For Indians, Diwali is one of the most awaited festivals of the year. This five-day extravaganza brings families together and infuses lives with colour, lights and sweets – loads of it! Happiness surrounds everyone on this festival as we gather to decorate our homes with rangoli, diyas, lanterns, while the heady aroma of delicious foods continuously wafts into the entire house all week long. And as evening dawns, kids and adults alike, will come together to play with fireworks and watch a stellar show of lights, sounds and colour!
In the midst of this cultural fest, we forget the historic facts about the festivals or interesting tidbits that make the festival extra special. So we rounded up four interesting facts about Diwali that will make you appreciate the festival of light more.
1. A LIT FESTIVAL
The word Diwali is derived from the Sanskrit dīpāvali which means “row of lights”. The Sanskrit word itself is broken down into two separate words: dīpa which stands for “lamp, light, lantern, candle, that which glows, shines, illuminates or knowledge” and āvali, “a row, range, continuous line, series” This explains why “light” has such rich significance to the festival.
2. NEW MOON AND DIWALI
Did you know that the celebration coincides with the new moon, known as the amāsvasya – the darkest night of the Hindu lunisolar calendar? Since Diwali is observed at the beginning of autumn, the festivities begin on Dhanteras, which is two days prior to amāsvasya, goes on till the second day of the first fortnight of the month of Kartik. Experts say this night ends the lunar month of Ashwin and starts the month of Kartika. The darkest night is the apex of the celebration and coincides with the second half of October or early November in the Gregorian calendar.
3. DIWALI IN HISTORY
One of the earliest mentions of Diwali can be found in the Sanskrit texts Padma Purana and Skanda Purana – both completed in the second half of the 1st millennium CE. It is in Skanda Purana that diyas are said to be symbols of the sun, which is believed to be the cosmic giver of light and energy to all life. Later on, we find the reference to the festival in King Harsha’s 7th century Sanskrit play Nagananda, which identifies the festival as Deepapratipadutsava (Deepa = light, pratipada= first day, utsava = festival). In his time, lamps were lit during the festival and newly engaged brides and grooms were given gifts. Similarly we find mention of the festival in the 9th century Kavyamimamsa by Rajasekhara who refers to Deepavali as Dipamalika. In this century, homes were whitewashed and oil lamps were used to decorate not only homes but also streets and markets in the night.
4. LIGHT FOR ALL
Contrary to popular perception. Hindus are not the only religious group who celebrate Diwali. Jains, Sikhs and Newar Buddhists too observe the festivities, but each faith celebrates it for different reasons, be it historical events or stories. Jains celebrate Diwali as “Mahavira Nirvana Divas”, the physical death and final nirvana of Mahavira. Sikhs, on the other hand, celebrate it as Bandi Chhor Divas in remembrance of the release of Guru Hargobind from the Gwalior Fort prison by the Mughal emperor, Jahangir, and the day he arrived at the Golden Temple in Amritsar. In Nepal, Newar Buddhists will worship Lakshmi and Vishnu during Diwali, in keeping with their Buddhist tradition to worship any deity that is significant to them. However, all these faiths see Diwali as a symbolic celebration of victory of light over darkness, knowledge over ignorance, and good over evil.