INDIAN FESTIVALS : Festival of Lights
Deepavali Pandigai
By P. V Jagadisa Ayyar
Deepavali Pandigai goes by another name of Naraka Chaturdasi Snanam, perhaps from a bath taken before daybreak on the fourteenth day of the dark fortnight in the month of Arpisi, corresponding to the English months of September-October. Sri Krishna killed an asura named Narakasura on this day and the festival is intended to commemorate the incident.

The word ‘Deepavali’ means a row of lamps and it originated perhaps from the custom of illuminating villages on this festive occasion. In course of time this included fireworks. Children and even adults light firecrackers before daybreak and enjoy it immensely. New clothes, and firework display are considered signs of auspiciousness and hence people wear new clothes after the auspicious bath and enjoy the occasion.

The new moon day which follows the Deepavali day goes by the name of Deepavali Amavasya day. The occasion is considered to be especially favourable to propitiate the manes (Pitris) of the departed and hence libations of water with sesame or gingelly seeds are offered to them with the necessary Mantras or chantings. This offering, performed by the fatherless on all new moon days, goes by the name Pitri Tarpanam which means an ‘action to satisfy the manes of the forefathers.’ The Hindus are enjoined to offer oblations of water everyday to satisfy the devas, the rishis (sages) and the Pitris, and the new moon days are special occasions for the offerings to the manes of the departed. Certain new moon days are considered more favourable for the offerings than other new moon days, and this new moon day is one such. People perform the tarpanam with special care and attention on this day.

There is a belief among Hindus that there is a great reservoir of spiritual force in the universe in the custody of the Adhikarika Purushas or highly evolved souls who are responsible for the spiritual progress of human beings. These liberate portions of this force from the reservoir and pour them among the masses when they gather in particular places on particular occasions. Further, when the magnetic conditions are favourable, certain substances absorb the forces liberated and retain the property for a limited period. Gingelly seed (Sesamum Indicum) is a favourite seed of the planet Saturn or Sani. Perhaps on the occasion of the Deepavali morning, Saturn charges the gingelly, with special properties. So anointing the head with this oil on the occasion is considered to bestow on men and women, health, wealth and prosperity, in addition to spiritual progress. Further, water everywhere is believed to be saturated with holy magnetism on this occasion. Hence people think that water used for bathing in the early hours of the morning before sunrise is equal in merit to that of the Ganges which is surcharged with the properties of herbs and with the magnetism of the great sages who live near the source of the sacred river and bathe in her waters. When people meet one another after the holy bath, they ask each other whether they had the ‘Ganga Snanam’ or the bath in the waters of the Ganges. A special noteworthy feature on this occasion is that gifts of fruit, pan-supari, sandal paste, and even money are freely made to people going to visit friends, relations and even utter strangers. People when bathing in the waters of the sacred rivers observe this custom, without which a bath is not considered to be efficacious at all.

The myth deriving the epithet ‘Naraka Chaturdasi’ is interesting.

Once there was an asura king named Narakasura, ruling over the universe residing at a part of the present Bengal Presidency. Though a great devotee of Vishnu, his rule was considered undesirable and consequently the people approached Srikrishna. The lord proceeded to the place and overcame him on this day which was commemorated as the day of joy.

King Bali, the king of the asuras, began to usurp the kingdom of India. On being appealed to by Indra, God Vishnu, in the guise of a Brahmin dwarf, begged of the asura three feet of ground from his vast empire.

When that was granted, Vishnu assumed a huge form known as ‘Trivikrama avatara’ and measured the earth and the heavens with two feet, and for the third, placed his foot on the asura’s head and pushed him down into the nether world. As he was a deep devotee having great merit, Vishnu blessed him with certain boons. To commemorate the advent of Vishnu’s dwarf (Vamana) avatara and the giant (Trivikrama) avatara (incarnation), this occasion is considered as auspicious. Because of the boons conferred on the asura by Vishnu, the merits resulting from actions like charity to the undeserving, sacrifices of clarified butter not poured in flames, Sraddhas (ceremonies) performed to satisfy the manes of the departed without observing the prescribed rites, and yajnas or sacrifices performed unaccompanied by the necessary gifts, go to king Bali.

There is a strong belief among the Hindus, that a beginning made on the auspicious Deepavali day will be conducive to prosperity and success. Hence the Vaisyas or the Hindu trading castes of north and weste India open fresh accounts on this day, after having performed puja to the goddess Lakshmi and distributed gifts to those invited.

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