Diwali / Deepavali

October 16, 2017

culture community

Diwali, also known as Deepavali, is an ancient festival celebrated every Autumn in India and the surrounding regions in South Asia. This week, Diwali will be celebrated on Oct. 19 in most of the regions in India and Oct. 18 in South India. 

This interfaith festival is known for its beautiful decorations, clothing, foods, fireworks, gifts and rituals, and is celebrated by Hindus, Sikhs and Jains around the world. Diwali has both legendary and spiritual significance for those who celebrate it, though the legends and spiritual practices are widely varied across regions, countries, and religions. Regardless of the region or religion, all who celebrate Diwali view it as a triumph of light over darkness. It is a time of great happiness, family, and hope.

Henderson International School has many diverse cultures represented on our campus, and this season we are excited to celebrate the festival of Diwali with some of members of our school community. Jyoti Senthil is a North Indian who grew up in West India, and she and her family relocated to Henderson within the past year. Jyoti's son, Siddhant, arrived from India and began school at HIS just last month, so of course we were honored when Jyoti volunteered to bring her authentic Diwali flair to our front administrative office lobby. 

Below, Jyoti describes the festival of Diwali in India, and how her own family celebrations reflect the different regional traditions that exist within her very own household. Thank you, Jyoti, for decorating our reception area with the beautiful diyas and rangoli, and for sharing your unique perspective and cultural knowledge with our school community.

The preparations begin almost a month before the festival. Everyone is busy decorating their homes with lights and candles and rangoli (sand design). The market place is the buzz of the town back in India. Families shop for new clothes, gifts for family and friends, sweets, savories and of course prepare the family dinners and lunches. The entire country looks bright and lit up with colorful lamps, diyas and floral decorations.

You may be wondering why, and thinking about its origin and significance!

The religious significance of Diwali/Deepavali varies regionally within India, depending on the school of Hindu philosophy, regional legends, and beliefs. I am a North Indian born and raised in West of India and married to a South Indian. By virtue of this integration, we celebrate Diwali as they do in both cultures.

In every region except South India, Diwali is celebrated to honor the return of lord Rama, his wife Sita, brother Lakshmana and lord Hanuman to the city of Ayodhya after exile for 14 years. They returned after Rama defeated Ravana, and Diwali represents the victory of good over evil. We offer prayers to the goddess Laxmi and lord Ganesha for prosperity.

Day 1: Dhanteras  – it is considered to be an auspicious day and most of the households buy new things for their homes and buy gold and silver on this day.

Day 2: Choti Diwali or Naraka Chaturdasi –  The Hindu literature narrates that the asura (demon) Narakasura was killed on this day by Krishna, Satyabhama and Kali. The day is celebrated by early morning religious rituals and festivities followed on. This is commonly celebrated in Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Tamil Nadu, Goa and Karantaka.

Typically, house decoration and colorful floor patterns called rangoli are made on or before Narak Chaturdashi. Special bathing rituals such as a fragrant oil bath are held in some regions, followed by pujas. This is the South Indian Diwali tradition.

(Since I am half South Indian now, my family celebrates this doing the puja early morning, wearing our traditional attire and praying together as a family.)

Day 3: Diwali and Laxmi Puja – This is followed in the North and West regions of India. Laxmi symbolises wealth and prosperity, and her blessings are invoked for a good year ahead. We decorate our homes with lights and rangoli designs and pray late evening or night (as per the auspicious time) and offer prayers to Ganesha and Laxmi. After the puja, people go outside and celebrate by lighting up patakhe (fireworks).  My family follows this Laxmi Puja as our tradition as well. I am fortunate to celebrate it in many different ways by the virtue of my integration.

Day 4: Goverdhan Puja – This is observed in some parts of the country. The day after Diwali, devotees perform Goverdhan puja in honor of lord Krishna. Day 4 is also Parsi New Year in India. In cosmopolitan cities we celebrate all of the festival. Diwali also marks the beginning of new business year in some parts of India. Merchants and shopkeepers close out their old year, and start a new fiscal year with blessings from Laxmi and other deities.

Day 5: Bhai Duj, Bhaiya Dooji – The last day of the festival is called Bhai dooj, where it is the major day of the festival. It celebrates the sister-brother loving relationship, in a spirit similar to Raksha Bandhan but with different rituals. The day ritually emphasizes the love and lifelong bond between siblings. It is a day when women and girls get together, perform a puja with prayers for the well-being of their brothers, then return to a ritual of food-sharing, gift-giving and conversations. In historic times, this was a day in autumn when brothers would travel to meet their sisters, or bring over their sister's family to their village homes to celebrate their sister-brother bond with the bounty of seasonal harvests. This is mostly observed by the North Indians.

Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists celebrate Diwali with a great fervor. In cosmopolitan cities, Hindus, Christians and Muslims all live in the same community and participate in the Diwali fairs and cultural events together. The way of celebrating may differ, but the belief in good over evil is common. Diwali is fun-filled, illuminating, lights, togetherness with family and friends and is one of the favorite festivals in India.

May this Diwali bring light of hope, happiness, good health and prosperity in everyone’s life. May the good always win over the evil. 

Wishing everyone a very Happy Diwali!!! 

Jyoti Senthil, HIS parent


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