Diwali, the Hindu Festival of Light, is a celebration that truly brings light to all the dark corners of the world. The most famous of all the Hindu festivities, it literally translates as “rows of lighted lamps” and in all Hindu communities worldwide, the traditional earthenware lamps, called diyas, will be lit and placed just about everywhere, in homes, in shops, and in all public places, bringing flickers of flame to all corners of every abode.
President Obama has joined with other world leaders to wish a Happy Diwali and the traditional greeting of “Saal Mubarack” to the millions of Hindus commencing their observance of their annual holiday. He took the opportunity to remind the nation that Amercia is home to “many faiths and traditions” and that “our diversity makes us stronger.” This year, for the first time on Capitol Hill, Diwali was celebrated by Congress; although it has been part of the White House traditions now since 2003 when it was started there by George W. Bush. These observances will culminate on Tuesday with an address from First Lady Michelle Obama.
The president’s words will meantime strike a chord with the Hindu faithful as he said, “Dancing, music and good food remind us that life’s greatest joys are the simple pleasures” as is, he added “spending time with the people we love.” That is exactly what Hindus, Jains,Buddhists and Sikhs will be doing as they get into the swing of Diwali this weekend.
In a very similar spirit to the way that westerners prepare for bringing in the new year, Diwali is a time for giving the house a good spring-clean, symbolic of positive energy and a fresh start. This is also reflected by everyone wearing brand new clothes, bought specially for the occasion, and by the exchange of small gifts, often these are in the form of either sweets or dried fruits. All households are ablaze with lights, and to round off the event, there will be displays of fireworks. All in all, it is a five day affair, with special significance attached to each of them. Every day sees in a round of songs, prayers and forms of worship.
Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth is particularly honoured, and Hindus pray to Lakshmi to save them from an untimely death. Her day, Dhanteras, is the first day of the festival, and for her, it is important to decorate entrances. Doorways are festooned with flowers and with devotional motifs and at sunset, a special bathing ritual is undergone, called the Lakshmi–Puja to drive off evil spirits.
The second day is Choti Diwali, it begins with bathing and massage to alleviate fatigue and garner strength for the rest of the celebration. Day three, is the main event, it coincides with the full moon and the humble household broom is revered, as it has helped to keep the house clean. The temples ring out with bells and drums, firecrackers go off and everyone worships Lakshmi for her part in seeing light triumph over darkness. This is where Diwali is most notably sent to be a festival of light no matter how dark the concerns of the outside world may be.
On the fourth day, newly weds are honored with foods cooked for them in reverence for the mountain of Govardhan, which sheltered the people from terrible floods. The fifth and final day is Bhai Du, when it is time to focus on brothers. Sisters who put a tilak (mark) on their brother’s foreheads on this day, will protect them from harm.
In India, Diwali is as huge an affair as Thanksgiving and Christmas all rolled into one, and everybody wants to be at home with their families. The new clothes, the lights, the food and the merry-making alongside the spiritual practices make this a profoundly significant occasion for all, young, and old.
Diwali is a wonderful veneration of the triumph of good over evil, as evidenced by the power of a lit flame against the darkness. As such, it is a great festival of light in a dark world. Happy Diwali Everybody.
By Kate Henderson