India is a land of fairs and festivals. Many festivals are celebrated in India, regularly every year. Holi, Diwali, Dussehra and Raksha Bandhan are the four great Hindu festivals. Though Diwali is celebrated by all the Hindus, it has a special significance for the Vaish community.
The festival is celebrated at the end of the rainy season and the beginning of the winter season. Sometimes, it takes place towards the end of October and at other times in the November. According to Hindu calendar, it falls every year in the month of Kartik. The season at this time is pleasant. It is neither hot not too cold.
The festival is celebrated in honour of the goddess Lakshmi, the Hindu goddess of wealth. It is believed that the goddess blesses those with prosperity, who keeps their houses neat and clean on this day. The goddess is supposed to visit the Hindu homes at midnight. The Jains also celebrated the festival with great enthusiasm because it was on this day that Lord Mahavira achieved Nirvan.
The day before the festival great preparations are made. Houses are white-washed and well-cleaned. Furniture, doors and windows are all polished and varnished. The walls are decorated with curtains and pictures. Buntings and festoons are specially prepared for the occasion and are hung at places. In every house sweets are prepared or purchased from the market. Sweets are exchanged among friends and relatives.
The day itself is marked with great rejoicing and merry-making. The work ‘Diwali’ is derived from the Sanskrit work “Deepawali” which means a “row of light”. The illumination at night is a sight to see. There are rows of light to be seen on the roof of every house building. Earthen lamps are lighted in large numbers. Many people now use multicolored electric bulbs to illuminate their houses. The festival ends with the worship of goddess Lakshmi at about ten or eleven p.m. A picture or a small idol of the goddess is bathed in milk, prayers are offered, and sweets are distributed.
The Hindu festival of light has many advantages. Houses are all cleaned and white-washed on this occasion. The burning of sarson (mustard) oil purifies the atmosphere and kills insects that breed during the rainy season. It provides an occasion for merry-making for all. The children specially enjoy it. They get toys, sweets and delicious dishes to eat. As sweets are exchanged on this occasion, the festival also serves to increase mutual love among friends and relatives.
The festival also has certain disadvantages. Sometimes, owing to neglect, or forgetfulness, fire breaks out and much damage is caused to life and property. It is also traditional to gamble on this occasion. Some people suffer heavy losses. In fact, gambling starts several days before the festival. Those who lose, especially among the poorer sections, try to make good their loss through thefts. Hence, there is a marked increase in crime.
In spite of these drawbacks, I like this festival the most of all. Foreigners, who have had occasion to enjoy it, have also praised it highly. There is nothing to equal it in any country or religion.