ORIGINS OF DIVALI
Divali is a Hindu festival celebrated in India and across the world on Amaavasya, that is, the fifteenth night of the dark fortnight of the month of Kaartik (October/November). The word "Divali" is a variation of the Sanskrit word "Deepavali" - Deepa meaning light and Avali, meaning a row. This festival has been referred to as Divali, Diwali, Dipavali and Deepavali among other variations. Generally, however, it is considered the Festival of Lights. Traditionally, it is marked by the lighting of deyas which are made from clay and filled with oil or ghee. Devotees also clean their homes and surroundings, wear new clothing and give charity to the needy.
Several legends surround the origins of this festival. Some of the more widely accepted accounts are outlined below.
THE STORY OF RAMA AND SITA
One of the most common stories about Divali is the return of Lord Rama (Lord Ram) and his wife Sita to Ayodhya after their fourteen year exile. This is related in the Ramayana (i.e. the Story of Rama). It tells the tale of how Lord Rama, with the aid of the monkey warrior, Hanuman, vanquished the evil king Ravana of Lanka and rescued his wife Sita who had been captured.
After this victory, the entire city of Ayodhya was decorated with garlands and flowers in celebration for the arrival of Lord Ram’s return. The surroundings were very clean and beautifully scented. Throughout Ayodhya devotees were fasting, anxiously waiting for the arrival of Lord Ram. Ram returned to Ayodhya with Sita and was greeted with joy and celebrations and the people lighted rows of clay lamps welcome him. This signified the triumph of good over evil and the coming of God-consciousness into the life of the devotee. The day he destroyed Ravana was called Dussehra, and the day on which he returned to Ayodhya was called Divali.
It is believed that Divali falls on the 20th day after Dussehra which is on Amavasya (new moon), during the fortnight of Kartic, some time in October or November.
THE DEFEAT OF NARAKAASURA BY LORD KRISHNA
Another story behind the evolution of Divali is that Lord Krishna slew the evil king Narakaasura on Divali day. Narakaasura used to kidnap beautiful young women and imprison them. It is said that this misfortune fell on some 16,000 celestial princesses. Eventually, their cries for rescue were heard by Lord Vishnu, who came in the form of Krishna and destroyed the evil king. A slightly different version of this story states that Lord Krishna destroyed Narakaasura with the aid of his consort Satyabhaama.
THE STORY OF KING MAHABALI AND THE DWARF
Some texts suggest that King Mahabali (or King Bali) is remembered during the festival of Divali (Maharaj and Maharaj; Bonne Adventure Hindu Temple). He is considered either a demon king or a benevolent ruler depending on which version of this legend one reads. All agree however that he was a very ambitious ruler who controlled heaven and earth and he never refused a request. Some of the Gods pleaded with Vishnu to check King Mahabali's power. Vishnu came to earth in the form of a dwarf (Vamana) dressed as a priest.
The dwarf approached King Mahabali and asked if he would you give him the space that he could cover with three strides. King Mahabali agreed to the dwarf's request, and at this point the dwarf changed into Vishnu and his three strides covered the Earth, the Skies and the whole Universe! King Mahabali was sent to the underworld. Lord Vishnu however, granted him one wish because of his magnanimous nature. Thus, Mahabali is allowed to visit the earth for one day a year (Divali) and his subjects light deyas and join in joyful celebration. Interestingly, this legend is also cited as the origin of the Onam Festival that is celebrated in the second half of August by the people of Kerala, South India (Thundy).
THE GODDESS LAKSHMI
The Goddess Lakshmi is one of the central figures of Hindu mythology associated with the festival of Divali. Legend states that Lakshmi emerged from the ocean of milk after the churning by the devas (gods) and the daanavas (demons). This event is a source of great joy because Lakshmi is considered to be the embodiment of loveliness, grace and prosperity. Another event associating Lakshmi with Divali is highlighted in the The Puranas (a series of Hindu religious text steeped in allegory). According to these texts, Divali represents the day Lord Vishnu (the Preserver) married Goddess Lakshmi (the Goddess of wealth and prosperity). The marriage of Lord Vishnu to Goddess Lakshmi denotes the connection between preservation and wealth.
Whatever the story, Divali is a very special occasion for Hindus throughout the world. The many ceremonies signify one's journey and the qualities that should be fostered for self-enlightenment. One is reminded to wake up from the slumber of ignorance and to pursue knowledge. As light dispels darkness, so should knowledge dispel ignorance. Through learning, man is expected to advance to the stage of enlightenment in which he realizes that God is the Light of lights, and that God brings warmth, love and illumination to all beings and therefore there can be no light greater than God.
The aim of Divali celebrations is to get man moving on the spiritual path and ultimately attain illumination by becoming one with God. As they light the lamps in their houses, those celebrating Divali are reminded to light the lamps of wisdom, goodness and God-consciousness in themselves. It is through this, that they can attain the “Light of Lights” - God.
THE FIVE DAYS OF DIVALI
The History of Divali is replete with legends which are moored to the stories of Hindu religious scriptures, mostly the Puranas. Though the central theme of all legends point out to the classic truth of the victory of the good over evil, the mode of their presentation and the characters differ.
Divali, being the festival of lights, means lighting the lamp of knowledge within us, to understand and reflect upon the significant purpose of each of the five days of festivities and to bring those thoughts into our day-to-day lives.
THE FIRST DAY OF DIVALI - Dhanvantari Triodasi or Dhanteras
This day falls on the thirteenth day of the month of Kaartik and two days before Divali. The word ‘Dhan’ means wealth. It is in honour of the great Physician of the Gods and incarnation of Lord Vishnu, Dhanvantari Vaidya, who emerged out of the churning of the milky sea in the Samudra Manthan. Dhanvantari is the father of medicine and Ayurveda or science of medicines is attributed to him. In celebration of this day, Hindu homes are cleaned and renovated and women purchase some gold or silver or at least one or two new utensils in reverence to this auspicious day.
THE SECOND DAY OF DIVALI - Narak Chaturdashi
This is the second day of the five-day period when Hindus acknowledge the slaying of the demon King Narakasura by Lord Krishna and his consort Satyabhaama. On this day, Hindus also pay homage to the Lord Yama or Yamraaj, the God of Death. Following the early morning bath at dawn, libations are offered thrice to him in the evening. A small deya (the “Jam Deeya”) is lit and placed outside the entrance of the home facing south, where they worship him. This is to prevent premature death. Additionally, the single deya is a reminder of the lamp lit by Bharat to welcome home his brother Lord Rama after fourteen years of exile. Consequently, this day is also called “Little Divali” or chhotee divaali.
THE THIRD DAY OF DIVALI - The Festival of Lights
Divali Puja: This is the highlight of the Divali festival when there is widespread celebrations. In the days preceding this celebration, the home and its surroundings are cleaned, washed and painted and places of worship are decorated with flowers and coloured paper. In the evening Lakshmi Puja is performed to welcome Lakshmi, the Goddess of wealth and prosperity. Devotees break their fast following the Puja, then light the first deyas. On this day people ask each other’s forgiveness for wrongs committed knowingly or unknowingly, relationships are reinforced and gifts and sweets are exchanged.
THE FOURTH DAY OF DIVALI - Goverdhan Puja
Lord Krishna Raising Mount Govar: On the fourth day of Divali the Goverdhan Puja is performed to remember Lord Krishna’s salvation of the people of Vrindaavana. Its significance is retold in the story of the villagers of Mt Goverdhan. In this village many years ago, the people prayed to the God Indra. They believed that Indra sent the rains, which made their crops grow. Lord Krishna came along and persuaded the people to worship the mountain Govardhan, because the mountain and the land around it were fertile. This did not please Indra and one night as the villagers slept, Indra sought revenge. He sent thunder and torrential rain down on the village. Krishna saved the villagers by lifting the top of the mountain with his finger. Underneath it, the people gathered until the storm passed away. This day is also observed as Annakoot meaning ‘Mountain of Food’. In temples, the deities are given milk baths and dressed in shining attires with dazzling ornaments. After the prayers and traditional worship, innumerable varieties of sweets are offered to the deities and then devotees can partake of the Prasad.
THE FIFTH DAY OF DIVALI - Bhaiya Dooj
Bhaiya Dooj or Brother’s Protection Day honours the special relationship between brothers and sisters. Sisters place the tilak, a sacred mark, on their brothers’ forehead as a symbol of protection. They also tie a protective rakshaa around their brother's wrists, feed them sweets, perform their aartee and pray for their health and happiness. Brothers in turn, give gifts to sisters as a sign of their love and protection.
THE SYMBOLISM OF LAKSHMI
Lakshmi is said to have emerged from the ocean of milk after the churning by the devas (gods) and the daanavas (demons) who were trying to recover the nectar of immortality. She is associated with grace, beauty, wealth and prosperity.
The word “Lakshmi” is derived from the word “Lakshva” which means “the goal”. Lakshmi represents “the final goal” of life. The symbols associated with her and the rituals and practices followed during her invocation all imply that she stands for the highest stage of perfection and development that a human can reach.
The Sanskrit word “Laksha” stands for hundred thousand, so that a person possessing wealth of this amount is called Lakshpati and Shri Narayana, the Consort of Lakshmi is called Lakshmipati. Because of phonetic closeness and similarity of meanings, Lakshmi is considered as “Goddess of Wealth”. However, wealth is not the only possession of Lakshmi. There are certain poignant symbols that Lakshmi possesses that represent the goal of perfection in human life. These are as follows:
The four arms or hands represent Dharma (Purity), Artha (Prosperity), Kama (Perfection) and Mukti (Freedom from all bondages) – this is the stage of Fruition. Health, wealth, virtue and happiness are all included and there is nothing left to be achieved.
ONE HUNDRED PETAL LOTUS
Lakshmi is always shown sitting or standing on a hundred petal lotus. It is symbolic of a hundred percent purity and detachment on her stage. The hundred petal opened lotus which she holds in her hand is symbolic of full development while the ones floating on the ocean of milk represent purity, peace and prosperity.
The gold coins continually flowing from her left hand signify unending material prosperity.
Elephants are often featured in portraits of Mother Lakshmi. Sometimes four elephants are shown pouring water on her. In Indian tradition, this is symbolic of the four directions. Elephants themselves signify wisdom and faithfulness to the master. Thus four elephants constantly pouring water, from the golden vessels, on Lakshmi, represent the faithfulness of all her subjects living in the east, west, north and south. It means that she had her sovereignty on the whole world. Her open right arm in the form of blessings shows the pose of assurance and safety to her devotees. (Spiritual significance of Diwali)
BHAJANS / SONGS OF PRAISE
Bhajans are songs of praise or hymns that are sung at various Hindu religious events or during private prayer. Those highlighted here include the Universal Prayer, Ma Asato Ma and three others which specifically invoke Maha Lakshmi, Jai He Mahalakshmi Ma, He Anna-Dhana Ki Maharani and Lakshmi Maiya.
All Bhajans courtesy: Canaan, J. Gyanamritam: The nectar of knowledge. Trinidad: Pujamritam Publications, 1996.
|Ma Asato Ma
||Jai He Mahalakshmi Ma
|He Anna-Dhana Ki Maharani
Ma asato ma sad gamaya
Tamaso ma jyotir gamaya
(O Mother, lead me from untruth to truth. From darkness lead me unto the brilliance of thy wisdom.)
Pirao se mukti mile
Nirmal jivan kamal khile
Rahe mrityu ka rancha na bhaya
Tamaso ma jyotir gamaya
(May we be relieved of pain and may our lives bloom like the lotus flower. Let us not be afraid of death.)
Andhakar ka kar sanhar
Jarhata par bhi karo prahar
Sada jhoti ki hi ho jaya
Tamaso ma jyotir gamaya
(O mother divine. Destroy the darkness from our lives. Do remove all inactivity from us and bless us so that righteousness will always be triumphant.)
Karo tript ma gyan kshudha
Dekar akshaya prem sudha
Kar do jivan amrit maya
Tamaso ma jhotir gamaya
(Mother divine do satisfy our thirst for knowledge and fill us with the nectar of love. Bless us with the gift of immortality).
Jivan men dukha rahe na lesh
Svarga bane vasudha adesh
Sansa-sansa ho mangal maya
Tamaso ma jyotir gamaya
(O mother divine may our lives be free from sorrow. The poet Adesh says that may this earth become a paradise and may each breath be filled with auspiciousness.)
Jai he mahalakshmi ma
Naiya meri par karo
Jholi phailaye kharri
Maiya bhandar bharo
(Victory to you, O Mother Lakshmi. Please take my boat across this ocean of life. We beg this favour of you. O Mother, do take care of all our needs.)
Tu he dayalu maiya mamta bhari
Lakhon dukhiyon ki tu ne vipada hari
Ham bhi aye sharan tihari
Ham pe bhi to karo dhyan dharo
(You are indeed very kind and affectionate to us. May you remove the unhappiness of millions. Mother Divine, we also seek thy shelter. Do grace us with your compassion.)
Ayi divali aayi dipak jale
Teri kripa ho to sabhi phule phale
Sukha sampati se ghar bhar jaye
Itana sa upakara karo
(Divali has come and all the lamps brighten the world. O Mother through thy blessings, may every one be prosperous and may every home be filled with happiness. O Divine Mother, it is our humble request that you be generous to all).
He anna-dhana ki maharani
He jai Lakshmi rani
Tujhe ghar ghar puje prani
He jai lakshmi rani
(O Mother Lakshmi, Goddess of food and wealth, victory to you. You are worshipped by people in every home. Victory to you)
Mandir tihara chamacham kare
Lakhon diyon ki jyoti bare
Bhakton ka ma bhandara bhare
Haton se dhana ki bharkha kare
Teri ham pe bhi ho maharbani
(Your mandirs shine with the light of millions of deyas. O mother you fill the homes of your devotees. Wealth flows from your hands. May you always be kind to us).
Ham magnate ma sona kahan
Ham magnate ma chandi kahan
Ham to Phakat itana magnate
Bhukha na koi soye yahan
Sab ki Rakhana nij rani
(O Mother we do not ask for silver or gold. We only ask that no one may go to sleep hungry. Please take care of us.)
Man se jo ma ki puja kare
Ma uske sare dukha re hare
Girti hava ki kismat tu ma
Charhati kare aur barhati kare
Koi devi na tujha si dani
(Those who worship you with sincerity Mother, you remova all their unhappiness. You bring fortune in the worst conditions. You help us grow and prosper. There is no other as generous as you.)
Lakshmi maiya utaren teri arati
Barsado ma kripa
Sab ko naiya dukho se tu hi tarati
(O Mother Lakshmi, as we wave this sacred light before you we humbly request that you bestow your grace upon us. Do protect everyone from the sorrow of this world and bless us.)
Anna dhana denevali tu hi
Tu hi jag ko pale
Daya se teri ham sab jiven
Sab ko tu sambhale
Lakshmi maiya utaren teri arati
(O Mother, you are the giver of food, grain and wealth. You nuture the whole world. We are alive because of your compassion. You take care of all.)
Teri bhakti jaga de man men
Nishadin karte vandan
Tu hai shakti parmeshvar ki
Kato bhava ke bandhan
Lakshmi maiya utaren teri arati
(O Mother Divine awaken devotion to you in our minds. May we worship you day and night. You are the Supreme power that brings worldly attachment to an end.)
Prem ka dipa jagake maiya
Arati teri utaren
He jag jyoti kashta nivarini
Har lena andhiyari
Lakshmi maiya utaren teri arati
(As we light the lamp of love in our hearts we perform your arti. O light of the world, remover of all distress, do destroy the darkness from our lives.)
Sharan Tihari Aye Maiya
Mangaaal tirat gaye
Hath jor ham binti karti
Charanana Shish Jhukaye
(O Divine Mother, I have come under protection, seeing you as that auspicious place of pilgrimage. With clasped hands I pray, and humbly bow in reverence to you.)
DIVALI IN THE CARIBBEAN
Divali has travelled with Hinduism from India to communities in the Caribbean, notably to Guyana and Trinidad and Tobago. This festival is usually filled with lots of jubilation, togetherness and preparation, with the focus being on the home, family and community.
DIVALI IN TRINIDAD AND TOBAGO
Trinidad and Tobago Hindu festivals, customs and traditions form an integral part of our society and Divali is no exception. A large percentage of the population consists of East Indians and a significant amount are Hindus. The celebration of Divali in Trinidad and Tobago is marked as a national holiday with a significant number of functions held to celebrate the occasion. Within recent times the celebration has not only been extended to the homes and communities but organizations have also embraced this festival with special events held to commemorate this occasion. This is evident in banks, schools and other organizations where members of staff organize Divali cultural programmes, dress in Indian ethnic wear and distribute sweets and prasad to their staff and customers.
Several weeks prior to Divali there is a special event popularly known as Ramleela held in various communities. Members of the communities come together for nine days to enact stories from the world famous epic the Ramayana. Excerpts from the Ramayana are read with the narrative performed by dancers dressed in brightly coloured costumes. The play concludes with the historic burning of the villain Rawan (Ravana) which signifies that good overcomes evil.
One of the highpoints of the celebrations is held at the Divali Nagar site which is the official headquarters of the National Council of Indian Culture. At the Nagar there is a week of cultural, religious, educational and commercial activities which attract a wide cross section of the population including members of government, diplomatic agencies and parliamentarians.
Hindus in Trinidad and Tobago clean and redecorate their homes to mark this auspicious occasion. They also maintain a period of abstinence or fasting. The day of Divali is marked with a host of activities in the homes where various dishes and sweets are prepared and Pooja (prayer) is performed. Most Hindus would offer Jhal (offering of water and flowers in a brass vessel called Lota) early in the morning. Family members participate in evening worship at 6 o’clock to Mother Lakshmi, the Goddess of prosperity and wealth. They then light their homes with several dozens of deyas and distribute Prasad and other delicacies to their families, friends and the community. This sacred festival is known to bring about positive feelings in the community, marked by unity, cleanliness, harmony and festivity.
DIVALI IN GUYANA
Guyana is located on the northeast coast of South America and contains a relatively large Hindu population. Like Trinidad, the day of Divali is declared a national holiday in Guyana. The first indentured immigrants from India brought this celebration to Guyana around 1838. The celebration involves the distribution of sweets, lighting of deyas inside and outside the homes, exchange of greetings, cleaning of homes and wearing of new clothes. The importance of serving and sharing is marked with the distribution of popular sweets such as pera, barfi and sweet rice (kheer). The wearing of new clothing signifies healthy bodies/souls. The practice of cleaning the homes and lighting of deyas is associated with creating the space for the Goddess Lakshmi to enter the homes and shower her blessings.
The sari (saree) is the most popular outer garment of women of the Indian subcontininent. It consists of a piece of silk, cotton or synthetic cloth, five to seven yards long which is worn wrapped around the body with the end left hanging (the pallu) or used over the head as a hood. The border of a sari is usually embroidered and this is often a status symbol. Also different regions of India have specific methods of wrapping the cloth. A short tight fitting blouse called a choli is usually worn under the sari.
The shalwar (salwar) is a pair of light loose fitting trousers with a tight fit around the ankles. This is usually worn by East Indian women with a kameez which is a long tunic extending to the hips or knees. A matching dupatta (an unstitched length of material draped over the upper body) is also part of this outfit.
The lengha (lehnga) is one of South Asia's favourite garments, worn frequently at weddings and other formal occasions. It is a long skirt worn either with a choli or a longer kurti top (tunic). Lengha skirts come in many varieties which are described below:
Gaghara - A full flared skirt, usually with a broad fitted belt around the waist (as worn by this model).
Garara - A divided skirt, similar to culottes or flared bell-bottoms.
Sharara - This is similar to the gaghara, but it is cut in an A-line pattern and the flare usually begins at the knees.
WHITE KURTA AND PAIJAMAS (Pyjamas)
The kurta is a loose collarless shirt worn by both men and women, usually with paijamas (drawstring trousers), a shalwar, or churidars (tight trousers). This ensemble also includes a bandi (short jacket or waistcoat) and a dupatta.
The dhoti is a style of East Indian men's wear. It is formed by wrapping a piece of cloth in a specific manner about the waist and legs. It is usually white or cream in colour.
POPULAR DIVALI CUISINE
Integral to the festivities of Divali is the preparation of savoury vegetarian dishes and delicious sweets that are enjoyed by family members, friends and those in the community. Some of these delicacies are highlighted for your information and enjoyment.
Ajeet. Shri Lakshmi Chalisa. Trinidad: Praimsingh’s Pooja Bhawan, n.d.
Bonne Adventure Hindu Temple. Lakshmi Ganesh. Trinidad and Tobago: Bonne Adventure Hindu Temple, 2001.
Bridgnath, S., and R. Parikh. Hindu Religious Festivals. Middlesex, U.K.: Authors, 1996.
Canaan, J. Gyanamritam: The Nectar of Knowledge. Trinidad: Pujamritam Publications, 1996.
Gosine, R. Hinduism in the Caribbean: Text, Symbols, Rites, Rituals, Customs and Beliefs of Hindu Sects and Groups. Trinidad: Premier Printing Co. Ltd, 1997.
Knott, K. Hinduism: A Very Short Introduction. Oxford: University Press, 1998.
Kumar, R. Excerpt. Costumes and Textiles of Royal India. London: Christie Books Ltd, 1999. ritukumar.com. 2000. 09 Nov. 2004.
Maharaj, M., and N. Maharaj. Jyotir Vigyaan the Light of Knowledge: A Daily Guide to Hindu Worship, Philosophy and Symbolism. Trinidad and Tobago: M. Maharaj, 1999.
Sanatan Dharma Maha Sabha Trinidad and Tobago Inc. Divali: Festival of Lights. St. Augustine, Trinidad: Sanatan Dharma Maha Sabha Trinidad and Tobago Inc, 1985.
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Seereeram, H. Fundamentals of Hinduism: A Basic Text. Dehli, India: Gaurav Prakashan, 1992.
Sookoo, P. Deepavali: A Philodophical Interpretation. Princes Town, Trinidad: Sri Ramrattan Sookoo, 1988.
Spiritual Significance of Diwali. Trinidad: B. K. Raja Yoga Centre, n.d.
The Multi-Cultural Cuisine of Trinidad and Tobago and the Caribbean: Naparima Girls' High School Cookbook. San Fernando, Trinidad: Naparima Girls' high School, 2000.
Thundy, Z. “The Kerala Story.” Kerala Journal n.d. 26 Oct. 2004. http://www.shelterbelt.com/KJ/khonam.html
TIDCO. (2003). Divali in Trinidad and Tobago. 06 Oct. 2003.