26th October 1997


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Deepavali: its significance

Deepavali or Diwali is the Festival of Lights and is celebrated with fervour and gaiety. The festival is celebrated by young and old, rich and poor, all alike throughout the country to ward off the darkness and welcome the lights into their lives. This festival symbolises the unity in diversity.

The celebration of the four-day festival commences on Aswayuja Bahula Chaturdasi and would conclude on Kartika Shudda Vijiya. The first day of the festival Naraka Chaturdasi marks the vanquishing of the demon Naraka by Lord Krishna and his wife Satyabhama. According to puranas Naraka, the son of Bhudevi,acquired immense power as a blessing from Lord Brahma after a severe penance. He soon unleashed a reign of terror in the kingdom of Kamarupa, harassing the celestial beings with his invincible might. Unable to bear the tyranny of the demon, the celestial beings pleaded with Lord Krishna to save them from his torture. But Naraka could not be easily killed as he had a boon that he could face death only at the hands of his mother Bhudevi. So, Krishna asked his wife Satyabhama, the reincarnation of Bhudevi, to be his charioteer in the battle with Naraka. When Krishna feigns unconsciousness after being hit by an arrow of Naraka, Satyabhama takes the bow and aims the arrow at Naraka and kills him instantly. Later Lord Krishna reminds her of the boon she had sought as Bhudevi. The slaying of the Naraka by Sathyabhama could also be taken to interpret that parents should not hesitate to punish their children when they stray on to the wrong path. The message of Naraka Chaturdasi is that the good of the society should always prevail over one's own personal bonds.

KrishnaThe second day is Amavasya when Lakshmi puja is performed and it is believed that on this day Goddess Lakshmi would be in her benevolent mood and would fulfill all the wishes of her devotees. One version says that it was on this day Goddess Lakshmi emerged from Kshira Sagara when the Gods and demons were churning the sagara for Amrutha Bhandam. Another version is that when Lord Vishnu in the guise of Vamana, sought three feet of land from the very generous king Bali Chakravarthy, Bali had to surrender his head as Vamana had conquered the earth and the sky in His two strides. Lord Vishnu banishes Bali into the Pathala Loka by keeping his third stride on Bali's head. Later, pleased by his generosity, Lord Vishnu grants him a boon and he in turn requests the Lord to guard his palace at Patha Loka. Meanwhile, the Goddess is unable to bear the separation and her grief affects the functioning of the entire universe. Brahma and Lord Shiva offer themselves as guards and plead with Bali to relieve Vishnu. So, on the Amavasya day Lord Vishnu returns to his abode and Goddess Lakshmi is delighted. That is the reason it is believed that those who worship Goddess Lakshmi on this day would be bestowed with all the riches. The third day is "Kartika Shudda Padyami" and it is only on this day that Bali would come out of Pathala Loka and rule Bhuloka as per the boon given by Lord Vishnu. Hence, it is also known as "Bali Padyami". The fourth day is referred to as "Yama Dvitiya" and on this day the sisters invite their brothers to their homes.

However, in the northern part of India it is celebrated as the return of Rama along with Sita and Lakshmana from his 14 years of exile after killing Ravana. To commemorate his return to Ayodhya, his subjects illuminated the kingdom and lighted crackers. For the Gujaratis, Marwaris and other business communities Diwali marks the worship of Goddess Lakshmi and also the beginning of the new financial year. For Bengalis, it is the time to worship Goddess Kali or Durga. The Goddess Durga continued her "Vilaya Tandava" even after killing the demon Mahishasura. To control her rage Lord Shiva throws himself under her feet. When she realises that her Lord is lying under her feet, her rage subsides and she calms down. So, the occasion is celebrated to dispel the darkness from the world.

The day starts with the traditional oil bath and all the members of the family are attired in bright colourful clothes matching the festive mood all around. The children are eager to light their crackers and relish the traditional sweets. As the dusk settles, the diyas and decorative lights light up the houses symbolising the fact that the lamps are giving light to the world which itself is burning away. That is, each and every person should strive to utilise his valour, wealth and knowledge for the betterment of his fellow beings. The festival also spreads the message that the enlightened should drive away the darkness symbolising ignorance, meanness, selfishness through the light of wisdom and compassion. -The Hindu

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