Diwali : Light that transcends religion

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Contrary to the general belief, Diwali is not just a Hindu festival. It is a festival also celebrated by Jains, and Sikhs and some Buddhists.

Etymology

Diwali (or Divali) comes from the Sanskrit word Deepavali which literally means “series of lights”. Diwali is also known as dipotsava “festival of lights”.

diwali-fireworks

History

Diwali dates back to ancient times in India, as a festival after the summer harvest in the Hindu calendar month of Kartika. The Persian traveler and historian Al Biruni, in his 11th century memoir on India, wrote Deepavali being celebrated by Hindus on New Moon day of the month of Kartika.

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Hinduism

  1. Diwali falls on a no moon night. To honor the homecoming of lord Ram people illuminated oil lamps. On this day lord Ram returned to Ayodhya, along with his wife and brother. 20 days ago and on the eve of Dussehra, lord Ram had killed demon Ravan.
  2. According to Mahabharata, on the eve of Diwali the Pandavs returned after spending 12 years of Vanvas (residing in a forest) and one year of Agyatavas (disguise).
  3. On the night of Diwali goddess Lakshmi chose lord Vishnu as her husband and they were married.
  4. Many Hindus in Odisha and West Bengal, worship goddess Kali, instead of goddess Lakshmi, and call the festival Kali Puja.
  5. In Braj and north central regions of India people mark Mount Govardhan, and celebrate legends about Lord Krishna. In other regions, the feast of Govardhan Puja (or Annakoot) is celebrated, with 56 or 108 different cuisines prepared, offered to Krishna, then shared and celebrated by the local community.
  6. In West and certain Northern parts of India, the festival of Diwali marks the start of a new Hindu year.

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Sikhism

On this day Guru Har Gobind freed himself and some Hindu kings from the Gwalior fort, from the prison of Mughal emperor Jahangir and arrived at Golden temple in Amritsar. The Sikhs celebrate Diwali as Bandi Choor Diwas.

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Jainism

Lord Mahavir attained Nirvana on this day at Pavapuri on 15th October 527 BCE. Jains celebrate Diwali as a day of remembering lord Mahavir. On Diwali morning, Nirvan Ladoo is offered after praying to lord Mahavir in all Jain temples all across the world.

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Buddhism

The Newar people in Nepal, who are Buddhist and revere various deities in the Vajrayana tradition, celebrate the festival by worshiping Lakshmi. The Newar Buddhists in Nepalese valleys celebrate the Diwali festival over five days, in the same way and on the same days as the Hindu Diwali-Tihar festival.

A prayer for Diwali

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Shanti Mantra (Mantra of peace). Brihadaranyaka Upanishads (1.3.28).

My Diwali message:

  • Light the lamp of love in your heart and stop hating people who do not agree with you.
  • Light the lamp of knowledge in your home to dispel the darkness that surrounds you and your family.
  • Light the lamp of compassion in your life and give something (howsoever small) to the impoverished.

References

Dussehra – The victory of good over evil

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The word Dussehra is derived from Sanskrit and means “Ravan’s defeat”. It is also known as Vijayadashami and Ayudhapuja.

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Lord Ram and Goddess Sita

According to Hindu religion this is considered to be a very auspicious day. On this day Lord Ram defeated the demon Ravan, who had abducted his wife Goddess Sita. The festival of Dussehra thus signifies the victory of good of evil.

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Ramlila

In many parts of North India there are performances of Ramlila (short version of Ramayan). There are fairs and parades with effigies of demon Ravan, which are burnt during the evening.

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Effigy of Ravan being burnt

Other important stories behind Dussehra

a. Goddess Durga’s victory over Demon Mahishasur

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b. The story of Pandav brothers

The Pandavs (the five sons of King Pandu) and their wife Draupadi lost to the Kauravs in a dice game and were exiled in the forest for twelve years. The Pandav brothers hid their weapons in a hole in a Shami tree before they entered the kingdom of Virat to complete their final year of exile.

After that year, on Vijayadashmi they recovered the weapons, declared their true identities and defeated Kauravas, who had attacked King Virat to steal his cattle. Since that day, Shami trees and weapons have been worshiped and the exchange of Shami leaves on Vijayadashmi has been a symbol of good will.

Famous Dussehra celebrations

a. Bastar Dussehra is the unique cultural trait of Chhattisgarh. Celebrated by the local people of the state with sufficient vigor, the festival of Dussehra connotes to the supreme power of goddess Danteswari. During Dussera, the inhabitants of Bastar organizes special worship ceremonies at the Danteswari temple of Jagadalpur.

b. Mysore Dussehra is the state festival of Karnataka, a 10-day festival with the last day being Vijayadashami. The city of Mysore Dussehra has a long tradition of celebrating the festival, attracting a large audience.

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Mysore Dussehra

c. Kullu Dussehra is one of the most famous Dussehra festival celebrated in the Dhalpur maidan in the Kullu valley. Himachal Pradesh has given Kullu Dussehra festival a status of International festival which attracts tourists in large numbers.

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Kullu Dussehra

References

Navratri and the 9 forms of Durga

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Navratri is a festival celebrated by people who follow the Shakti sect of Hinduism. It is celebrated throughout India, and is famous for its social as well as religious importance.

The word Navratri means nine nights. During this period the
nine forms of Goddess Durga are worshiped. This pious period occurs four times a year:

  • Chaitra Navratri
  • Sharad Navratri(most significant and widely celebrated)
  • Maha Gupta Navratri
  • Ashadha Gupta Navratri

The nine forms of the Goddess Durga worshiped during the period of Navratri are:

Day 1: Shailaputri

Goddess Shailaputri is the absolute form of Mother Nature.

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Day 2: Brahmacharini

The goddess Brahmacharini wears white clothes, holds a japa mala(rosary) in her right hand and Kamandal, a water utensil in her left hand.

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Day 3: Chandraghanta

She is believed to reward people with her grace, bravery and courage. By her grace all the sins, distresses, physical sufferings, mental tribulations and ghostly hurdles of the devotees are eradicated.

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Day 4: Kushmanda

She is believed to improve health and bestow wealth and strength.

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Day 5: Skandamata

Her name comes from word, Skanda is another name for war god Kartikeya and Mata is the term for mother.

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Day 6: Katyayini

She is associated with the fierce forms of Durga.

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Day 7: Kaalratri

She is regarded as one of the many destructive forms of Mother Goddess.

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Day 8: Mahagauri

She has the power to fulfill all the desires of her devotees.

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Day 9: Siddhidaatri

She fulfills all the divine aspirations and completes the mundane.

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On the tenth day, the idol of the Goddess is immersed in water.

References:

Mahatma Gandhi, and 10 famous quotes

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Background
Mohandas  Karamchand Gandhi was born on the 2nd of October 1869 in Porbandar, Gujarat. He is known for: leadership of Indian independence movement, philosophy of Satyagraha, Ahimsa or nonviolence, pacifism, among many other things.

His birthday, 2 October, is commemorated as Gandhi Jayanti, a national holiday, and world-wide as the International Day of Nonviolence.

He is also called Bapu (father) and Gandhiji in India, and is unofficially called the Father of the Nation.

Gandhiji was assassinated at 5:17 pm on 30 January 1948 on his way to a prayer meeting.

It was owing to his efforts and philosophy that more than 16% of the world population was freed from the oppression of British imperialism, an act somehow considered unworthy for a Nobel peace prize – although he was nominated 7 times.

Quotes

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  1. You must be the change you wish to see in the world.

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2. The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong.

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3. An eye for eye only ends up making the whole world blind.

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4. Live as if you were to die tomorrow; learn as if you were to live forever.

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5. Happiness is when what you think, what you say, and what you do are in harmony.

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6. First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win.

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7. You must not lose faith in humanity. Humanity is an ocean; if a few drops of the ocean are dirty, the ocean does not become dirty.

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8. The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.

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9. Strength does not come from physical capacity. It comes from an indomitable will.

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10. A man is but the product of his thoughts; what he thinks, he becomes.

References: