Diwali

Dīpav„li (also transliterated Deepavali; Sanskrit: row of lights) or Diw„li (contracted spelling) is the Hindu festival of lights, held on the final day of the Hindu calendar (compare New Year's Eve). The following day, marking the beginning of a new year, is called Annakut.

Table of contents
1 Date
2 Significance
3 Adverse effects and criticism related to firecrackers
4 Trivia

Date

The Hindu calendar is a lunar calendar, with most years consisting of 12 lunar cycles and an extra month inserted approximately every 7 years to resynchronize the calendar with the seasons. Dipavali falls in the Gregorian month of October or November, and always on a new moon day. Since the precise moment of the new moon falls on different Gregorian dates depending on geographical location, the date of Dipavali also depends on one's location.

In 2003, Dipavali fell on Friday, October 24 for many Indian states and on Saturday, October 25 for the remainder of India as well as for North America.

Significance

It is celebrated by Hindus all over the world, every year. On the day of deepavali old and young, rich and poor wear new dresses and share sweets. They also burn crackers. The traditional business community starts their financial new year on Diwali and new account books are opened on this day.

There are two mythological legends associated with Diwali. The first Diwali was held to celebrate the return of the Rama, King of Ayodhya, his wife Sita and brother Lakshmana to Koshala after a war in which he killed the demon Ravana. It was getting dark, so people along the way lit oil lamps to light their way. Second, it commemorates the killing of Narakasura, who was also an evil demon. So Diwali is a festival symbolising the destruction of evil forces.

There are various legends relating to Diwali as also different ways of celebrating in different parts of India. Diwali is celebrated over 5 days in most of north India as:

  • dhan teras
  • narak chaudas - chhoTii diwali
  • deepawali - ba.Dii diwali
  • annakuuTa
  • bhai dauj
In South India, naraka chaturdashii is the main day of celebration with lot of fire crackers at dawn while in North India the main celebration is on Amavasya evening with Lakshmi Puja followed by lighting of oil lamps in and around the house and bursting of crackers.

In England, the days are Dhanteras, Narak Chatrudashi, Lakshmu-Puja, the most important day, Padwa or Varshapratipanda and Bhaiya Dooj or the Teeka Ceremony [1].

The time is also significant to Sikhss. During the festival time in 1620 the 6th Guru, Hargobind Singh Ji gained the release of 52 Hindu princes who had been falsely imprisoned in Gwallior Fort by the rulers of the area, the Mughalss. The Golden Temple was lit with many lights to welcome the release of Guru Hargobind and Sikhs have continued the celebration.

The Jain also celebrate this time, as a celebration of the establishment of the dharma by Lord Mahavira.

Adverse effects and criticism related to firecrackers

In recent years there has been a some criticism about the celebration of Deepavali in India. The most common reason is the noise pollution caused by crackers. Infants and aged people have a nightmarish experience because of the high levels of sound during Deepavali. Often sleep becomes impossible due to the celebrations continuting all through the night. The health problems associated with high noise levels include palpitation, blood vessel constriction, excess secretion of adrenaline and dilation of the pupil.

The noise due to crackers has a far more deleterious effect on animals than it has on humans, since animals have a much more sensitive sense of hearing than we do. Pets like dogs and cats as well as stray cattle in cities spend the Deepavali days in a state of daze and close to nervous breakdown. Voluntary and non-profit organizations like People for Animals (PFA) have been trying to educate the public about these issues.

It is unfortunate that some people treat Deepavali as an opportunity to show off their status or purchasing power. This leads to an "arms race" with the proliferation of crackers like 100-wala, 1000-wala and even 10000-wala (strings of 100, 1000 and 10000 crackers in a row respectively).

Recently there have been several governmental and legal efforts to combat the menace. The Supreme Court of India, observing that the "right to peaceful sleep is a fundamental right of the citizens", has banned crackers between the hours of 10 pm and 6 am during the Dasara and Diwali festivals. While strict enforcement of this ban is, of course, out of the question, the effect has nevertheless been very positive. The Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) has banned fire-crackers with a decibel level of more than 125 at a distance of 4 meters from the bursting point. There have also been state-level efforts to ban 1000-walas and "hydrogen bombs" (which are extremely loud). The cumulative effect of these actions has been a noticeable reduction of noise during Deepavali.

Air pollution is the other major harmful effect of the festival. Smog is extremely common on the morning after Deepavali. This is not only harmful to inhale but also makes driving a nightmare.

Finally, there is the issue of child labor in the fireworks industry whose main center is Sivakasi in Tamil Nadu. Children as young as three or four (the average is 10-14) work in mind-numbingly adverse conditions, and about a third of them are in debt bondage. There is some public awareness of this problem, but the issue of child labor in India is larger than the context of Deepavali alone, and is unlikely to go away anytime soon.

Trivia

The festival is interesting enough around the world that the search for diwali greetings was the 2nd of the top 10 gaining Google queries for the week ending October 27, 2003 [1].




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