By Reya Mehrotra
Diwali is one of the biggest Hindu festivals, which is celebrated with much enthusiasm not just in India but in many other countries too. Festivities, family gatherings, worshipping of goddess Kali and Lakshmi and playing games together make the day special. Different regions and faiths have their own reason to celebrate Diwali and that’s what the festival is all about.
In Bengal, Odisha and parts of eastern India, Diwali is a unique affair. Bengalis celebrate the festival with Kali Puja and offer meat, fish and hibiscus flowers, among others, to the goddess. The puja happens overnight in various pandals that are set up across the region. Kolkata’s Kalighat and Dakshineshwar temples observe a grand celebration. In Odisha, the people worship their ancestors in heaven. To seek their blessings, they burn jute sticks and hope for good luck. This tradition is called Kauriya Kathi. They also worship goddess Lakshmi and Kali and Lord Ganesha. In Assam, too, the festival is celebrated with much enthusiasm and people worship goddess Kali and Lakshmi.
There isn’t much difference in the way the north Indians and the south Indians celebrate Diwali. In Tamil Nadu, lamps are lit and offerings are made to the divine. Deepavali Legiyam, a medicine, is also prepared with herbs to aid the digestion of the rich festive food and sweets. In rural Karnataka, cultural programmes and competitions are held apart from the Lakshmi puja while in the urban areas, goddess Lakshmi and lord Vishnu are worshipped. In Kerala, Diwali is a homely affair with families welcoming guests and celebrating by lighting oil lamps. It starts with a ritualistic oil bath and a sumptuous meal.
Since a large Indian population resides in Australia, Diwali is celebrated within Indian communities in Sydney and Melbourne. The Federation Square celebration of Diwali in Melbourne has become a huge celebration in Australia. It is marked with grand display of fireworks, traditional Indian dances and cultural and art shows that make for live entertainment.
Since Indians are a good-sized population in the US, Diwali is a holiday which is celebrated across cities of Illinois, New Jersey, Texas, and California. Diwali nights are hosted by the temples where priests perform the prayers followed by a communal dinner. Like everywhere in the world, large family gatherings and exchanges of sweets are a part of the festival.
Diwali is a public holiday in Singapore. Since it has a big Indian population, the streets are full of flowers, lights and buntings. People dress up and offer prayers and lights. Storefronts are decorated in hues of red and gold and the wafting aroma of flowers and incense fills the air. People are dressed in their fineries as prayers are held to thank the divine.
Mauritians of the Hindu faith celebrate Diwali by cleaning and decorating their houses, wearing new clothes and distributing sweets and savouries, as elsewhere. Once the sun sets, clay lamps are lit and colourful garlands are put up for decoration. Not just Diwali, Mauritians celebrate Ugadi, Christmas, Chinese Spring festival, Ganesh Chaturthi and Holi too.
Since Lord Ram is said to have belonged to Ayodhya, Diwali in the north is celebrated with much gusto and is one of the biggest festivals. In Punjab, the festival marks the arrival of winters and while Sikhs celebrate at the gurdwaras, Punjabi Hindus worship goddess Lakshmi. In Uttar Pradesh, the celebrations happen on a large scale, especially in Varanasi on the banks of the river Ganga. The river sparkles with lit earthen lamps floating in the water as the echoes of chants and prayers surround the area. The Ganga aarti is a sight to behold
and Dev Deepavali follows Diwali. It is said that the gods descend on Earth to bathe in the Ganges on this day.
In Gujarat, Diwali marks the end of the year. The festival begins with Vaag Baras, Dhanteras, Kali Chaudash, Diwali and then concludes with Bestu Varas, which is also known as New Year’s Day. It is followed by Bhai Bij. For Maharashtrians, the celebrations begin with Vasu Baras, in honour of cows. Dhanteras is called Dhanatrayodashi, where the ancient god of medicine Dhanvantari is worshipped and then Narak Chatudarshi follows. Maharashtrians, too, pray to goddess Lakshmi and observe Diwali Cha Padva, to celebrate the love of husband and wife. The celebrations end with Bhav Bij and Tusli Vivah, which marks the beginning of marriages.