One of the biggest
festivals of Hindus, Deepawali or Diwali in India is celebrated with
lots of enthusiasm and happiness. This festival is celebrated for five
continuous days, with the third day being celebrated as the main Diwali or as 'Festival of Lights'. Fireworks are always associated
with this festival. The day is celebrated with people lighting diyas,
candles all around their house. Lakshmi Puja is performed in the
evening to seek divine blessings of Goddess of Wealth. Diwali gifts
are exchanged among all near and dear ones.
The Mythological Story
The mythological story of Sagar Manthan or ‘churning the ocean’ may
help us understand why Lakshmi, the Goddess of Wealth, is worshipped
during Diwali. Legend has it that once all the devtas, or demigods
were under a curse that made them weak in body and mind. They were
advised by Brahma (Creator in the Hindu Holy Trinity of
Creator-Preserver-Destroyer) to drink amrit, or the elixir of life.
But amrit could only be obtained by the churning of the ocean, which,
needless to add, was no mean feat. Now the question arose as to how to
go about churning the gargantuan ocean. Lord Vishnu (the Hindu
Preserver of the Universe) came up with a solution saying that Mount
Meru could act as the churning stick, while Vasuki (the mythical
serpent) could be used as the coil around Meru. Pleased with the
suggestion, the devtas went to the asuras, or demons and sought their
help in accomplishing the formidable task. The devtas’ promise to
share the amrit with the asuras tricked the latter into consenting to
tug Vasuki from one end.
Thus ensued a phenomenal churning that, however, threatened to destroy
the three worlds (Heaven, Earth and Hell). The gods simply could not
let that happen, so Vishnu appeared in the guise of a giant tortoise
or Kurma (Vishnu's second incarnation) and stabilised the churning by
acting as a base under Mount Meru. It is said that eventually,
spectacular treasures emerged from the great ocean including Laksmi
the Goddess of Prosperity and Wealth, Sura the Goddess of Wine,
Chandra, or the moon, Apsaras, the celestial nymphs, Kaustabha, the
precious gem of Vishnu, Uchchaishravas, the divine horse, Parijata,
the wishing coral tree, Kamdhenu, the wish-fulfilling Divine Cow,
Airavata, the four-tusked white elephant, Panchajanya, or the conch,
Sharanga, the invincible bow, and Dhanvantri, Nimi and Bharadwaj - the
physicians and surgeons.
Goddess Lakshmi - The Main Deity
Since Goddess Lakshmi was amongst the spectacular treasures that
emerged from the great ocean, hence, along with Ganesha, who is
customarily invoked before ceremonies are performed, Lakshmi presides
over all the ceremonies that are performed during Diwali.
Days before Diwali, people get into a veritable tailspin, what with
all the planning and shopping to be done for the ceremonies,
especially for the grand Diwali night.
They wash, clean and even whitewash their homes and shops – it seems
no god or goddess blesses a mess! The women folk especially in South
India decorate their homes and doorsteps with colourful rangolis
(patterns made on the floor by using various coloured powders). Dhan
Two days before Diwali is called dhan teras (dhan is wealth in Hindi
and teras is 13th, to signify the 13th day after the full moon).
This day is devoted to Goddess Lakshmi as it is believed that she pays
each house a visit on this day of the year. People hold a Lakshmi puja
(prayer ceremony) in their homes. This day is especially significant
for the merchant class, and quite understandably so. Traditionally
this day marked the commencement of the new financial year and is
still considered to do so by some people. In urban India, many
business deals are finalised around this time and business houses give
a Diwali bonus and gifts to their employees on the occasion.