Taking the time to honor our historical past through celebrations like Diwali, with all its riches, is a vital aspect of Wholistic Wellbeing. Like our ancestors, we give respect and gratitude for our physical, emotional, financial, social, and professional ability, as well as for our place in the community and on the planet, to thrive in the light and triumph over the negative forces that prevent us from being our best and happiest selves.
Diwali, celebrated in the first week of November this year, is a festival as old as our legends, as ancient as our culture. It takes place over five days, and it’s the most important annual holiday in India. As important to Hindus as Christmas is to Christians, the festival of lights is celebrated to symbolically bring forth the inner light protecting us from spiritual darkness. In other religions such as Jainism and Sikhism, Diwali also marks the defeat of evil.
As an agricultural society that worships the goddess of wealth, Lakshmi, Indians honor Diwali according to the lunar calendar months Asvina and Kartika. The festival marks the last harvest of the year when accounting books are officially closed. Lakshmi is said to wander the earth in search of homes that will welcome her. That’s the reason the Diwali lights are laid out around the home: clay lamps called diya or deepa are lined up in a row called avali.
There are variations in the mythology as celebrated in India. For example, in Northern India, where I was born, residents welcome Rama’s return to the city of Ayodhya after 14 years of wandering. They honor his defeat of Ravana by lighting the diya. In the South, Diwali is known as the day the god Krishna vanquished Narakasura. And in the western part of the country, Diwali is celebrated as the day Bali was sent by Vishnu to reign over the world of the dead. All the stories have the celebration of good over evil in common.
There are five days of Diwali:
Day one: We celebrate by cleaning and upgrading our homes and businesses. We consider it good luck to buy gold and silver on this day, as well as to acquire new kitchen utensils. It’s sometimes called Dhanteras.
Day two: We light the diyas and create designs called rangolis on our floors and pavements, using chalk, powder, rice, and flower pedals. It’s called Chhoti Diwali.
Day three: The main day (November 4 in 2021) of the festival; this is when we set off fire crackers and families get together for prayer to the goddess — the Lakshmi puja. Then we play music and feast on delicious foods like samosas, banana malpua, a fried pancake dessert; barfi, a creamy sweet made from condensed milk, sugar, and nuts; and karanji, crescent-shaped pastries stuffed with poppy seeds, sugar, nuts, and cardamon. On this third day we celebrate three deities: in addition to Lakshmi, we add the elephant-headed god of wisdom, Ganesh; and the lord of wealth, Kuber.
Day four: This is the first day of our new year, called Padwa. More celebrations ensue, and families and friends get together to exchange gifts and food.
Day five: Marking the end of the festival, it is unique in its sole dedication to the bond between brothers and sisters. The brother promises to protect his sister from untoward situations while the sister prays for her brother’s longevity. A teeka of rice and vermilion is applied on the brother’s forehead, followed by arti and partaking of sweets. Usually, a meal comprising special dishes and sweet delicacies follows.
Like our ancestors, let us thrive in the light of Diwali today, and in the light of Wholistic Wellbeing for the rest of our happy new year.