19 October 2006

Deepavali: The Festival of Lights

(Image: Thanks to Sushruta Dodderi)
Deepavali is one of the festivals celebrated in the Indian subcontinent. It is one of the biggest festivals Indians celebrate. Sanskrit name Deepavali is a compound word made up of 'Deepa' (light) and 'Avali' (row). These two words are joined by most frequent of the Sanskrit compounds, 'Savarna Dheerga'. etymological meaning would then be 'row of lights'. [Most popular name however is the corrupted from which is 'Diwali']. Let us see how the festival is celebrated in my part of India.

This is a four day festival yet festivities go beyond. The festival starts on the 29th day of the 7th month (Ashwija) of traditional calendar and ends on the 1st day of 8th month (Kartika) [Note that months are divided into two groups of 15 days].
On 28th day (Krishna Paksha Trayodashi) it is time to clean and worship the water spring (water well). Kids go to every house in the village with bells and cymbals (Jaagate) and participate in spring worship performed by the women of the house. People believe that the water they use everyday as a symbolic representation of the Holy Ganges River (River Ganga). It is in fact called the Ganges worship (Gange Pooje). Kids leave for next house after munching the fresh coconut sugar mix. The lady of the house sprinkles the water freshly drawn from the well on everyone around.

Most interesting thing happens during the same night of the 28th day of Aswija month: The Steeling Night! It is called Boore Kalu Haayuvudu in Kannada language (Steeling for Boore Festival). People are free to steel from other's produces on that night. Normally the things that were traditionally required for the next day's festival are stolen! Mostly youngsters steel Coconuts, Beatle nuts, and some other agricultural produces. This probably stems from 'Charvakas' the atheist group of Hindus. They believe in life, not in GOD ("Borrow and eat but live happily").

29th day (14th day of Krishna Paksha) is Naraka Chaturdashi also called Boore Habba in Kannada. According to Indian mythology this day 'Naraka' a daemon was killed and hence is a day of victory. Almost everyone goes for an oil massage bath called Boore Meeyuvudu. Then wears a block bindi prepared by women of the house called Boore Kappu.
The last day of the festival is Bali Padyami, the day of Cow and Bali worship. Cow enjoys the day with nice starters (Turolge), main course (Rice) and desserts (Banana!). This is believed to be the day of King Bali, an honest and beloved king of the people as mentioned in the Bhagavata one of the ancient Indian chronicles. The 5th incarnation/Avatar of the GOD is named Vaamana. Vaamana steps on Bali and sends him to the world beneath the earth called Patala. But grants him a boon that he will be honoured with a day dedicated to him where it is believed he returns to earth. King Bali is thus remembered every year.

Evening that day is the time to party, a torch party. Folk songs galore. People sing songs while they march to the temple with torch in their hands. They shout, "Light Light Light So Sweeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeet". Climax comes when they set fire in front of the temple and start singing folk songs in rural dialect: "Mettilu mettilu chanda eemane mettilu chanda...."

Cotton immersed in vegetable oil glows with a blissfull light in earthen crucibles, rows of them as you see in the picture above. That is Deepavali Festival of Lights. The message festival carries is simple, "Asatoma Sadgamaya". From falsehood to truth, darkness to light, mortality to immortality.

To culminate, I should pray not in my own words but in the words of Tagore, "To that heaven of freedom, my father, let my country awake"

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