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November 7, 2007 > Deepavali Around the World

Deepavali Around the World

By Praveena Raman

The night is black as a black stone
Let not the hours pass by in the dark
Kindle the lamp of love with thy life

Excerpted from Gitanjali
By Rabindranath Tagore
1913 Nobel Prize Laureate

Deepavali, the Indian festival of lights, is celebrated not only in India and but also in other countries as well. The word Deepavali originates from Sanskrit and means a row of lamps, symbolizing the victory of light over darkness, good over evil or knowledge over ignorance. The above lines from Gitanjali by Nobel Laureate Rabindranth Tagore is yet another elucidation of the true significance of Deepavali (also known as Diwali), the realization of the Inner light or Atman through which comes universal compassion, love and the oneness of all things. Being a lunar festival, it is celebrated on different days each year during the months of October and November. This year, the celebration falls on November 9.

In Hinduism, the origin of Deepavali has ties to various mythological stories depending on the region of India where the celebration occurs. In some places it is celebrated as the defeat of Bali; in others, the defeat of Narakasura or the day Lord Shiva accepted Shakti in the left half of his form and appeared as Ardhanarishvara. Some areas of India celebrate Deepavali as the return of Rama after vanquishing the demon Ravana (Ramayana). Besides Hindus, Deepavali is also important to Sikhs and Jains. Sikhs celebrate the release of the Sixth Guru, Hargobind, from captivity by the Mughal Emperor Jehangir and Jains commemorate Deepavali as the day Lord Mahavira, the last of the Tirthankaras, attained Nirvana, or liberation, after his death in 527 B.C.

This festival is celebrated from one to five days; each day has a different significance. On Deepavali people wake up before sunrise, bathe (in some parts this is a traditional oil bath), wear new clothes, pay obeisance to the different Gods, light firecrackers and eat some sweets before sunrise. They then visit friends and relatives, exchange greetings, sweets and gifts. This festival has always been filled with social connotations; it is when families and friends meet, forget quarrels and enjoy and establish closeness to one another.

For some, this festival marks the beginning of the New Year and many worship Goddess Lakshmi, the Goddess of wealth. As a festival of light and beauty, it also encourages artistic expression and creativity through home decorations with colorful paper lanterns and beautifully colored rangolis or kolams (colorful patterns made with flour), theatrical plays, and music and dance programs. Deepavali also has a great economic impact in India just as Christmas does in the Western world.

Apart from India, Deepavali is also celebrated in other parts of the world such as Nepal, Sri Lanka, Africa, Singapore, Malaysia, Myanmar, United Kingdom, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Suriname, Canada, Guyana, Mauritius, Fiji, Japan, Indonesia, South Africa, Trinidad and Tobago, Thailand, United Arab Emirates, Australia, Africa, and the United States. Though in many of these places it is celebrated primarily by people of Indian decent, in some it has become part of the local culture with important variances. For example, in Singapore, fire walking ceremonies are part of Deepavali celebrations while in Nepal reverence is shown for cows, dogs and all living things and the God of death on the first, second and fourth days respectively. In Trinidad and Tobago, a Diwali Nagar or Village showcasing folk theater, an exhibition on Hinduism and a worship of Goddess Lakshmi (Goddess of Wealth) is part of the celebration.

This year as in years past various private and public Deepavali celebrations are being planned in the Bay area. Join in the festivities and kick off the season of "Festivals of Lights" by decorating your home with candles or other lights on November 9.

Happy Deepavali!

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