As the pandemic year, 2020 has taken a toll on our festivals, all the celebrations have sadly gone haywire. During Diwali this year in India and Nepal, we all aim to celebrate a safe, healthy, and cracker-free one. But the merriments have not always been like this in the earlier times during Diwali. Here is a glimpse of what the event is, and how it is celebrated in India and Nepal.
What is Diwali?
Diwali is commonly known as the “festival of lights” and it is rightfully so! It is an age-old ancient Hindu traditional festival celebrated in India to mark King Rama’s return to his hometown of Ayodhya after his fourteen years’ forest exile, taken from the Indian epic Ramayana. The word Diwali also literally means “series (awali) of lit clay lamps (called diyas or dipas) placed together” and is celebrated on the 15th day of the month of Kartik, which falls on either October or November. In 2020, Diwali will be celebrated on the 14th of November. In the state of West Bengal, this day is celebrated as Kali puja to worship the goddess, Kali. Others celebrate Dhanteras during this time by worshipping goddess Lakshmi, the goddess of riches and affluence. In south India, Diwali is celebrated to commemorate Vishnu’s fifth avatar, Vamana.
In all places, this festival celebrates the power of Light over the evil Darkness and presents a message of unity and harmony in the world, just like our motto “Unity in Diversity.” However, we commonly mistake Diwali to be only a Hindu tradition. Many Buddhists and Jains celebrate Diwali as well.
How is it celebrated in India?
During Diwali, the houses are lit with clay lamps and even candles. The clay lamps are doused with oil and cotton, and the fire is lit in the cotton swab that keeps burning due to the oil present in the lamp. However, the fire is burned off soon or may blow out due to winds. Sometimes and majorly in today’s time, electrical tuning lights have been an alternative to the clay ones due to their longevity and durability, and they also come in a wide range of colors and designs. While the spaces are decorated, many people paint what is known as alpanas in front of their main doors.
It is a mural or painting usually symmetrical and circular in nature which is chalked out in white and then either filled with gulal(colored powders) or painted with bright colors. The inside and outside of the house are also decorated with different lights, candles, and rangolis, and are cleaned spotlessly to invite the goddess Lakshmi in. The lamps are sometimes set afloat in streams and rivers as well. It is not harmful since clay is biodegradable, but given the concerns in rising pollution levels in the water, it is best to refrain from doing so.
Many celebrate Diwali by burning firecrackers, which should be stopped before it starts going out of limits because this calls for hazardous air pollution and sound pollution. This can cause dangerous infections in the lungs, ears, and in general breathing troubles. Also, firecrackers, if burnt in the wrong way (or in sequestered city spaces), can lead to fire explosions in the cities. In addition, firecrackers can cause huge burn injuries and even life risks for many victims or respective firecracker makers.
The festival is celebrated mainly in duration of five days, and here is what happens-
1. Dhanteras- This marks the first day of the festival. People start cleaning their homes and also try buying gold, new utensils, firecrackers, etc. This is to mainly welcome wealth and affluence in the house.
2. Chhoti Diwali- This is the second day of the festival and used to visit families and relatives. People also buy a lot of sweet products on this day, especially ones made of milk or cream. It is connected to the tale of Krishna defeating the demon Narakasura.
3. Lakshmi/Kali puja- The third day commemorates the worshipping of goddesses Lakshmi or Kali respectively. People wear new clothes and assemble firecrackers, and puja takes place in the evenings.
4. Govardhan puja- Many celebrate this day as a bond between marital relations of the husband and wife, in keeping with the mythical tale of Parvati and Shiva playing dyuta(the game of dice) where Parvati wins. Many merchants who own gold shops especially, try to perform rigorous pujas and open new account books. This is also called haalkhata in Bengali celebrations.
5. Bhaidooj- This is the fifth and the last day of the festival. As the name suggests, bhaiphnota (in Bengali) or bhaidooj is the celebration of the siblings bond between brothers and sisters. Sisters bless their brothers and pray for their happiness and success. There is an exchange of gifts and an extravagant mealtime afterward.
Are there any Diwali celebrations in Nepal?
While we accept that Diwali is primarily a Hindu festival, it is celebrated with equal enthusiasm in Nepal as well. In Nepal, the festival is called Tihar and it is also known as Yamapanchak and Swanti. Other than Nepal, it is also celebrated in the Indian states of Sikkim, Darjeeling, and Kalimpong. This is also celebrated in a period of five days, but there is a significant alteration.
How is it celebrated in Nepal?
The duration, hence, remains five days. While the last day is celebrated similarly as India celebrates bhaidooj, the first four days are celebrated to commemorate four creatures related to Yama, the god of Death. Here is how the festival is celebrated-
1. KaagTihar (crow) – this is the first day and it begins with the celebration of the crow. The crow or the raven, just as it is considered Satan’s messenger in western mythology, is the messenger of Yama as well. The citizens pour different seeds, rice, and other edibles on their rooftops on this day to feed the crows. This is done to ensure Yama does not touch the family or bring the grief of death to them. The cawing of crows is usually symbolized as bad news in the religious festival.
2. KukurTihar (dog) - the second day is dedicated solely to pet and stray dogs. Dogs have always been an integral part of Hindu mythology and this day celebrates the bond between humans and their best friends. Dogs are treated lavishly and a garland is placed around their necks. They are also given a tika, which is a forehead mark with red or orange-colored powder, to ward off the evil eye.
3. Laskhmipujo and GaiTihar (cow) – the cow is one of the most sacred animals worshipped as the mother in Hindu religion. The cows are also treated lavishly and worshipped with adorned garlands and tikas. In addition to this, people also pray to goddess Lakshmi for wealth and affluence. Evenings are filled with cultural programs by young members and fireworks are burnt later.
4. Mha and Govardhan puja (Ox) – the ox is symbolized as heavy labor and is very important for a hardworking society like Nepal has. The Mha Puja is celebrated if the first day of Nepal calendar and the fourth day of Tihar fall on the same day. Mha is worshipping one’s own soul and inner happiness.
5. BhaiTika- as the name suggests, this last day is celebrated as sisters protect their brothers by giving them a tika and pray for their success. Brothers touch the feet of the elder sisters to receive blessings and lavish food is also cooked as a post-celebration to the event. This ceremony is performed even if the brother is younger or older than the sisters, and it is celebrated with many first and second cousins as well.
However, Hindus are spread all over the world. So, you can notice prominent celebrations in Singapore, Malaysia, Britain, Guyana, the US, and all the major places in the world. In order to have the most authentic and traditional celebration, Himalayan Trekkers invite you to have a first-hand experience. Book it with us and you are going to celebrate every minute of the time during Diwali.