Friday, November 09, 2007

Deepavali (Diwali, Divali)

According to my calendar, today is the beginning of the Hindu holiday Deepavali (sometimes shortened as Diwali or Divali). The word deepa or dipa means "light of the dharma", and avali means "a continuous line". The more literal translation is "rows of clay lamps".

(If you watch The Office, this is the holiday that was featured on one of the episodes, where Kelly invited everyone to come to the Divali celebration.)

[This holiday is also celebrated by other Indian religions, including Jainism and Sikhism, two other religions of which I know nothing. I am focusing on the Hindu aspects. If I had the time I would post about them too but I don't, so you can read about them in Wikipedia by clicking on the links. Honestly, I guess I didn't know just how many religions there were in the world! But anyway, back to our holiday.]

Deepavali is a major Indian festival celebrated as the "Festival of Lights", generally celebrated for 5 consecutive days. It is one of the most important and most popular festivals in India. The festival celebrates the uplighting of darkness and victory of good over the evil within. The most significant esoteric meaning is "the awareness of the inner light".

Central to Hindu philosophy is the assertion that there is something beyond the physical body and mind which is pure, infinite, and eternal, called the Atman. Just as we celebrate the birth of our physical being, Deepavali is the celebration of this Inner Light, in particular the knowing of which outshines all darkness (removes all obstacles and dispels all ignorance), awakening the individual to one's true nature, not as the body, but as the unchanging, infinite, imminent and transcendent reality. With the realization of the Atman, comes universal compassion, love, and the awareness of the oneness of all things (higher knowledge). This brings Ananda (Inner Joy or Peace).

On Deepavali, many wear new clothes, share sweets and snacks. There are festive fireworks, lights, flowers, and worship. One important practice Hindus follow is to light oil lamps in their homes on Deepavali morning. By lighting the oil lamps, the Hindus are thanking the gods for the happiness, knowledge, peace and wealth that they have received.

There are several mythological events related to or associated with Deepavali, including the the victory of Lord Rama over the demon king Ravana (when Rama and his family returned to Ayodhya after a long exile and the people lit oil lamps to light their path in the darkness); the day Krishna defeated the demon Narakasura; the day Bali went to rule the nether-world, obeying the order of Vishnu; the day Lord Krishna defeated Indra, the deity of thunder and rain (also the story where the basis of the karma philosphy was set forth); and more!


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