by Jayaram Yeredanamane in Detroit:
Deepavali or Diwali, popularly known as the “festival of lights, the awareness of the inner light” (TAMASO MA JYOTIRGAMAYA), is one of the most important festivals of the year.
The name “Diwali” is a contraction of “Deepavali” (Sanskrit: दीपावली Dīpāvalī), which translates into “row of lamps”. Diwali involves the lighting of small clay lamps (diyas or dīpas) in Sanskrit: दीप) filled with oil to signify the victory of good over evil.
Deepavali marks the end of the harvest season in most of India. Farmers give thanks for the bounty of the year gone by, and pray for a good harvest for the year to come. Traditionally this marked the closing of accounts for businesses dependent on the agrarian cycle, and is the last major celebration before winter. Lakshmi symbolizes wealth and prosperity, and her blessings are invoked for a good year ahead.
There are two legends that associate the worship of Lakshmi on this day.
1. According to the first legend, on this day, Lakshmi emerged from Kshira Sagar, the Ocean of Milk, during the great churning of the oceans, Samudra manthan.
2. The second legend (more popular in western India) relates to the Vamana avatar of the big three Vishnu, the incarnation he assumed to kill the demon king Bali. On this day, Vishnu came back to his abode the Vaikuntha; so those who worship Lakshmi receive the benefit of her benevolent mood, and are blessed with mental, physical and material well-being.
As per spiritual references, on this day “Lakshmi-panchayatan” enters the Universe. Vishnu, Indra, Kubera, Gajendra and Lakshmi are elements of this “panchayatan” (a group of five). The tasks of these elements are mentioned below.
1. Lakshmi: Divine Energy (Shakti) which provides energy to all the above activities.
2. Vishnu: Happiness (happiness and satisfaction)
3. Kubera: Wealth (generosity; one who shares wealth)
4. Indra: Opulence (satisfaction due to wealth)
5. Gajendra: Carries the wealth
Deepavali significance as per Maharashtra:
In Maharashtra, the festival celebrated for five days signifies the following:
1. FIRST DAY: starts with Dhanteras on which most Indian business communities begin their financial year.
2. SECOND DAY: Naraka Chaturdasi, marks the vanquishing of the demon Narakasura by Lord Krishna and his wife Satyabhama.
3. THIRD DAY: Amavasya, the third day of Deepawali, marks the worship of Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth in her most benevolent mood, fulfilling the wishes of her devotees. Amavasya also tells the story of Lord Vishnu, who in his dwarf “VAMANA” the fifth incarnation from dashavatara, conquered the Bali, and banished him to Patala.
4. FOURTH DAY: It is on the fourth day of Deepawali, Kartika Shudda Padyami, that Bali went to patala and took the reins of his new kingdom in there.
5. FIFTH DAY: The fifth day is referred to as Yama Dvitiya (also called Bhai Dooj), and on this day sisters invite their brothers to their homes.