This week is an incredible time to be in India as it is the grand five-day holiday known as Diwali (Deepavali)! Also referred to as the ‘Festival of Lights’, Diwali is usually celebrated during mid-October and mid-November. People often drape the outside of their homes with festive colored lights, similar to how Americans decorate their homes during Christmas. You will see millions of lights, shining brightly, as Diwali is spiritually known to signify the triumph, or victory, of light over darkness. Inside, many people decorate with candles, flower garlands (usually hand-made), or light oil lamps. Often times you will also see candles placed outside the doors of homes to burn throughout the night.
Fireworks are lit even before Day 1 arrives to help drive away any evil spirits, leaving only the feeling of spiritual goodness behind. Even after Diwali ends you can still hear the firecrackers popping throughout the neighborhoods and city streets. Enlightenment is often spoken about during this time, because Diwali not only refers to physical light but the light that burns within us when we push our ignorance aside, lifting away any darkness. This darkness can be negative emotions, thoughts, even past happenings that we still dwell on. This is the time to let those things go and allow the renewal process to take place.
Diwali 2017 began on Tuesday, October 17th, 2017. Dhanteras is thought of as being the financial New Year for many businesses. Thus on this day Goddess Lakshmi is worshiped, as she is the Goddess of wealth. You will notice that many merchants and shops have fully stocked their shelves around this time due to the fact that many people opt to go shopping on Dhanteras, buying new jewelry, clothes, etc. It is said that the more money you spend, the more you will gain in the financial New Year that follows.
Naraka Chaturdasi, or Choti Diwali (Small Diwali), is celebrated on the 2nd day. This is a day of cleansing and many people will take baths rich in oils to help cleanse and uplift not only the physical self but also our spiritual selves as well. Rangoli (colorful floor designs) are drawn on the floors (or ground) outside of homes, and are often colorful and very elegantly designed. Women get together to decorate their hands in intricate displays of mehndi (henna), and will usually prepare home-made sweets and other treats to be eaten the next day.
Lakshmi Puja is held on the 3rd day, Diwali itself, which is October 19th, 2017, and is the main day for the festivities. Many will wear the new clothing, or jewelry, that was purchased on Dhanteras, ensuring they look their best. Friends and relatives will visit each other’s homes to exchange gifts, candies, and the sweets that were prepared the day before. As the sun sets you will see diyas (similar to candles, but lit inside a tiny pot) being placed outside of homes. Pujas (prayers) are often held, and offered to Goddess Lakshmi along with Lord Ganesha, however other deities are sometimes involved in these pujas as well. These pujas are offered to spread the blessings of good fortune and prosperity for the New Year ahead.
Many people celebrate outside with patakhe (fireworks), driving away evil spirits before heading back to eat with their family. The streets are sometimes completely filled with smoke as the fireworks continue into the early morning hours.
During the night many believe that Goddess Lakshmi wanders the Earth on the night of Diwali. People will often open their windows and doors to welcome the Goddess, leaving the diyas to burn on balcony ledges and windowsills, inviting her inside.
On the 4th day, Goverdhan pujas are performed in honor of Lord Krishna from when he picked up a mountain to protect people, and his cattle, from the rain sent by Indra (deity of rain and thunder). Usually, a mountain is made from the feces of a cow, and durva (sacred grass) along with flowers are placed into it.
Aside from the above mentioned, this day also celebrates the love and devotion between husband and wife. Husbands may give a thoughtful gift to their wife on this day to show their love and respect. It is said that this day is similar to how anniversaries are celebrated elsewhere.
The 5th, and last day, of Diwali is known as Bhai Dooj. This day celebrates the love between brothers and sisters and is meant to strengthen their bond. Women usually get together to perform a puja solely for the well-being of their brothers, and afterward cook food, eat, and share gifts.
These photos are from my first Diwali celebration, and I am very thankful to have had the chance to have spent this holiday in India. Sure the firecrackers were loud, and the smoke was like a thick fog covering the streets. However, the energy spread from person to person was that of good-intentions. This energy vibrated throughout my entire neighborhood and was especially felt when I went to the local temple to celebrate with everyone.
The deities were decorated in elegant clothing and dazzling jewelry that sparkled under the vibrant flames that lit the ground, surrounding the temple. They were lifted up and carried by men as women, children, myself, and others followed them, encircling the temple three times. Drums were beaten in different rhythms, and it seemed we were all emanating with the same spiritual energy meant for peace, love, prosperity, and happiness.
Following the completion of the three circles, the deities were sat down one by one, followed by the smashing of fruits (I believe to symbolize Krishna smashing the head of Narakasur). Once the deities were put back into the temple rooms everyone entered for Aarti/Puja. Bells rang loudly and chants of, “Om Om Shanti Om” filled the air for at least half an hour. The energy was merely incredible.
Afterwards, everyone crowded together to receive the blessings from the sacred flame. This sacramental lamp is lit and offered at the highest point of the puja before it is passed around to the devotees. Many believe that the deities can see you, thus blessing you, through this sacred flame as it pours light over your face. Even though there was so many of us crowded around, everyone ensured the blessings reached each and every soul, including babies and small children. After we received our blessings from the sacred flame, inside, we went outside to receive and drink the Holy Water (water offered and poured over the deity) in our right hand, before gathering to eat Prasad (food used as a religious offering).