Winter marks a period filled with festivals of light.
Deepavali is by far, the most popular one, celebrated all over India. It is also the most popular Indian festival celebrated the world over. Deepavali as the name itself suggests, is an array of lights. While Deepavali is celebrated all over India, it is interesting to note that it is celebrated in different parts of India to rejoice very different events.
In South India, Deepavali is celebrated as Naraka Chaturdasi, to commemorate the defeat of the Asura, Naraka, by Krishna.
In North India it is celebrated as the coronation of Rama as the King of Ayodhya, post His return from a 14 year Vanavas, exile, after defeating Ravana, the Rakshasa.
In Western India, the focus is on celebrating it as Lakshmi Puja, the start of a New Financial Accounting year, by the traditional trader families.
In the north west of India it is celebrated as Kubera Puja.
Similarly, other regions too have their special reason to celebrate Deepavali.
But despite these varied reasons all over India, Deepavali is uniformly celebrated as the festival of Lights. How has this come to be so?
In the Indian calendar, Deepavali comes about 3 weeks after the Navaratri festivities. It marks the onset of winter. It starts getting dark, earlier each day, even when the evening is still young. That is when there is need for lights – a string of lights to brighten up one’s life, to brighten up the houses when there is still time before the community retires for the night.
So, it is an apt need for seasonal lighting when darkness sets in even before the night.
In olden times, it was not celebrated as just a one day festival, the way we do now, but was a month long festival, known as Kaumudi Mahotsav.
Kaumudi is a water lily. In this season, after the monsoons, the sky is clear and the moon is visible through the month, not being obliterated by the monsoon clouds. The tanks are filled with crystal clear, fresh water. One can well imagine what a beautiful sight it would have been. The tanks lit up with beautiful rows of water lilies, bobbing merrily, reflecting the light of the moon. It would have seemed like a celestial festival.
Flower festivals are held in many parts of the world in different seasons to celebrate alongside Nature as she blooms with joy. The Kaumudi Mahotsav seems to have been a precursor to all.
Even 5000 years ago, during the times of Mahabharata, there is reference to this period as Kaumudi, as the month when Krishna departs on his peace mission to the court of Hastinapura.
Festivities such as Deepavali, Kubera Puja, Lakshmi Puja, Bhai Dhooj, Naraka Chaturdasi, Rama Pattabisheka, Mahavira Pari Nirvana allcoincide within this festive month of Kaumudi Mahotsav. In modern times where everything has become abridged, all these festivals too have collectively come to be abridged and celebrated as a single festival called Deepavali.
Each festival has its unique identity and reason for celebration. When we identify ourselves with each festival and celebrate it for its essence, then life itself becomes a celebration.