History of Diwali and its Importance to Indian CultureNov 16, 2021 04:00PM ● By Anand Subramanian
There isn't just one reason to celebrate the five-day celebration, as there is with many Hindu holidays. The ancient festival is related to many legends in religious books, making it hard to identify which came first or how long Diwali has been celebrated. However, there is one specific tale that is used to tell the origin of this holiday. After spending 14 years in exile and conquering the wicked King Ravana, Lord Rama returned to Ayodhya with Maa Sita and his brother Laxmana on this day. On the day of their triumphant homecoming, the people of Ayodhya are supposed to have held a great ceremony. The entire kingdom was illuminated by dazzling lighting, diyas, and fireworks. Lord Rama was lavishly received, and this is how the Diwali celebration came to be. The celebration is also dedicated to the worship of Mother Kali, the dark deity of power, in Bengal. On this day, most Hindu houses also worship Lord Ganesha, the elephant-headed deity and emblem of auspiciousness and intelligence. In Jainism, Deepawali has the extra significance of commemorating Lord Mahavira's attainment of the ultimate pleasure of nirvana. In southern regions of India, Diwali is celebrated as Lord Krishna's triumph over the evil demon Narakasura. When Narakasura abducted over 16,000 princesses, Lord Krishna overcame him and liberated all the princesses. Apart from religious significance, Diwali was primarily celebrated by farmers in ancient India as a harvest celebration. Since then, they've been harvesting their crops between October and November. Farmers faced a major danger from insects that ate their crops and ruined them. As a result, farmers began burning diyas to attract and destroy the insects. This proved to be fairly effective, since their crops stayed secure, and they could now reap the advantages of a good harvest.
Diwali, being a great holiday, is celebrated over five days, with different rituals and traditions for each day. The first day of Diwali, also known as Dhanteras, marks the start of the festival. On this day, people tidy their homes and workplaces. Outside the home, diyas are put, entrances are adorned, and magnificent rangolis are created. People also buy new clothing, jewelry, and furnishings since it is considered an auspicious day. Naraka Chaturdashi is the second day of Diwali, also known as Choti Diwali. The ceremonies on this day represent a sense of liberation from all forms of pain. A broad range of sweets is prepared and handed to family and friends. The third day of the celebration is recognized as Diwali's major day. Devotees welcome Goddess Lakshmi into their houses, also known as Lakshmi Pujan. They kneel themselves before her and seek her blessings. This is a day of celebration and joy, with people lighting fireworks and gathering with family and close friends. The fourth day of Diwali is dedicated to the Govardhan Puja. It commemorates the moment when Lord Krishna raised the Govardhan Mountain on his little finger to save the cowherd and all the farmers from hazardous floods. The fifth and final day of Diwali, also known as Bhai Dooj, honors the wonderful tie that exists between brothers and sisters. This is another day of celebration and excitement, as brothers meet their sisters and present them with a variety of presents.
This celebration is no different in the United States, where individuals of Indian heritage have lived since the 1820s. The magnitude of the celebrations has grown to the point that prominent US tourist destinations such as Disneyland in California and Times Square in New York are decorated in vivid Indian colors. For many years, the White House has participated in the festivities. After all, the 3.1 million Indian-Americans constitute one of the most prosperous immigrant populations in the United States. Shops and stores selling Diwali trinkets do brisk business throughout the country, wherever there is a sizable Indian community. Melas (fairs) are also commonplace. The long-held ritual of blowing crackers, which is currently outlawed in India due to environmental concerns, has also found its way to the West. On Diwali, some communities seek special permission from their local police chief to set off fireworks. So, even though they are not in their home country, Indians in America continue to celebrate the largest Hindu holiday, but with somewhat modified customs.
Diwali festivities in South Africa began in the 20th century, with the entrance of Indians into the nation for employment. With 1.3 million individuals of Indian heritage, South Africa now has the biggest population of Indian descent in Africa, primarily in Durban. Indeed, Durban is frequently referred to as the "biggest Indian city outside of India." According to President Cyril Ramaphos, the Hindu diaspora has profoundly enhanced South Africa's diverse culture, and its spiritual and intellectual roots have found expression in South Africa's liberation fight. The year 2020 commemorates the 160th anniversary of the immigration of Indian contract laborers in South Africa (November 16, 1860), the 110th anniversary of the formal recognition of Diwali in South Africa (1910), and the 108th anniversary of the creation of the SA Hindu Maha Sabha (SAHMS) (1912). 2020 was also the year that two South African indigenous rulers assisted in the celebration of Diwali. The celebration was hosted in the Osuthu Royal Palace of King Goodwill Zwelithini, the monarch of South Africa's biggest indigenous group, the Zulus, near Nongoma, some 30 kilometers north of the coastal city of Durban. King Makhosoke II of the Amandebele people also attended the festivities. Professor Ishwar Ramlutchman, the chairman of the Sivananda World Peace Foundation and the first person of Indian descent to be crowned as a prince of the Zulu country, organized the celebration. Songs and dance performances reflected the customs of the three communities, including South Africans of Indian descent.
The importance of the victory of good over evil may be found in each Deepawali tradition, myth, and narrative. This basic fact finds fresh reason and hopes with each Deepawali and the lights that enlighten our homes and hearts. From darkness to light—the light enables us to commit to good actions and draws us closer to god. During Diwali, lights brighten every part of India, and the aroma of incense sticks wafts through the air, combined with the sounds of firecrackers, joy, unity, and optimism.
Anand Subramanian is a freelance photographer and content writer based out of Tamil Nadu, India. Having a background in Engineering always made him curious about life on the other side of the spectrum. He leapt forward towards the Photography life and never looked back. Specializing in Documentary and Portrait photography gave him an up-close and personal view into the complexities of human beings and those experiences helped him branch out from visual to words. Today he is mentoring passionate photographers and writing about the different dimensions of the art world.
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