Deepavali or Diwali, as the festival is popularly called, literally means “a row of lights”. It is usually celebrated on the 14th day after full-moon/new-moon day in the tamil month of Aipasi (or Ashwina in Sanskrit).
There are several significant events associated with this festival and two of the popular ones are
- Lord Rama returning to Ayodhya after killing Ravana and re-uniting with Sita. Incidentally, the 10th and the last day of Dusshera is considered as the day when Rama killed Ravana and 20 days from there on, the time it took for Rama to finish his other duties in Lanka and get back to Ayodhya, is when Deepavali is celebrated.
- Lord Krishna vanquishing over the evil Narakasura. The story goes that Narakasura had a boon that no one but for his mother could kill him and hence, Lord Krishna, when he went to the war, took Satyabhama (re-incarnation of Narakasura’s mother) as his charioteer. Lord Krishna pretended to faint in the middle of the war and fearing that the asura might kill her husband, Satyabhama killed Narakasura on the day of Deepavali.
As with many other festivals (in Hinduism and other religions), the underlying message of Deepavali, is the ultimate triumph over evil. Unlike most other Hindu festivals that are ritual-oriented with very clear and set rules, Deepavali is a free-for-all festival and I think that is one of the main reasons for this to be the most popular Hindu festival. The air is charged with Deepavali-spirit and the general mood is one of fun and gaiety.
In South India, Deepavali is celebrated traditionally, by getting up early in the morning at around 4 AM and having an oil-bath, known as Ganga Snanam (translates to a shower in Ganga, the purifier of all sins). People wear new clothes and blast crackers, which thankfully has toned down in recent years. Different varieties of sweets and savories (known as bhakshanam) are made, exchanged with friends and families.
How do you celebrate Deepavali, traditionally or otherwise?
PS: I am planning to make some Deepavali bhakshanams this year, so stay tuned.