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The Hindu festival of Diwali in South Shields
Shobha Srivastava
By Shobha Srivastava
South Shields

Women lighting earthen lamps on the eve of the Hindu festival of Diwali. Photo: Associated Press
Earthen lamps are often lit on the eve of the festival

Diwali or deepawali (deepa means small oil lamps, wali means row of) is the most important Hindu Festival, though celebrated by Sikhs, Buddhists and Jains as well.

Diwali is celebrated all over the world with great enthusiasm and gusto.

It falls on the last two days of the dark half of the month by the Hindu calendar.

There are many origins attributed to this festival, as one would expect in a 4000+ year old religion.

Some say Diwali celebrates the marriage of Vishnu ("the keeper") to Lakshmi, Goddess of Wealth.

Bengali Hindus dedicate this festival to the worship of Kali.

It is also believed that on this day Krishna (the 8th reincarnation of Vishnu) killed the demon Narakasura.

Family story

I am going to tell my story about Diwali as told to me by my granny when I was about five or six.

About three weeks before Diwali is the festival of Dussehra (Duss or Das meaning 10) so named after the 10 day war Lord Ram, the 7th reincarnation of Vishnu, had to fight against Ravan (the ten headed demon King of Lanka) to get his wife Sita back.

Candles in front off the illuminated Golden temple in Amritsar. Photo: AFP/Getty Images
The Hindu festival of Diwali is known as the Festival of Lights

Sita had been kidnapped by Ravan.

The belief is that Ram took a human form to help the world get rid of the Ravan who was terrorising the world. No human could kill him due to the 10 heads.

Ram had been exiled from his kingdom for 14 years and his wife Sita went with him.

Also accompanying Ram and Sita was Ram's younger brother Lakshman who would not let Ram go alone.

The brothers had no army; they were living as hermits in the jungles and were loved by all the animals and birds.

These unlikely creatures - bears, tigers, monkeys and birds - formed an army to help Ram under the able command of Hanuman the monkey God.

Any depiction of Ram always shows Hanuman at his feet.

After his victory over Ravan Ram gave Ravan's kingdom to his brother and returned to his own kingdom of Ayodhya with Sita and Lakshman.

All along the route the villages, towns and cities celebrated the victory of good over evil with illuminations, changing of gifts and sweets.

Millions of people lined up the streets for Ram's darshan (seeing with reverence) of this young king who had got rid of the tyrant for the people.

Philanthropists helped the poor. People of Ayodhya celebrated His return by lighting their homes and worshipping Lord Ganesh (the elephant headed God) for wisdom and knowledge and Goddess Lakshmi for health, happiness and prosperity.

Dancers. Picture courtesy of the Tyne and Wear Community Foundation
The Hindu Nari Sangh Hindu Women's Association teaches classical dance

Celebrations include exchange of gifts and firecrackers.

Diwali celebrates good over evil, light over darkness and knowledge over ignorance.

For the business community this is also the start of the New Year.

Messages of Diwali

Give and forgive - friendliness everywhere.

Rise and Shine - getting up early during dark nights gives health, discipline and efficiency.

Unite and unity - Deepawali is a great uniting force "O children of God unite, and love all.

Prosper and progress - business people open new account books, for some this is the start of the financial year.

Illuminate your inner self - wake up from the slumber of ignorance.

I would like to end with a quote from the Times of India which sums up the modern meaning of Diwali: "Regardless of the mythological explanation one prefers, what the festival of lights really stands for today is a reaffirmation of hope, a renewed commitment to friendship and goodwill and a religiously sanctioned celebration of the simple - and not so simple - joys of life".




SEE ALSO
Celebrating New Year Indian style
22 Oct 09 |  Religion & Ethics

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