This video from Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly shows a reenactment of the event that most Hindus observe as the inspiration for Diwali: Lord Rama’s return from exile. Diwali, the annual five-day Festival of Lights, welcomes what is hoped to be an auspicious new year. Hindus also make a “Grand Puja” or ritual prayer towards the end of the Diwali celebration using the elements of both fire and water to communicate with God.
Hinduism Glossary (Document)
Diwali, commonly known as the Festival of Lights, is the most widely celebrated holiday in India. An official holiday, it is observed by Sikhs, Jains and Buddhists. Diwali marks the beginning of a new year, when followers settle financial accounts and conflicts with others, and look forward to new enterprises. Though celebrated in different styles, Diwali universally signifies the renewal of life. The name Diwali comes from the Sanskrit word “Deepavalai.” Deepa, meaning “light,” and avalai, meaning “a row,” refer to the rows of lights customarily placed at the entrance of homes during the five-day celebration.
The origins of Diwali are associated with at least five different events in the rich tradition of Hinduism. The story most Hindus observe as the inspiration for Diwali is Lord Rama’s return to Ayodhya with his consort, Sita, from a 14-year exile in the forest, victorious in his battle over the demon, Ravana. In countless cities and villages throughout India, this scene is re-enacted with great detail and pageantry.
Each of the five days of Diwali has special significance. On Dhanteras, the first day of Diwali, homes and businesses are cleaned, renovated and decorated in anticipation of the new year and the arrival of Goddess Lakshmi who provides blessings of wealth and prosperity. Lights are left burning through the night. Women often purchase gold, silver, new outfits or kitchen utensils, believing this day to be auspicious.
On the second day, Nakra – Chaturdashi, devotees observe the victorious return of a blood-smeared Krishna announcing the death of the demon-king, Narakasura. According to some stories, Narakasura attacked Krishna but was later killed by Krishna’s consort Satyabhama. Devotees take a symbolic bath and light lamps to celebrate liberation from evil and the triumph of light. The light is thought to dispel ignorance and bring enlightenment.
Lakshmi Puja is held on the third day, Chopada Puja. Devotees light pathways with lamps to guide Lakshmi, who is believed to return to the world to shower her blessings on all. People exchange gifts, visit temples and friends, and prepare feasts. After ceremonial practices, homemade sweets are offered to the goddess and then distributed to devotees as prasad, or blessed offerings.
On the fourth day, Govardhan-Puja, devotees bathe deities in milk and dress them in fine clothing to commemorate the day Krishna defeated Indra after he drowned the City of Gokul. On the final day, Bhayya-Dul, brothers visit their sisters in their homes to commemorate Yamaraja, the God of Death who is fed special foods by his sister, Yami, Goddess of the Yamuna River, as a gift of love.
Regardless of the origins of Diwali, it is a holiday meant to bring about the highest and most honorable attitudes and behavior among people.
MENAKA KANNAN: Diwali is the festival of lights in the Hindu faith. Basically, it symbolizes King Rama's return to his kingdom after being exiled. And the story goes that his father banished him from the kingdom and sent him to exile in the forest. On Diwali, we try to reenact the way that Rama came back. So the citizens all danced in the streets, and so the same way we dance on Diwali.
Generally, the more classical dances are devoted toward the gods, and on this occasion probably more toward Rama.
Part of the celebration of Diwali includes a Grand Puja. The puja comes near the end of the Diwali celebration, and it is the biggest part of the entire celebration. Basically, all the priests from various different temples, along with the children, go to the stage and begin to do prayers to the Lord.
In the puja the fire is our medium of communication, basically the way that humans can talk to God. Throughout Hinduism, the fire represents the purification of all things, and it takes away all the sins. As they chant the Lord's name and the different Vedic chants, they place the flower in front of the fire and just continue to do that, and that is a way of offering to the Lord.
Another very holy part of the puja is the water. It is placed in front of the gods so it becomes sanctified and purified, and also it has a little bit of the water from Ganges River, which is the holiest of all rivers in India. So many people, after the puja, come forward to receive some water and drink it and sprinkle it on their heads to bless themselves.
Also, the illumination, the light that comes from the fire, is a way of taking away the ignorance that we have. So after the puja is done, people take the fire, they rub their hands over the fire and they bring it over their head, basically to illuminate themselves and to take away their ignorance.
Every year we celebrate in the same way, just like King Rama is coming back every year.
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