Delights of Deepawali
Deepawali, which literally means ‘the row of lamps’ is celebrated as the festival of lights in the month of October or November (Asoj or Kartik), about a fortnight after Dashain. This festival is also called Tihar, which lasts for five consecutive days and is observed in honor of Laxmi, the goddess of wealth and good luck. It is the most friendly festival observed throughout Nepal and also India. Laxmi, the goddess of prosperity and good fortune is invited into every home. People enjoy five days of feasting and family gatherings. It also heralds the advent of autumn in Nepal. Natural scenery is very pleasant during this time of the year.
The aroma of Deepawali pervades the atmosphere several days before the actual festival begins. During Deepawali, traditional lamps are lit with twisted cotton wicks (Batti) saturated with pure ghee or mustard oil in a small earthen bowl called Diya. So it is also called Diyabati. It is usually solemnized in the last week of October or the first week of November on the occasion of Amabasya or Aunsi (full dark night of Kartik) according to the Nepali lunar calendar. In this period, the sky is starry but the moon is missing in the milky sky throughout the whole night. A gentle, genial and warm weather continues and purifies the mind of the Nepali people during this festival. This festivity reflects true rejoicing and jubilation of the masses.
Laxmi Puja is observed on the auspicious occasion of Deepawali. This is the third day of Tihar when the sacred cow is worshiped with great honor. Hindus worship and regard the cow as their holy mother. So people worship the cow in the morning with garlands of flowers and apply red tika on her forehead. Thus the Hindus pay their tribute to the mother cow. The ceremony is solemnized with reverence in the morning hour of Deepawali. This tradition was initiated by the people of Ayodhya to express their boundless joy when Lord Rama returned after 14 years’ exile. This is illustrated in the Ramayan.
A few days before Tihar, preparations are in full swing for cleaning and whitewashing to add a new look to houses and buildings. During this festival, houses, shops, offices, factories and mills are brightly decorated with lights. They are also illuminated with electric bulbs and traditional lamps. It is a time of lights and decorations. This type of illumination is done for five consecutive days, beginning from the first day of Tihar. But special light arrangements are done on the day of Laxmi Puja. Oil-fed traditional lamps light courtyards, doorways, roof-tops, verandahs and windows. All streets and roads are full of flags and beautiful banners. People stroll around in new clothes and buy sweets and gifts.
After the illumination in the evening, the main part of Laxmi Puja is performed at night. An illuminated and well-decorated house is believed to draw the goddess of prosperity. This also makes for easy entrance of Laxmi to every house. It is believed that the goddess of wealth is ritually invited to enter the house and offer blessing to its occupants. For this purpose, a ritualistic drawing is made of purified cow-dung plaster to guide Laxmi through the main door. From the drawing, a trail of plaster of rice and red vermillion leads into the house and the room where Laxmi is worshiped with utmost devotion and dedication.
A beautifully decorated image of Goddess Laxmi is placed before the family treasure box or safe, which contains hard cash, jewels and jewelleries, valuable documents, ornaments and cheque books. Prayers are offered, believing that the fortunes will grow.
Throughout the whole night the earthen lamps filled with ghee or pure mustard oil, are kept burning at the place where the goddess of wealth is worshiped. To please this prosperous and generous goddess of good luck all the doors and windows of the house are decorated attractively. Nobody wants to miss this golden opportunity. Thus there is competition in the worship of the wealth goddess. Everybody tries his best to welcome and please the goddess of prosperity. She loves lights and sacred cowrie shells. Children love to play with fireworks during Tihar, especially during Laxmi Puja. However, as free crackers could be dangerous and harmful, they are banned in Nepal these days.
It is understood that being the wife of Lord Vishnu, Laxmi is the paragon of beauty, who sprang from the fathom of the sea when Gods and the Demons churned the sea together. There was a tug-of-war between Gods and Demons. At last, Lord Vishnu chose her as his life partner. She wears a crown of jewels and garlands of scented flowers. Her arms are bedecked with heavenly gems. She is herself considered a valuable treasure of the ocean. She holds a conch shell in one hand, blossomed lotus in the other, a sheaf of rice in the third one and a jar full of nectar in her fourth hand. She loves to rest on a fully-blown lotus with her husband Vishnu under the shadow (hood) of Sheshnag (mythological snake).
The Nepalis worship this benevolent goddess and offer gifts and sweets to please her. She is believed to travel around the earth on an owl, her vehicle, making house-to-house inspection to see whether it is clean or not. Being a lover of light, she also observes whether a light is left burning throughout the whole night in her honor or not. She thus visits every house. If pleased, she protects all the valuable things and grain-stores of each family and grants prosperity for the coming year. For this purpose, every house is decorated with red powder, flowers and festoons. She likes to visit only those houses, which are fully prepared and artistically decorated.
All monetary transactions are forbidden on this auspicious occasion. The only exception is the giving of small coins and food (Selroti) to small groups of Bhailo singers. Groups of singers go door to door singing and dancing and asking for money. This is a time-honored tradition. Girls are supposed to ask for money on this solemn occasion. Boys’ turn comes the next day, which is called Deusi.
Deepawali is also considered auspicious for gambling. Before 1940, gambling was legal in Nepal during the five days of Tihar. Nowadays, it is banned in public according to the law but people still gamble in their houses. Happy gamblers assemble at certain houses; sit on carpets shouting their bets, throwing the cowrie shells. In the ancient days, cowrie shells were considered a medium of exchange. It is believed that Laxmi loves gambling.
The final day of Tihar is spent in friendly family gambling.
Before 1940, during the five days of Tihar troupes of musicians used to go around the town announcing that games were now open to all. Gambling seems to receive semi religious sanction during Tihar in the belief that it is pleasing to Goddess Laxmi.
Newars of the Kathmandu valley perform Mha Puja on the first day of the bright lunar fortnight of Kartik. It is the worship of one’s body or self. It is believed that the human body is divine and the heavenly spirit dwells in it. The Puja is performed for purifying the heart and the soul for the coming New Year. The day also honors Yama, the lord of death.
On the last day of Tihar called Bhai Tika, sisters worship their brothers, who bestow blessings and benediction upon their sisters for a long and prosperous conjugal life. Sisters also pray to God for their brothers' long life and wish them success in all walks of life.
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