Winter marks a period filled with festivals of lights and Deepavali ushers in this season of lights.
Deepavali is by far the most popular festival, celebrated all over India. It is also the most popular Indian festival celebrated all over the world. Deepavali as the name itself suggests, is the festival of lights – an array of lights, literally.
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.
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 darker 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 our houses before the community retires for the night.
So it is an apt need for seasonal lighting and all one needs is a reason for celebration, a reason for lighting and Deepavali comes with a number of reasons for celebration.
Also during this month the air is relatively still in many parts of India because the south west monsoon has just ended. Still air is needed for the lamps to burn brightly.
Deepavali – Many festivals in One
It will be interesting to note that Deepavali itself is not just one festival. It is many festivals celebrated together as a season of festivals.
Kaumudi Mahotsava – Origins of Deepavali
If we search for the origin of this festival, then we come to see that in days gone by, long ago, in fact, millennia ago, the people of this civilization used to celebrate a month long festival then known as Kaumudi Mahotsava.
The word Kaumudi draws its source from Kamal, the lotus. Kaumudi is a water lily. Kaumudi also means moon-light.
In this season, after the monsoon, this land India, would have had four months of incessant rain. All the village ponds and lakes would be full, brimming with crystal clear, fresh water. These water bodies would have had a surfeit of lotuses and lilies blooming in them. The sky is usually clear and the moon is visible through the month, not being obliterated by the monsoon clouds.
These water bodies would therefore have been lit up with beautiful rows of water lilies, bobbing merrily, reflecting the light of the moon.
One can well imagine what a beautiful sight it would have been. It would have seemed like a celestial festival.
No wonder our ancients thought it fit to name it a month long festival named after the scenario, which is a feast to the eye and to the mind.
Flower festivals are held in many parts of the world in different seasons to celebrate Nature as she blooms with joy. The Kaumudi Mahotsava seems to have been a precursor to all as even 5000 years ago, during the times of Mahabharata, there is reference to this period as Kaumudi. Kaumudi is the month when Krishna departs on his peace mission to the court of Hastinapura.
Within this Kaumudi Mahotsava period of one month there are a range of festivals with Deepavali as one among them. With its array of lights, Deepavali stands out as its premier festival and by common usage, has come to symbolize this entire period and the Kaumudi Mahotsava.
In those days, people had the leisure, the pleasure and the measure of time to celebrate their prosperity with a series of festivals spread over a month. Today, we are living in a fast world, where everything is crammed, where everything is rushed, where everything is abridged.
It is no wonder then that a month long celebration of Kaumudi Mahotsava has also become abridged by the people to a shorter Deepavali festival. In other words, in modern times when everything has become abridged, all these festivals too have collectively come to be abridged and celebrated as a single festival called Deepavali.
Reviving Kaumudi Mahotsava
When man ceases to be a machine and realizes that he is a human and starts looking at life as a celebration, then we can once again go back to celebrating a month long Kaumudi Mahotsava.
To do that, what is even more important, an urgent job on hand is to rejuvenate the village lakes, tanks and all other water bodies of the land, so that when it rains we can harness the waters, where it rains and let the lotus, the national flower of India bloom in every water body. We can then feast our eyes in the wonderful spread of the lotus and white water lily and celebrate Kaumudi Mahotsava month both with our outward eye – our eye and senses, as well as with our inward eye – our mind.
Deepavali celebrated under different names
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 return of Rama to Ayodhya with Sita and Lakshmana from a 14 year Vanavas, exile and after defeating Ravana, the Rakshasa. It marks the coronation of Rama as King of Ayodhya.
In Western India, the focus is on celebrating it as Lakshmi Pooja and the start of a New Financial Accounting year, in 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.
Typically, in present times, Deepavali spans over 5 days starting from the 13th dark phase of the moon, Krishna Paksha of Indian month of Aswija, known as Aipasi in South, to 2 days after Karthik Amavasya.