Tuesday, March 29, 2011

On Deepavali

A Note From Alladi Jayasri:
When I needed to write an article on Deepavali that looks at the festival in a new light!! I turned to Murthy Uncle and this is what he came up with. Needless to say, it was another gem.

DEEPAVALI—Its Significance

“Which else shall beautify a home
But the flame of a lovely lamp.
Which else shall adorn the mind,
But the Light of Wisdom deep.

It is man’s inherent nature to be happy and rejoice, for which he tries to create as many occasions as are possible. To celebrate is to rejoice and celebrations are as old as mankind. For a cave-dweller, the killing of an animal itself is a cause for celebration. Whether celebrations have a primitive or crude form or suffused with a culturally refined taste, man can not help celebrations. He has a festival-inbuilt instinct to his personality. As rejoicing is the main purpose of a festival, the festivals can take several forms with variations in observation, while the basic purpose is the same.

An Indian festival like Deepavali is a picturesque web into the making of which so many strands have gone—religious, social and cultural—a raiment that adorns the entire fabric of society, cherished and preserved by all alike, men and women, old and young, in all corners of the country. There may be variations in detail, differences in social values attached. But the main purpose in all cases is to celebrate the victory of Virtue over vice and this is expressed in the form of lighting lamps and dispelling the darkness. It represents the joyous celebration of the death of the Titan of Hell, Narakasura, at the hands of Lord Sri Krishna. With the elimination of Narakasura, the champion of Darkness, the contamination that afflicted the Earth is washed away and myriad lamps are lighted to signify the victory of the Lord.

Deepavali is a compound word made up of the two words---Deepa and Avali. Deepa means light and Avali means a row in Sanskrit. Hence, Deepavali means lighting a row of lamps. It is very difficult to trace the origin of the festival. According to some scholars, it was already a well-known festival by the time of the Bhavishya Purana said to have been composed before 1000 A.D. In some works, the festival of Deepavali has been called ‘Kaumudi Utsava’—a festival in which people find delight on this earth among themselves.[ The term ‘Kaumudi’ means delight or Ahlada].

Deepavali proper is a festival of generally three days. The first day is called ‘Naraka Chaturdashi’. Originally the celebration of this day may have been aimed at escaping from Naraka or hell by propitiating Yama or the Lord of Death and Hell. But later, it seems to have been associated with Lord Srikrishna’s killing of the demon Narakasura, the King of Pragjotishapura [Modern Assam]. On this day, one is advised to take oil-bath at dawn, pray for the destruction of one’s sins, offer Tarpana to Yama and light a row of lamps. After a sumptuous feast with 14 kinds of vegetables [since the festival starts on the 14th day [Chaturdashi], rows of lamps are lighted in the evening on all corners of the house. In Bengal, Goddess Kali is worshipped on this day in clay image throughout the night.

The next day, Amavasya, is said to be the darkest day of the year. Taking oil-bath at dawn, worship of Goddess Lakshmi, the Goddess of wealth and prosperity, offerings to departed fore-fathers etc are some of the important rituals observed. Lighting of lamps and general illumination continues as on the previous day. Since this is day specially devoted to Lakshmi and since there is every chance of Alakshmi[ the inauspicious goddess, the opposite of Laksmi] peeping in to ruin one’s prosperity, women of the village are asked to create a terrible noise to scare her away by beating drums or by loud crackers around midnight. In several parts of the country, it is observed as a Trader’s Day. The traders adore Laksmi, worship the account books, open the new account books, invite friends, customers etc and give them Tambula and sweets.

The third day is celebrated as ‘Balipadyami’. The day is considered as one of the most auspicious in the Hindu almanac. Worship of Bali [the powerful King of the demons who was vanquished and pushed into Patala, the nether world by Vishnu in the incarnation of Vamana] is the most important rite. One is also supposed to keep awake the whole night spending the time in seeing religious dramas. Gifts made on this day are supposed to bring inexhaustible benefits.

In Maharashtra the day after Balipadyami is celebrated as ‘Bhau Beej” which is day of reunion of sisters and brothers. Brothers are invited by sisters to their houses and sumptuously fed. The brothers give presents to the sisters. Since there is a separation of the sisters after their marriage from their parents and brothers and they are not likely to meet each other frequently. The festival provides for a much needed opportunity to get together.

On all the three or four days of the Deepavali festival, the skies are rent asunder by the terrific sounds of bursting crackers. This bursting of crackers seems to be a universal practice all over the country. It signifies not only the expression of one’s joy but also to symbolically celebrate the destruction of all evils personified by demons like Narakasura.

In some parts of the country, Balipadyami is also called ‘Dyuta Padyami’. Dyuta means gambling in Sanskrit. There is a curious reference to this in the Brahmapurana which directs those observing this day to gamble! It seems that on this day Parvati defeated Shiva in a game of dice and she became very happy, making Shiva quite unhappy.[ A scene depicting this Puranic incident can be seen in the Ellora Cave No.21].
Hence, those that win in the gambling on this day will be happy all through the day and the opposite being the case in the case of losers. This temptation makes people, even today, to gamble recklessly. According to Mahamahopadhyaya P.V.Kane, eminent Dharma Shastra expert in the country, the stakes soared up to 30 lakhs rupees in a small country like Nepal in 1955 on the Balipadyami Day


My dear Jayasri,

I hope the attachment prepared overnight meets your requirements

Best wishes
Murthy uncle, 8th Oct 2008

Article No. 469--Significane of DEEPAVALI
Created: Friday, October 24, 2008 11:04 AM


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