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|Diwali celebrated in Canada |
October has been a month of many festivals, starting with Navratri, Durga Puja, Karva Chouth and finally Diwali. India is a land of festivals where you will see at least one major festival each month. And each of the festivals, which are celebrated here, has a reason or significance behind its celebration. On the Diwali day, people worship Lord Ganesha, the foremost of all Hindu Gods and Goddess Lakshmi, the Goddess of Wealth and Prosperity. It is time to exchange gifts and sweets with friends, relatives and neighbours. They give expression to their happiness by lighting earthen 'diyas' (lamps), decorating the houses, bursting firecrackers and inviting near and dear ones to their households for partaking in a sumptuous feast. The lighting of lamps is a way of paying obeisance to god for attainment of health, wealth, knowledge, peace, valor and fame.
Diwali or Deepavali, the festival of "rows of lights", is one of the most important of all Hindu festivals. May we all attain full inner illumination! May the supreme light of lights enlighten our understanding! May we all attain the inexhaustible spiritual wealth of the Self! May we all prosper gloriously on the material as well as spiritual planes!
Deepavali, the Festival of Lights, is celebrated with fervour, eagerness and gaiety. The traditional name of India is Bharata and Indians are Bharatias - or 'those who revel in light'. During the night of Deepavali the myriad little clay lamps (diyas) seem to silently sending forth message of Deepavali: "Come, let us remove darkness from the face of the earth." The flame of a lamp has two qualities. One is to banish darkness. The other is a continuous upward movement. Even when a lamp is kept in a pit, the flame moves upwards. The sages have therefore adored the lamp of wisdom as the flame that leads men to higher states. Hence, the effulgence of light should not be treated as a trivial phenomenon. Along with lighting the external lamps, men should strive to light the lamps within them. The human estate should be governed by sacred qualities. This calls for the triple purity of body, mind and speech--Trikarana Suddhi (purity of the three instruments). Thus diyas are lit in every house to banish darkness and welcome good luck and good fortune.
We Hindus believe one lamp can light several others. One can even light another 1000 lamps, and still the flame and the light of the first lamp will remain as it is. By becoming manifold, the light looses nothing. The lights of Deepavali represent Brahman and creation. It conveys the message of the mantra:
"Purnamada Purnamidam Purnaat Purnamudachyate
The rows of lamps (diyas) teach us yet another important lesson of unity. The light that shines forth from the Sun, the moon, the stars, and fire is all the same. To see and recognise that one light, the light of consciousness, which is manifesting and pulsating in and through all of creation, is the goal of life. Thus, recognising all of creation to be an expression of your true Self, spread the light of love and compassion.
The lights of Deepavali are displayed at the entrance doors, by the walls of houses, in the streets and lanes. This means that the inner spiritual light of the individual must be reflected outside. It should benefit society. Passers-by may thereby be prevented from stumbling on their way to reach their destination.
In India the celebration of Diwali lasts between three to six days, beginning on the 12th day of the month of Kartik (as per the North Indian lunar calendar). The day before Diwali, the Hindus set about cleaning houses and shops, and decorating doorsteps and courtyards with rangoli or multi-coloured designs. In order to evoke the grace of God, women fast. It is not that God wants us to go hungry or takes pleasure in our suffering - the principle is that we gain only by giving up. That evening, devotees worship Gomata (the cow) and her calf and feed them special food. Women pray for the welfare of the entire family. This holy day is called Vasubaras. They purchase gold ornaments, new vessels, clothes, and other such items. On this day the Devotees arise early in the morning before sunrise and some take oil baths and they wear new clothes. They emerge, scrubbed clean to get into their festive attire. In the evening they light up little oil lamps, candles and scented sticks (agarbathis), the wherewithal for setting alight crackers and sparklers. Competition is stiff, and even the little girls in silk frocks and their finery watch out for the best sparklers, flowerpots, rockets and Vishnuchakras, which light-up the night sky like a thousand stars. Grown-ups are the soul of generosity. Festive bonhomie abounds.
Devotees worship coins representing wealth. Families also decorate houses and courtyards with lanterns giving a warm glow to the night. This day of celebration is called Dhantrayodashi or Dhanteras. The scriptures mention the divinity called Dhanvantari emerging from the churning of the ocean holding a kalash (pot) filled with Amrit (ambrosia). Due to the fact that Dhanvantari, who revealed the science of Ayurveda to the world, first manifested on this day, all over India, doctors following the Ayurvedic system of medicine organise joyful celebrations during the annual Dhanvantari festival.
Due to India's varied cultural diversity there are many manifestations of the Diwali festival. The festival begins with Dhanteras, a day set aside to worship the goddess of prosperity, Goddess Lakshmi. On this day, homes are cleaned and paintings are done. There are various legends associated with the celebration of Diwali.There are various alleged origins attributed to this festival. In North India it is also believed that it was on this day that Lord Rama entered Ayodhya after fourteen years of exile. To commemorate his return to Ayodhya, his subjects illuminated the kingdom and burst crackers. On this day businessmen close old accounts and open new accounts and pray for success and prosperity during the coming year. The lighting of lamps is symbolic of the spiritual light pervading the earth and the destruction of darkness and ignorance. In a happy mood of great rejoicing village folk move about freely, mixing with one another without any reserve, all enmity being forgotten. People embrace one another with love. Deepavali is a great unifying force. Those with keen inner spiritual ears will clearly hear the voice of the sages, “O Children of God! unite, and love all”. The vibrations produced by the greetings of love which fill the atmosphere are powerful enough to bring about a change of heart in every man and woman in the world.
Deepavali is also celebrated as Naraka Chaturdashi, the day when the demon of darkness and dirt, Narakasura, was destroyed by Lord Krishna. There is a legend about a king of Prag-Jyotishpur, named Narakasura. He was a powerful king who misused power to harass his subjects. Sri Krishna destroyed this oppressive asura king on this day. Unjustly imprisoned people celebrated their freedom with friends and family. The citizens celebrated their deliverance from Narkasura's reign by lighting lamps. The first day of the festival Naraka Chaturdasi marks the vanquishing of the demon Naraka by Lord Krishna and his wife Satyabhama. 'Puranas' have it that Naraka, son of Bhudevi, acquired immense power from a blessing given to him by Lord Brahma after a severe penance. He soon unleashed a reign of terror in the kingdom of Kamarupa, harassing 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 would face death only at the hands of his mother Bhudevi. So, Krishna asks his wife Satyabhama, the reincarnation of Bhudevi, to be his charioteer in the battle with Naraka.
Second day is Amavasya when Lakshmi puja is performed. It is believed that on this day Goddess Lakshmi will be in her most benevolent mood and fulfill the wishes of her devotees. One version says that it was on this day that Goddess Lakshmi emerged from the Paal Kadal (Ocean of Milk) when the Gods and demons were churning the kadal (ocean) for Amirtham or nectar. Another version is that when Lord Vishnu in the guise of Vamana, sought three feet-size of land from the generous demon king Bali, the latter had to surrender his head as Vamana had conquered the earth and the sky in two strides. Lord Vishnu banishes Bali into the Pathala Loka (nether land) by placing 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 himself serve as the guardian of Pathala 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.
It is believed that those who worship Goddess Lakshmi on this day will be bestowed with all riches.
For the Gujaratis, Marwaris and other business community Deepavali 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"(Devine Dance) even after killing Mahishaasura. For the Jains, Deepavali has an additional significance. It is celebrated as the day Mahavira attained the eternal bliss of Nirvana. The passing into eternity on the same day of Swami Dayananda Saraswathi (that leonine Sanyasi who was one of the first to light the torch Hindu Renaissance during the last century and founder of the Arya Samaj Movement) and Swami Ramathirtha (who carried the fragrance of spiritual message of Hindu Dharma to the western world) have brought the national / spiritual tradition of Deepavali right up into modern times. They give expression to their happiness by lighting earthen 'Vilaku' (lamps), decorating their homes, bursting firecrackers and inviting near and dear to their households for partaking in a sumptuous feast. The lighting of lamps is a way of paying obeisance to god for attainment of health, wealth, knowledge, peace, valor and fame.
Many Deepavali festivals have come and gone. Yet the hearts of the vast majority are as dark as the night of the new moon. The house is lit with lamps, but the heart is full of the darkness of ignorance. Alas! That heart has considerably hardened, and only a continuous celebration of Deepavali in our homes can rekindle in us the urgent need of turning away from the ruinous path of hatred. O man! Wake up from the slumber of ignorance. Realise the constant and eternal light of the Soul which neither rises nor sets, through meditation and deep enquiry. If the darkness of ignorance is to be dispelled, man needs a container, oil, wick and a matchbox corresponding to what an external lamp needs. For man, the heart is the container. The mind is the wick. Love is the oil and vairagya (sacrifice) is the matchbox. When you have all these four, Atma-jyothi (the Divine flame of the Spirit) they shine effulgently. When the light of the Spirit is aflame, the Light of Knowledge appears and dispels the darkness of ignorance. It should be every ones desire that our festivals and the holy days should be observed in the right spirit, with an understanding of their inner significance. The destruction of the Narakaasura symbolizes the destruction of all evil and the restoration of what is good.
Deepavali is a wonderful day and opportunity to change one's way of living to a new one. Young and old should be encouraged to make resolutions to become good ones. The elders too could change their way of life to better themselves. It is never too late to become a better person!!
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