Diwali, the festival of colours, lights, food and mithai is finally here! It is one of the most widely celebrated religious occasions across the world. It does not have a regional root and is celebrated across the country, it is also a festival that has as many stories associated with it as the number of different traditions and religions that celebrate it. More than 800 million people celebrate Diwali in various ways. Have a look at some surprising facts about Diwali that you probably didn’t know.
1. The word Diwali or deepavali is a combination of two words, deep (lamp or diyas) + avali (row).
Thus deepavali is a line or a row of lamps so during the festival of Deepavali (also known as Diwali), lamps are lit everywhere. Hence Diwali is also known as the ‘Festival of Lights’. It is celebrated on four consecutive days – the thirteenth, the fourteenth and the new moon day of the dark fortnight of the Hindu lunar month Āshwin and the first day of the bright fortnight of the Hindu lunar month Kārtik. These days are celebrated as Dhanatrayodashī (Dhan Teras), Narakchaturdashī, Lakshmīpūjān and Balipratipadā respectively.
2. Diwali dates back to ancient times in India, as a festival after the summer harvest in the Hindu calendar month of Karthikai.
The divas (lamps) are mentioned in Skanda Purana to symbolically represent parts of sun, the cosmic giver of light and energy to all life, who seasonally transitions in the Hindu calendar month of Kartik. Diwali marks the beginning of new year, in some parts of India, where the Hindu Vikram calendar is popular. Merchants and shopkeepers close out their old year, and start a new fiscal year with blessings from Lakshmi and other deities.
3. Diwali is celebrated around the world
Particularly in countries with significant populations of Hindu, Jain and Sikh origin. These include Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Myanmar, Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia, Australia, New Zealand, Fiji, Mauritius, Kenya, Tanzania, South Africa, Guyana, Suriname, Trinidad and Tobago, the Netherlands, Canada, the United Kingdom,United Arab Emirates, and the United States. With more understanding of Indian culture and global migration of people of Indian origin, the number of countries where Diwali/Deepavali is celebrated has been gradually increasing.
4. In the Yoga, Vedanta, and Samkhya schools of Hindu philosophy
A central belief is that there is something beyond the physical body and mind which is pure, infinite, and eternal, called the Atman. The celebration of Diwali as the “victory of good over evil”, refers to the light of higher knowledge dispelling all ignorance, the ignorance that masks one’s true nature, not as the body, but as the unchanging, infinite, immanent and transcendent reality. With this awakening comes compassion and the awareness of the oneness of all things, and knowledge overcomes ignorance. Diwali is the celebration of this Inner Light over spiritual darkness, knowledge over ignorance, right over wrong, good over evil.
5. The religious significance of Diwali varies regionally within India, depending on the school of Hindu philosophy, regional myths, legends, and beliefs.
In northern India, Hindus celebrate by lighting rows of clay lamps- the return of King Rama, his wife Sita and his brother Lakshmana from exile, as told in the ancient Hindu epic — the Ramayana, after he defeated Ravana.
The Return of the Pandavas: According to the great epic Mahabharata, it was Kartik Amavashya when the Pandavas appeared from their 12 years of banishment as a result of their defeat in the hands of the Kauravas at the game of dice (gambling).
6. Many other Hindus believe Diwali is linked to the celebration of Lakshmi.
The goddess of wealth and prosperity, and wife of deity Vishnu. The five day festival of Diwali begins on the day Lakshmi was born from the churning of cosmic ocean of milk during the tug of war between the forces of good and forces of evil; the night of Diwali is the day Lakshmi chose Vishnu as her husband and then married him.
7. In India’s eastern region, such as West Bengal, Bihar, Assam and Odisha, Lakshmi is not worshipped, only deity Kali is worshipped and the festival is called Kali Puja.
Kali Puja or Shyama Puja is a festival dedicated to the goddess Kali, which falls on the new moon day of the Hindu month Kartik—which coincides with the Laksmi Puja day during Diwali. It is believed that Kali was born to kill two demons who were wreaking havoc. After a long battle, Kali killed them and saved both heaven and earth. Kali Puja celebrates this occasion. During the day worshippers honour the goddess in the form of clay sculptures in pandals. She is offered red hibiscus flowers, sweets, rice, lentils, fish and meat. Worshippers sometimes mediate from night until dawn. In terms of grandeur, it comes second to Durga Puja in Bengal.
8. In India’s Braj and north central regions, deity Krishna is recognized.
People mark Mount Govardhan, and celebrate legends about Krishna. In other regions, the feast of Annakoot is celebrated, with 56 or 108 different cuisines prepared, offered to Krishna, then shared and celebrated by the local community. On the day preceding Diwali, Lord Krishna killed the demon king Narakasura and rescued 16,000 women from his captivity.
9. In West, South and certain Northern parts of India, the festival of Diwali marks the start of a new Hindu year.
Along with Goddess Lakshmi, offerings are made to Ganesha who symbolizes ethical beginnings and fearless remover of obstacles; Saraswati who symbolizes music, literature and learning; and Kubera who symbolizes book keeping, treasury and wealth management.
10. Diwali has special significance in Jainism.
Lord Mahavira, the last of the Jain Tirthankar of this era, attained Nirvana or Moksh on this day at Pavapuri on October 15, 527 BCE, on Chaturdashi of Kartika. According to the Kalpasutra by Acharya Bhadrabahu, 3rd century BC, many gods were present there, illuminating the darkness. Therefore, Jains celebrate Diwali as a day of remembering Mahavira.
11. Diwali, for Sikhs, marks the Bandi Chhor Divas
When Guru Har Gobind Ji freed himself and Hindu Kings, from Fort Gwalior, from the prison of Islamic ruler Jahangir, and arrived at the Golden Temple in Amritsar. Ever since then, Sikhs celebrate Bandi Chhor Divas, with the annual lighting up of Golden Temple, fireworks and other festivities.
Another reason why Diwali is important to Sikhs is because it is on this day that the foundation stone for the Golden Temple was laid in 1577. To celebrate this occasion, plus the release of Guru Hargobind Singh, there are grand fireworks that take place in the Golden Temple and worshippers float multi-coloured candles on the water.
12. Coronation of Vikramaditya:
One of the greatest Hindu King Vikramaditya was coronated on the Diwali day, hence Diwali became a historical event as well.
13. Special Day for the Arya Samaj
It was the new moon day of Kartik (Diwali day) when Maharshi Dayananda, one of the greatest reformers of Hinduism and the founder of Arya Samaj attained his nirvana.
14. Diwali is celebrated in a unique manner in Odisha
Where every family calls upon the spirits of their dead ancestors. Jute stems are burnt so as to shed light on the dark path the spirits have to walk on their way to heaven. People make a rangoli of a sail boat with seven chambers and on each chamber several items are kept, like cotton, salt, mustard, etc. With a jute stem in hand, all members of the family then light their respective bundles from the flame on the rangoli, raise them upwards and call out to their forefathers.
15. One of the most popular traditions during Diwali in north India is that of playing cards and gambling with money in the evening.
On this day alone, the family’s elders and youngsters all get together to take part in this fun activity.
Diwali And Gambling has a legendary story too – Once Lord Shiva was playing dice with Goddess Parvati and when she won, she declared that whosoever would play gambling during the Diwali days would mint riches as well as wealth consistently throughout the year. Interesting, isn’t it?
16. Diwali is a five day festival in many regions of India.
In the Common Era calendar, Diwali typically falls towards the end of October, or first half of November each year.
17. Like major festivals of the world, rituals and preparations for the Indian festival Diwali begin days or weeks in advance.
The festival formally begins two days before the night of Diwali, and ends two days after. Each day has the following rituals and significance:-
18. Dhanteras kicks off the five day festival.
Starting days before and through Dhanteras, houses and business premises are cleaned, renovated and decorated. Women and children decorate entrances with Rangoli – creative colourful floor designs both inside and in the walkways of their homes or offices. People get busy with external lighting arrangements and completing all renovation work in progress. On the night of Dhanteras, diyas (lamps) are ritually kept burning all through the nights in honor of Lakshmi and Dhanvantari. Dhanteras is also a major shopping day, particularly for gold or silver articles. It is estimated that Indian households hold a record 11% of the the total gold in the world. And a large chunk of it is bought every year as a custom during the festival of Dhanteras
19. Narak Chaturdashi is the second day of festivities
And is also called Choti Diwali. Typically, house decoration and colourful floor patterns called rangoli are made on or before Narak Chaturdashi. Special bathing rituals such a fragrant oil bath are held in some regions, followed by minor pujas. Women decorate their hands with henna designs. Families are also busy preparing homemade sweets for main Diwali.
20. The third day is the main festive day.
People wear new clothes or their best outfits as the evening approaches. Then diyas are lit, pujas are offered to Lakshmi, and to one or more additional deities depending on the region of India; typically Ganesha, Saraswati, and Kubera. Lakshmi symbolises wealth and prosperity, and her blessings are invoked for a good year ahead.
Lakshmi is believed to roam the earth on Diwali night. On the evening of Diwali, people open their doors and windows to welcome Lakshmi, and place diya lights on their windowsills and balcony ledges to invite her in. On this day, the mothers who work hard all year, are recognized by the family and she is seen to embody a part of Lakshmi, the good fortune and prosperity of the household.
After the puja, people go outside and celebrate by lighting up patakhe (fireworks). The fireworks signify celebration of Diwali as well a way to chase away evil spirits. After fireworks, people head back to a family feast, conversations and mithai (sweets, desserts).
21. The day after Diwali, is celebrated as Padwa.
This day ritually celebrates the love and mutual devotion between the wife and husband. The husbands give thoughtful gifts, or elaborate ones to respective spouses. In many regions, newly married daughters with their husbands are invited for special meals. Sometimes brothers go and pick up their sisters from their in-laws home for this important day. The day is also a special day for the married couple, in a manner similar to anniversaries elsewhere in the world. The day after Diwali devotees perform Govardhan puja in honor of Lord Krishna.
22. The last day of festival is called Bhai dooj .
It celebrates the sister-brother loving relationship, in a spirit similar to Raksha Bandhan but with different rituals. The day ritually emphasizes the love and lifelong bond between siblings. It is a day when women and girls get together, perform a puja with prayers for the well being of their brothers, then return to a ritual of food-sharing, gift-giving and conversations.
23. Diwali marks a major shopping period in India.
In terms of consumer purchases and economic activity, Diwali is the equivalent of Christmas in the west. It is traditionally a time when households purchase new clothing, home refurbishments, gifts, gold and other large purchases. The festival celebrates Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth and prosperity, and investment, spending and purchases are considered auspicious. Diwali is a peak buying season for gold and jewelry in India. It is also a major sweets, candy and fireworks buying season. At retail level, about INR 5,000 crores worth of firecrackers are consumed in India over the Diwali season.
24. Sivakasi, India’s firecracker town and the human cost of firecrackers
Post the Independence of India and subsequent import restrictions, Tamil Nadu‘s southern town of Sivakasi achieved prominence as the firecracker and match-making factory for the whole of India. At its peak, the town contributed over 90 percent of all firecracker sales in the country. While it is popular as India’s firecracker-hub, the less flattering thing the town of Sivakasi is known for is its record levels of child labor. With increasing demand, most small enterprises in the town employ children to handle the dangerous chemicals associated with making firecrackers. So the next time you think of buying firecrackers, make sure they are responsibly sourced from brands with a no child-labor policy.
25. The most popular and ubiquitous tradition associated with Diwali is the bursting of firecrackers.
However, this is a recent addition to Diwali celebrations, since until the 1900s firecrackers and pyrotechnics were too expensive and were only used by the royals. There has been growing concern and questions on the environmental and health impact of Diwali, as with other major festivals of the world. Air pollution and burn injuries from fireworks are two most studied issues. This study indicated that there is high accumulation of PM2.5 generated due to fireworks on Diwali festival which remains suspended in the air. The peak pollution lasts for about one day, and the pollutant concentrations return to background levels after 24 hours.
Hope you found these facts informative and helpful. HAPPY DIWALI to all of you from the WSL team!