YOUth should know: The significance of Deepavali
Here are five things you should know about Deepavali.
In the lead-up to Deepavali, many eagerly anticipate the dizzyingly beautiful display of lights that arcs over the Little India area. However, the story and traditions behind the festival may not be so well-known to those who do not partake in the celebrations.
In 2023, Deepavali will take place on Nov 12, during the Tamil month of Aippasi. According to the Indian Heritage Centre, it is celebrated by Hindus, Sikhs, and Jains. Translated from Tamil, its name means “a row of lights.”
While some sources cite the name as being interchangeable with Diwali, there is a slight difference – Deepavali is the term largely used by South Indians, while North Indians usually call the festival Diwali. As such, the traditions and mythology behind each group’s celebrations have nuances that set them apart from each other.
Here are five things you should know about Deepavali:
1. The date for Deepavali is determined by the Hindu almanack
Each year, the date for Deepavali is confirmed by the Hindu almanack, which is released every April (Gregorian calendar).
The Hindu almanack releases thousands of calculations based on the Hindu calendrical system annually.
When interpreted by astrologers, it provides the basis for auspicious and inauspicious timings for various life activities and inaugural undertakings.
The almanack also allows the Hindu community to keep track of time, festivals, and important rituals.
According to an analysis of the almanack, the symbolic process of deriving these dates from the calendar helps with “commencing activities in the time most favourable to their essential purposes.”
The Hindu Endowments Board shared that Deepavali generally falls between Oct 15 and Nov 16 every year.
2. Deepavali is centred around light
The festival symbolises the triumph of light over darkness, good over evil, and knowledge over ignorance.
This is visually represented by lamps, colourful light displays and sparklers.
Celebrants light diyas, small oil lamps, and place them at ledges or in doorways. Their warm glow symbolises goodness and purity, and the victory of light over darkness.
Diyas may also be featured within kolam designs. The kolam is a grid-like design made of rice flour.
The kolam is usually drawn at the entrances of houses or near the family altar. This is done to invite in Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth, prosperity and beauty. It is believed that Lakshmi brings good fortune to the homes she visits.
3. Deepavali is rooted in mythology
According to the Temple of Fine Arts’ publication Deepavali Festival of Dance, A Love Offering, the festival celebrates the liberation of the demon king Narakasura’s people by Lord Krishna, the embodiment of light.
Narakasura, whose name is made up of the Sanskrit words Nara (human), Asura (demon), and Naraka (hell), was an “intolerable menace”.
Narakasura plundered and conquered the heavens and the earth, and was cruel to those under his oppressive rule.
His people prayed to Lord Krishna, who was enraged by his actions. Lord Krishna fought Narakasura, his commanders, and his counsellors. Eventually, he emerged victorious and defeated the demon king. However, he granted Bhumi, Narakasura’s mother, her wish and spared her grandson.
In line with the downfall of Narakasura, Deepavali is also known as Naraka Chathurdasi (Naraka’s 14th day).
While there are other widely-told myths and stories surrounding the festival, the story of Narakasura’s defeat is one of the most popular. Over the years, it has been adapted and represented through various forms of art, including classical dance performances.
4. Preparations for festivities include wearing of new clothes
In the lead up to Deepavali, many celebrants purchase new, brightly-coloured clothes. The new garments represent a new beginning, while the bright colours symbolise good luck and prosperity.
Men put on the dhoti, a piece of cloth that is knotted around the waist and covers the legs. Women wear the sari, a garment that involves the draping of fabric around the body.
In anticipation of the festival, families will also prepare treats for family members and guests to enjoy on the day itself.
The home will also be cleaned to appease the goddess Lakshmi, as she is believed to reside in the homes of those who are like her in virtue. For many, this entails grooming themselves well and keeping their living spaces clean and tidy.
5. Celebrants begin their day with an oil bath
On the morning of Deepavali, celebrants will wake up early in the morning and take an oil bath. The oldest present member of the family will place three drops of gingelly oil on the foreheads of the other family members, who may then take their baths.
The first meal of the day will be a sweet dish, which symbolises a good beginning. Throughout the rest of the day, celebrants can enjoy food such as murukku, a crunchy snack commonly made of rice flour, spices, and butter.
Celebrations also include temple visits, followed by visits to family and friends.
During the festive period, organisations such as the Indian Heritage Centre also host celebrations, where attendees can enjoy a vibrant display of dance, music, food, and fashion.
Those interested to find out more about Deepavali can visit the Indian Heritage Centre or browse its website.