Diwali: The Brightest Dark Night

Reading Time: 5 minutes

In this curtain raiser, Arindam recounts some of the legends and folklore associated with the five-day Festival of Lights. He also gives a synopsis of the articles and poems of the special feature on Diwali, in Different Truths, which would appear this weekend, on Saturday and Sunday. Happy Diwali reading to illuminate our minds.

The festival of lights, Diwali, is celebrated on Kartik Amavasya (New Moon of October-November). Oil lamps (diyas), fairy string lights, rice lights, et al, dazzle and dispel the darkest night of the lunar Hindu month. It’s now a major festival celebrated all over the world.

The five-day festivities begin with Dhanteras. Also known as Dhantryaodashi it’s the thirteenth day. The Hindi word Dhan means wealth. Thus, traditionally, it is of special significance to the Vashya (trading communities). These days, it includes all business establishments and the rich.

An interesting folklore is associated with Dhanteras. It is believed that King Hima’s 16-year old son was doomed to die because of snakebite, on the fourth day of his marriage, according to his horoscope. The worried young bride lit many lamps, illuminating every nook and corner of the palace. She heaped all ornaments, gold coins just outside her husband’s bedroom. She sang enchantingly and told captivating stories all through the night. The Lord of Death, Yama, arrived in the guise of a snake to take away the prince. But the shine and dazzle of the lights and gold blinded it. Instead of entering the prince’s bedroom, the snake climbed on the heap of ornaments. Yama was spellbound by the melodious songs. He spent the entire night on that heap of gold, only to leave quietly in the morning. Since the young and wise wife saved her husband on this day, it is also known as Yamadeepdaan.

Chhoti Diwali or Naraka Chaturdasi is the second day of the Diwali festivities. There are two important legends associated with it. King Bali, a kind demon king had become very powerful. Gods feared his growing powers. They approached Lord Vishnu, who took the form of Vamanavatar (the Dwarf). King Bali was charitable and was known for giving daan (charity). The dwarf, no bigger than a small boy, approached the demon king and asked him to give his land equivalent to his three steps. King Bali agreed. While taking steps, the dwarf became a giant. In two and a half steps, it had measured all three worlds – Swarg, Mratya and Naraka (heaven, earth and the netherworld). King Bali understood that he had been duped. He laid his own head. Vamanavatar kept his third step on his head, pushed him to the nether world and restored heavens to the Gods. However, Lord Vishnu allowed him to return once a year, light countless lamps, dispel darkness, and spread love and wisdom. Since, Bali returns from the netherworld, this day is also known as Bhoot Chaturdasi (the land of the dead or the ghosts).

Naraka Chaturdashi is celebrated as Diwali in South India, a day before other parts of the country. On this day, Lord Krishna defeated Narakasura with the help of his wife, Satyabhama, the reincarnation of Bhudevi, who alone could have slain the demon. Krishna released the Goddesses that were held captive by Naraka and also managed to get back the earring of Aditi, the mother of Devas (Gods).

Diwali, the most important day, is the third day. On this day, Lakshmi Puja is performed. In Bengal, Kali Puja is performed at midnight. Lord Krishna left the earthly abode on this day. Also, Nachiketa learned the mysteries of death from Yama, the Lord of Death, and attained salvation. This is a well-known mythical tale from Katha Upanishad, the oldest story associated with Diwali. It is also the day when Lord Rama returned to Ayodhya, after defeating Ravana, with his wife, Sita, brother, Lakshmana, Hanuman, etc, completing his exile.

The Fourth day is called Padwa. King Vikramaditya was coroneted on this day and it marks the beginning of Vikram-Samvat, the Hindu calendar. In North India, Govardhan Puja is performed. Indra’s pride was smashed by Lord Krishna. Indra enraged at the people of Braj that they had stopped offering prayers to him caused endless rain that was to drown the people. Lord Krishna raised Mount Govardhan on his little finger. It acted as an umbrella and saved the people.

This day is also associated with Annakoot (bounty) and prayers are offered in many temples.

Diwali ends on the fifth day with Bhaiya-Dooj. The Yamuna, Yama’s sister prays for the long life of her brother, applying tilak on his forehead. This day marks the sibling bond, when sisters pray for the long life of their brothers, carrying forward the legacy of Yamuna and Yama.

We, in Different Truths (DT), are celebrating Diwali by bringing out a special feature on this occasion. It was a hurried decision and our gifted writers and poets amazed us with their contributions in a little over two days. I confess that without such talented and committed team of writers, we would not have managed to come out with DT even for a day. We had planned to publish some stories on Sunday (Nov 30), but with the contributions that we have, we shall publish Diwali feature on Saturday (Nov 29) and Sunday (Nov 30).

On this festive occasion, I am very pleased to inform you all that DT is being read in 157 countries, according to Google Analytics report. The numbers might not be large but our sweep and range are mind boggling.

In the article, Naraka Chaturdasi: Diwali Celebrations in Tamilnadu, Champa Srinivasan tells us about the Diwali celebrations in Tamilnadu, which is held a day earlier. She tells us about the rituals and rites, the special sweets too.

Arindam Roy, retells the story of Nachiketa and Yama, in the article, Diwali and the Enchanting Story of Nachiketa. He tells that this story from Katha Upanishad predates the Puranas and our two epics, the Ramayana and the Mahabharata. Nachiketa sees light, is freed Avidya, and as a disciple of Yama understands the deeper meanings of life and death. Let us bow in respect to the wisdom of a little boy.

In the article, Diwali: The Brightest Night from the Sky, Rajul Tiwari recounts the story of Lord Rama’s homecoming on the New Moon night of Diwali. The joy and festivities among the people of Ayodhya is revisited. Thousands and thousands of diyas were lit to help the Pushpak Viman land safely behind the king’s palace. From this day onwards, every year, the festival of Diwali has been celebrated to mark this grand homecoming of Lord Rama and Sita, after his great victory over Ravana.

In the erudite write-up, Festivals of Lights from Around the World, Anumita Chatterjee Roy, tells us that most cultures and peoples celebrate the festivals of lights. Anumita reveals many traditions, which are basically same. She takes a global view at the various festivals of lights, in chronological order. World-over, the lights never go out!

A short story by Subhajit Sanyal, Innate Indigo: Awakening the Kali Within, tells us about the protagonist, Tara, a simple garland seller at a Kali temple. Her struggles with lecherous men and how she realizes her inner strength.  We see how the docile girl awakened the Goddess in her soul. It is about Tara’s voyage and transformation.

Priyanka Chauhan, in her article, Diwali Market: A Fusion Song of Myriad Hues, tells us how all markets undergo a transformation. Decked up like a bride, all spaces in the bazar turn into Diwali Square.

How can any festivity be complete without sweets? Sarika Sarkar Das, in the write-up, Diwali Sweets: Kaju Flowers, a Variation of Kaju Katli, tells us the merits of homemade sweets. It’s not only economical but far more unadulterated. Plus, it speaks of your love and care for family and friends. She shares the recipe.

Poets brighten up festivities. We bring to you many shades and hues of verses by six poets, Neelam Saxena Chandra, Lily Swarn, Vatsala Radhakeesoon, Anoucheka Gangabissoon, Neelam Dadhwal and Indrajit Rai.

Avoid loud crackers. Be sensitive towards birds and animals. Stop pollution. Light lamps, not firecrackers.

We wish you all a Safe and Happy Diwali!

©Arindam Roy

Arindam Roy has 37 years experience in various newsrooms. He was the Managing Editor of a reputed Gurgaon-based Citizen Journalist portal and has held senior positions in several publications. As Correspondent and Bureau Chief, he has written extensively for Associated Press, Times of India, Hindustan Times and multiple news outlets. He has contributed 13 chapters to various publications. Of these, seven chapters were published in two Coffee Table Books, published by the Times Group. He is a co-author of a novel, Rivers Run Back that he penned with Joyce Yarrow. The novel was launched at the American Centre, New Delhi, on January 2015. He lives in Allahabad.