By Prarthana Mitra
In terms of its social, cultural and religious significance, Diwali is a big deal for Indians – not only at home but abroad as well, since we carry our festivals wherever we go. In fact, a Broadway-style Ramayana was performed in Jersey City just this week.
Even the Times Square lights up like the Fourth of July, a day famous for its fireworks show in the US but which pales against the image of India, shining from outer space every Diwali. The festival of light, as it popularly called, is celebrated with great gusto in the UK as well, with universities making international students, who have arrived in the fall, feel welcome and less homesick. The fact that Diwali usually hits the calendar while Halloween is around the corner only adds to the revelry and celebration.
Interestingly in certain pockets of India, Diwali-eve is celebrated as the festival of the dead, also known as Bhootchoturdoshi in Bengal and Naraka Chaturdasi in Andhra Pradesh.
But in its most widely celebrated form, the tradition of Diwali on the twentieth day after Dussehra can be traced back to Hindu mythology. The city of Ayodhya, in Valmiki’s Ramayana, was illuminated on this day, to mark the joyous return of Lord Ram and Sita to Ayodhya after fourteen years of their exile, having slain Ravana on Dussehra.
— The Indian Express (@IndianExpress) November 6, 2018
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This year on November 7, the entire nation irrespective of class or caste prepares to share the cheer, and celebrate the victory of good over evil. Several non-profits, in fact, conduct an annual drive to distribute new clothes and crackers among the underprivileged children all over the nations.
Although the legends and the deities vary regionally, the essence of the festival remains the same: A symbol for a new beginning. Bihar, West Bengal, Assam, Tripura pay obeisance to Goddess Kali, a source of feminine strength all over the world, closely associated with death, rebirth and the purge of evil.
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Celebrate Kali Pujo Calcutta style :) Wishing all my fellow Instagrammers a very Happy and Prosperous Diwali and Kali Pujo. . . . Shot on @googlepixel #PIXEL3XL #Pixel3 and processed in Adobe lightroom. Super happy with the low light performance. #TeamPixel #MadeByGoogle #Kolkata #ig_Calcutta #creativeimagemagazine #Diwali #KaliPujo #GiftofPassion
In Gujarat, Rajasthan and Maharashtra, Goddess Lakshmi, of wealth, fortune and prosperity, is worshipped with an elaborate Dhanteras season marked by an exchange of new jewellery and gifts. The southern states on Deepavali offer prayers to Lord Krishna, (another incarnation of Lord Vishnu like Ram) and his wife Satyabhama, or perform a Satyanarayan puja.
Cleansing rituals at bathing ghats and cleaning of houses precede the D-Day, as sweet shops stock up on Kaju Katli and other festive delicacies. Fairy lights, earthen lamps, and candles line verandahs, streets and windows while the skies are aflame with fireworks. As soon as dusk falls, children dressed in new clothes throng the streets with toy pistols and crackers, and women etch colourful rangolis with flowers on their front step. There are thousands of other unique rituals that when strung together makes Diwali so spectacular and widely observed.
However, keeping the increasing air and noise pollution in mind, as well as the harm they cause to street animals, several states have implemented stringent laws to curb excessive noise. As the grand festive month comes to an end with Bhai Duj on Thursday, it is important to keep the myths and the practicalities in mind, and let the light shine for the rest of the year.
Prarthana Mitra is a staff writer at Qrius.
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