Deepawali (deep = light and avali = a row i.e., a row of lights) or Diwali is the most celebrated festival in India. During the four days of the festival, people celebrate by igniting diyas (oil lamps) and firecrackers, playing cards, eating sweets, and shopping for the New Year.
Historically, there are various legends pointing to the origin of Diwali. In northern India, Diwali commemorates the return of Lord Rama along with his wife, Sita, and brother, Lakshman, from fourteen years in exile and vanquishing the demon-king, Ravana. In joyous celebration of the return of their king, the people of Ayodhya illuminated the kingdom with earthen diyas and burst crackers. Some believe it to be the celebration of the marriage of Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth and prosperity, with Lord Vishnu. In Bengal, the festival is dedicated to the worship of Mother Kali, the goddess of strength. Across India, Lord Ganesha, the elephant-headed God, is worshipped for an auspicious beginning to the New Year. In Jainism, Deepawali has an added significance in that Lord Mahavira attained the eternal bliss of nirvana.
All the simple rituals of Diwali have significance and a story to tell. The illumination of homes with lights and the skies with firecrackers is an expression of obeisance to the heavens for the attainment of health, wealth, knowledge, peace and prosperity. According to one belief, the sound of fire crackers is an indication of the joy of the people living on earth, making the gods aware of their happiness. Still another possible reason has a more scientific basis: the fumes produced by the crackers kill a lot of insects and mosquitoes found after the monsoon season. The tradition of gambling on Deepawali also has a legend behind it. It is believed that on this day, Goddess Parvati played dice with her husband Lord Shiva and decreed that whoever gambles on Diwali night would prosper throughout the following year.
Whatever the fables and legends behind the celebrations of Diwali are, everyone exchanges sweets, wears new clothes and buys jewelry at this festive time, making it the biggest annual consumer spree. However, in all this frenzy of shopping and eating, the steady, burning lamp is a constant symbol of an illuminated mind.
Outside India, South-Asian identities celebrate the New Year festival together by attending events and pujas (religious ceremonies) put together by formal and informal organizations or in the comfort of their own homes by playing cards with family and friends, demanding money and presents from elders, etc.
Here’s how several members of our own HBS Community are celebrating Diwali:
“I’ll probably end up going to Cape Cod to visit my uncle.”
-Jaya Tandon, ’05 (New Delhi, India)
“I’ll wish my family overseas and then celebrate with friends at the SABA get-together.”
-Krishna Mahesh, ’05 (Chennai, India)
“We’ll enjoy Diwali this year with friends at the SABA Diwali Party.”
-Cyrus D’Souza, ’05 (Mangalore, India)
“There are usually several parties to choose from with lots of socializing, dancing, and eating which lots of Indians and non-Indians attend. We exchange gifts with close family and friends.”
Phalgun Raju, ’05 (Pittsburgh, PA) So, while celebrating Diwali this year, whether you decide to try your luck at gambling or dance the night away with henna on your hands with SABA, make sure to light a lamp, close your eyes, and see the light within.
Happy New Year! Diwali is on October 25th!