Celebrate Diwali, the Festival of Lights

Diwali, or the Festival of Lights, is one of the most significant and widely celebrated holidays in India. Diwali is ancient Sanskrit for "row of clay lamps." As the description Festival of Lights might suggest, the celebration of Diwali is a uniquely sensory experience that is shared and enjoyed by neighbors with lighted lamps (diyas), exciting fireworks displays and delicious food.

Diwali is one of the most significant festivals celebrated in Hinduism, symbolizing the victory of good over evil. One Diwali legend has it that the holiday observes the day that King Rama returned to Ayodhya after rescuing his queen and defeating her kidnapper, Ravana. Another legend has to do with Narakaasura, a demon who kidnapped 16,000 daughters of the gods and who was eventually dispatched by Lord Krishna.

Jains and Sikhs also celebrate Diwali. Even though the holiday is different depending on the religion and the region, it allows people to gather together with family and friends and to encourage wealth and prosperity by pleasing the goddess Lakshmi.

Diwali is celebrated over five days. On the first day of Diwali, Dhanteras or Dhantryaodashi, homes and businesses are redecorated with colorful ornamentation designed to greet and receive Lakshmi. Diminutive footprints are drawn with rice and vermilion to welcome her and lamps are lit to help illuminate her path. The second day of Diwali is called Choti Diwali, or Narak Chatardasi. Choti Diwali refers to a smaller Diwali, in which the holiday is celebrated, but the best moments are reserved for the third and most important day. The legend goes that it was on this day that Lord Krishna destroyed the demon Naraksaaura. In doing so, he freed the world from fear. This day involves a ritual in which fragrant baths are taken before sunrise because that is what Lord Krishna received after his victory.

Day three is the centerpiece of Diwali and is marked by the ritual known as Lakshmi-Puja, which is observed in the evening. Small pots of clay are lighted for the purpose of driving away evil spirits, and Diwali songs of devotion are sung to praise the goddess Lakshmi. This day also involves the practice known as Maharashtra, in which dry coriander seeds are pounded into a kind of paste and set out as an offering. The high esteem in which Hindus hold cattle is reflected in the adornment of cows by farmers. In southern India, cattle receive the highest reverence because of the belief that these animals are the reincarnation of the Goddess Lakshmi.

The fourth day is called Govardhan-Puja, which marks the new year, particularly for business, as old accounts are settled. Another celebration that takes place on the fourth day is the observation of Annakoot. Annakoot translates into "mountain of food," and Diwali food is a very important tradition in the enjoyment of the festivities and celebrations. On this fourth day, rituals take place in temples in which deities enjoy milk baths and are attired in bright decorative clothing adorned with diamonds, rubies and pearls, as well as other precious metals. Following the prayers and other means of worships, delicacies and sweets are proffered to the gods.

After the prayers and traditional worship, innumerable varieties of delicious sweets are offered to the deities. Known as Prasad, which translates literally into a gracious gift, this gift can be almost anything that is actually edible. Most often this Diwali food offering is laid out ceremonially on large banana leaves. The Diwali decorations are highly reverential and intended to strengthen the approach to sharing good times and receiving greater fortune that will in turn, of course, be shared.

Like all Hindu religious beliefs, the cycle of life and the belief in karmic retribution lies at the foundation. In addition, there also takes place the reading of scripture and prayer known as Bhog. The final day is known Bhai Dooj, which spotlights harmony between brothers and sisters. On this day, sisters apply mark made of tilak, or a bit of paste, to their brother's foreheads.

Diwali is a period for the enjoyment of fun and good times as well as for observing moments of religious significance. A chief point of this holiday is that, if people would only share their wealth and good fortune with others in a genuinely selfless way, it would go far to separate humanity from the demons that wrought evil upon the world. The final celebration of love and understanding between brothers and sisters is symbolized by the idea that happiness is the only true sign of wealth in the world and is expressed in its most purely divine manner when it endorses and encourages a deep spring of spiritual happiness between one and others.

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