat) celebrate Deepavali?

Map of West India

Western India is mostly associated with business and trade. Few days before Deepavali, the markets of Western India are crowded with Deepavali shoppers. In Gujarat, on the night before Diwali, Gujaratis create colorful rangolis in front of their houses. Rangoli is an integral part of Deepavali in all states in Western India. Footprints are also drawn to welcome Goddess Laxmi. On Deepavali houses are brightly lit. For Gujaratis, Deepavali is New Year.

On this day, any new venture, buying of properties, the opening of offices, shops, and special occasions like marriages are considered auspicious. In some houses in Gujarat, a diya/lamp is lit with ghee & is left burning the whole night. The next morning, the flame collected from this diya is used to make kajal, which is applied by women on their eyes. This is considered to be a very auspicious custom and is believed to bring prosperity to for the whole year. Like North India, Diwali is celebrated for 5 days in Western India too. During the festival, many celebrants exchange gifts and coins.

How do people celebrate Deepavali in East India ?

Map of East India

The basic rituals remain the same in Eastern India, which includes the lighting of lamps, candles, diyas, along with bursting of crackers. In fact, some people keep the doors of their houses open so that Goddess Lakshmi can enter. Houses are brightly lit because of the belief that Goddess Lakshmi does not enter a house which is dark.

Deepavali is celebrated as Kali Puja, in the eastern states of Assam & West Bengal. Late night worshipping of Goddess Kali is done on Deepavali night. Drawing of rangoli is also a part of the celebration. Deepavali night is also believed to be the night of the ancestors or Pitripurush and diyas are lit on long poles to guide their souls on the way to heaven. This practice is followed even today in rural Bengal.

While in the eastern parts of India, homes are brightly lit to welcome the goddess of prosperity , Lakshmi into homes on this auspicious festive time.

How is Deepavali celebrated in South India ?

Map of South India

Deepavali is celebrated in the Tamil month of Aipasi (which is the Thula/Libra month), also ‘Naraka Chaturdasi’ thithi. This day precedes the Amavasai/“No moon” day. In South India, Naraka Chaturdashi is the main day of the Deepavali celebrations. One day before the main day, the huge copper vessels meant for heating water for a traditional oil bath is cleaned, and smeared with lime. Religious symbols are drawn on the vessel, filled with water as this is used on the main day for the oil bath. People wash their homes and decorate them with kolam designs, which are similar to rangolis in North India. Bursting of firecrackers and wearing new apparels are part of the celebrations. In fact, crackers and new clothes are kept on a plate to be used on Deepavali. On the morning of Deepavali or Naraka Chaturdashi, the celebrations begin with an oil bath before sunrise. Afterward, sweets are eaten and new clothes are worn. Harikatha or the musical narration of the story of Lord Hari is performed in many areas.

Another unique ritual in South India observed on Diwali is Thalai Deepavali. On this day, newlyweds spend their first Diwali in the bride’s parental home.

What are some of the traditions practiced during Deepavali & their significance ?

Cleaning the Home

It is an age-old norm to clean homes before Deepavali. Indians believe that the Goddess Lakshmi only steps inside a home that is clean. This doesn’t just mean dusting the house. De-cluttering things, painting one’s house, and re-decoration is also a part of it, depending on one’s budget.

Lighting of lamps/deepa’s/diya’s

Light is significant in Hinduism because it signifies purity, goodness, good luck and power. The existence of light means the non- existence of darkness and evil forces. Deepa, the oil lamp is lit, in every home, to welcome the light in during this festive season.Hence Deepavali, is aptly called the Festival of lights, since wherever you turn, during this festive season one is bound to see rows & rows of lights.

Shopping

Long before Deepavali, the women in traditional families go shopping. It is the norm to wear new clothes on each day of the celebration. It marks respect and excitement for the festivity. Men dress in traditional kurtas and, sometimes, dhoti, but it’s the women who steal the show! They wear beautiful silk sarees and lovely gold jewelry.

Wearing new clothes and jewelry

 Deepavali indicates the beginning of new year in many parts of India. Wearing new clothes on Deepavali day is symbolic of burying old painful memories of bygone years & starting fresh.

Since the festival celebrates Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth and prosperity, any investment or spending towards buying gold jewelry ( in India gold is considered an investment ) is considered auspicious. 

Ganga Snanam/Traditional Oil Bath

Having a traditional oil bath is considered very important on Deepavali day. It is considered cleansing after the end of a difficult time. The bath is supposed to wash away traces of grief and sorrow that cling to our person when we witness or experience hardship  It is also known to remove all physical traces of negative energy from the body. Hindus believe that such cleansing helps also helps clear the aura around the person. By symbolically cleansing ourselves of all that is evil and inauspicious, we clear space for the positive and auspicious. This oil is believed to be infused with the grace of Goddess Lakshmi and the water, the purity of the river Ganga.

Vintage picture showing children getting ready for traditional oil bath

Kolam/Rangoli

During the five days of celebration, people decorate their home with, kolam a colorful artwork made with rice powder. Rangoli powder comes in many colors and the porch of one’s home is decorated with beautiful designs. It is is another way to ring in the festive spirit.

Kolam/ Rangolis are a symbol of welcome to the Hindu Gods, It is believed that Gods enter places where rangolis are drawn. Though they add to the aesthetics, they are mainly believed to bring in prosperity and luck. It is also believed that a rangoli guards the house and prevents evil spirits from entering in.

Festival of Lights
Why is Deepavali called the festival of lights?

Neivedyam / Deepavali sweets & savories:

Deepavali is a time to let go of any diet regimes or exercise routines one has! The five days of celebration have loads of food, especially sweets! The sweets and savories are all symbols of our exuberant and unfettered celebration.

Milk Fudge Recipe
Doodh Peda/Milk Fudge Recipe

Each home in India, indulges in making sweets & savories and then sharing it with near & dear ones during the festival.

Vintage picture showing preparation of sweets & savories at home

Deepavali Lehiyam : This is a potent digestive made with gooseberry paste, ghee, and other ingredients that help digest the sumptuous spread/families partake during this time of the festival.

Gift Giving

Exchanging gifts is indeed a lovely tradition of Deepavali. It is a unique way in which personal, social and business ties are made more stronger. The relevance of exchanging gifts lies in the fact that Deepavali gifts show love, respect, thankfulness, togetherness and also appreciation.

Deepavali Gift Giving

India is a land of festivals. Deepavali, the Festival of Lights, is celebrated with fervor and gaiety. The festival is celebrated by young and old, rich and poor, throughout the country to dispel darkness and bring light into their lives. The festival symbolizes unity in diversity as every state celebrates it in its own special way.

Living in a land faraway from my motherland, the lure of the lights still tug at my heart.We would love for you to join us in the celebrations of the Festival of Lights.From our corner of the earth, let us set an intention to spread the LIGHT & the warmth of this festival all around us.

My other posts on Deepavali

Sharing some of my previously published posts on Deepavali/The Festival of Lights for your interest , below:

Bottom Line

This year Deepavali celebrations start on November 4th, 2021 and go for the next 5 days until November 9th, 2021.

May the Festival of Lights, fill our homes and hearths with LIGHT and blessings for peace, prosperity, good health and happiness.

Happy Deepavali to you and your family!

BE THE LIGHT!

5 1 vote
Article Rating
50 Comments
Newest
Oldest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Georgette
2 years ago

Very informative and detailed explanation. I love learning of other cultures. Thank you for sharing!

Cindy Moore
Cindy Moore
2 years ago

What a beautiful and significant festival. I love the emphasis on Light.

Melissa Jones
2 years ago

I love learning about culures I’m not familiar with. Thanks for sharing!

Ayesha Siddiqui
2 years ago

I’ve always known this holiday to be “Deewali” but never knew the historical background. Thanks for sharing. This was so informative and interesting.

Catherine DePino
2 years ago

I loved watching this. Thanks, Maya. I learned a lot from your presentation.

Justine
2 years ago

I love learning about different cultures. Thank you for sharing!

Barbara
2 years ago

Interesting to understand other cultures and festivals.

Lisa Manderino
Lisa Manderino
2 years ago

I loved learning more about your culture and how everyone celebrates!

Danielle Ardizzone
2 years ago

This is a great source of information! I love how meaningful the simple concept of light can be.

Alyssa
2 years ago

I love learning about your culture! Thank you for sharing!

Sabrina DeWalt
2 years ago

Thank you for the insight into your culture. Fascinating!

Marianne
Marianne
2 years ago

Thank you for a very detailed post. I have many Indian coworkers and friends, so I only knew the basics!

Chelsea
Chelsea
2 years ago

Wow. Thank you for providing so much detail into Deepavali! It’s so interesting that it’s celebrated differently in various parts of India, too.

Tricia Snow
Tricia Snow
2 years ago

It is interesting to learn about other cultures. I like how each region is a little different!

Holly
2 years ago

I love learning about other cultures and the traditions and celebrations! Have a wonderful week!

elaina
2 years ago

This was great for me to learn more about Deepavali. The stories help explain the meaning so much better for me.

Christina Siwik
2 years ago

Very informative. I learned a lot. Thank you for sharing.

Sandi Barrett
Sandi Barrett
2 years ago

Thank you for sharing your festival. It is so important to learn about all cultures.

Tiffany Smith
Tiffany Smith
2 years ago

Thank you for educating us about this holiday and what it means. I love learning about different celebrations and the stories, meanings, and importance behind them!

Maggie | LeaveMeToDream.com

Nice. Nothing is as festive as some beautiful lights!