Diwali: The Festival of Lights

Knowledge

The third day is the highlight of the celebrations. Internationally the festival is better known as the 'Festival of Lights'. The celebrations are marked by the lighting of diyas and performing Lakshmi pooja to seek the blessings of the Goddess of Wealth-Lakshmi

Diwali is celebrated throughout India and every state has its own customs and celebratory days. Diwali actually signifies the harvest festival for the kharif (winter) crop. It is believed that the celebration was first started in India by farmers after they reaped good harvests. They celebrated by offering praises to Goddess Lakshmi for granting them a good crop. For this reason delicacies on this day are prepared from freshly pounded semi-cooked rice called poha or pauva. This custom is still followed in Western India.

Diwali is also believed to be the day when Lord Rama's 14-year-long exile ended. It is said that in the northern kingdom of Avadh, the citizens of Ayodhya lit thousands of lamps to guide Lord Rama into the city. It is because of this reason that to this day we decorate our homes with lit diyas.

On Diwali day, in the villages, cattle are adorned and worshipped by farmers as they form the main source of their income. In South India, cows are offered special veneration. They are supposed to be the incarnation of Goddess Lakshmi and are therefore adorned and worshipped on this day.

Diwali is also celebrated as an ode to three goddesses, Lakshmi, Kali and Saraswati. The three days of Diwali are thus dedicated to them. Dhanteras (two days before Diwali) is dedicated to Lakshmi, Kali-Chaudas (the day before Diwali) is dedicated to Maha Kali and Diwali is dedicated to Goddess Saraswati. Knowledge is after all the ultimate wealth!

The last day of Diwali is Bhai Dooj. On this day sisters put a tikka or phonta (a mark created with the help of a finger dipped in sandal or curd) on the forehead of their brothers. Traditionally all brothers visit their sisters on this day, exchange good feelings and give them gifts. Sisters in turn pray for their brothers' long life, good health and general well-being.