By Rabindra Rooplall
Globally, millions are participating in one of the most significant festivals (Diwali) for Hindus, with beautifully arranged lighting displays, fireworks, prayers and celebratory events.
Yesterday all over the country, the customary displays of diyas were witnessed by thousands of admiring observers (See related photos on centre pages).
Diwali is the five-day festival of lights, celebrated by millions of Hindus, Sikhs and Jains across the world. The festival, which coincides with the Hindu New Year, celebrates new beginnings and the triumph of good over evil and light over darkness. To celebrate, houses are decorated with diyas, candles and colourful lights and huge firework displays are held while families feast and share gifts.
The actual day of Diwali is traditionally celebrated on the festival’s third day, which this year fell on October 23 (yesterday). The festival usually falls between the middle of October and the middle of November, although this is decided upon by the Hindu lunar calendar.
While each faith has its own reason to celebrate the festival, one of the most popular stories told is the legend of Lord Rama and his wife Sita returning to their kingdom in northern India from exile after defeating the demon king Ravanna in the 15th century BC.
The festival is marked by large firework displays, to remember the celebrations which, according to the legend, took place upon Rama’s return as locals set off their own version of fireworks. Those celebrating the festival also light traditional diyas or candles and decorate their houses with colourful rangoli artworks – patterns created on the floor using coloured rice or powder. During Diwali, families and friends share sweets and gifts and there is also a strong belief in giving food and goods to those in need. It is also traditional for homes to be cleaned and new clothes to be worn at the time of the festival.
It also coincides with the heart-warming practice of exchanging sweetmeats with neighbours, friends and extended family. This kind act is to strengthen bonds with neighbours, friends and relatives. It brings the community together. It also inculcates in participants the sense of joy associated with giving. And by doing it in times of joy, such as Diwali, it strengthens our inclination to give others in times of need. It brings together people of all religion to enjoy the celebration.
The food most closely associated with the festival is Indian sweets, which come in a range of colours and flavours. The celebration however, features various rich savoury and sweet dishes, and while eating out is popular, families will mostly prepare food at home for when guests arrive to exchange gifts and watch fireworks. Unlike the traditional roast turkey at Christmas, each family celebrating Diwali will more than likely have its own favourite meal for the festival, and the food will most often play a central theme to the celebrations. The Hindu philosophy places great emphasis on cultivating strong bonds with one’s community, through a host of traditions.
To the businessman Diwali means brisk business just as to the clay potter, Diwali is the occasion of the year when the bulk of his sales are made. Diwali became a time for them to change their annual accounting books. Their new year starts with Diwali.
This is the reason why Diwali is also the festival of Goddess Lakshmi, who personifies prosperity and wealth. Lakshmi pujas are held in most Hindu homes.
Diwali is not just about illuminating houses and paths. Persons must ignite the divine light within and let its radiate outward, so that it touches all those we come across.
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