Joined: 23 July 2012
Diwali is one of the most important festivals celebrated in India. It is celebrated on the darkest night of the year, which usually falls sometime in the beginning of November. Diwali, though, is the festival of lights.
All over India, homes are decorated with lights and earthenware lamps filled with oil. These lamps are called diyas. The name 'Diwali' is from the Sanskrit 'dipavali', which means 'row of lamps'. Diyas are lit in every house to banish the dark and welcome in good luck and good fortune.
People wear new clothes, meet their friends and relatives, eat good food, give each other sweets and gifts, decorate their houses with flowers and lights and Rangoli patterns, and set off fireworks.
In the evening, many people hold a small prayer or puja in their homes. They honour Ganesh, the god of wisdom and good luck, the one who removes all obstacles from life; and they worship Lakshmi, the goddess of prosperity and good fortune. Lights are left burning all night, so that Lakshmi may feel welcome and enter.
Diwali is also the start of the New Year for many communities in India.
Diwali is a festival of joy, prosperity and good luck, and a celebration of the victory of good over evil - which is expressed through different stories in different parts of India.
Joined: 23 July 2012
The story of Ram begins many thousands of years ago in Ayodhya, the capital city of the kingdom of Kosala in what is now northern India. Kosala was ruled by King Dasaratha, a wise and good king. Under him Kosala was a rich, peaceful and prosperous country. Dasaratha had three queens - Kaushalya, Kaikeyi and Sumitra.
King Dasaratha and his queens had no children. So they decided to hold a great sacrifice, asking the gods for children. Their wish was granted and soon the queens gave birth to four sons - Ram the eldest, Kaushalya's son, Bharat, Kaikeyi's son, and the twins Lakshman and Shatrughn, the sons of Sumitra.
When Ram was old enough, he married the beautiful princess Sita, daughter of Janak. Janak was the ruler of the kingdom of Videha. To win her hand, Ram strung and broke the great bow of Shiv, which no one else could do. Lakshman married Urmila, Sita's younger sister. Sita's cousins, Mandavi and Shrutakirti were married to Bharat and Shatrughn.
The four princes and their wives continued to live happily in Ayodhya with their father king Dasaratha and his three queens. But Dasaratha was growing old, and finding the strain of kingship hard to bear. He decided to appoint Ram to rule as Regent.
Kaikeyi, Bharat's mother, had an evil maidservant called Manthara. Manthara convinced Kaikeyi that if Ram became Regent, he would deprive her of her status of favoured queen, and kill her son Bharat. In panic, Kaikeyi demanded that Ram be exiled to the forest for 14 years, and that Bharat be made Regent.
The king had no desire to exile Ram. But long ago, Kaikeyi had saved his life and he had promised her that she could ask of him two wishes, which he would grant, no matter what. Kaikeyi used this promise to force him to exile Ram.
Ram left for the forest. With him went Sita his wife, and his younger brother Lakshman.
Bharat was furious with his mother for what she had done. He followed Ram into the forest and begged him to return, but Ram refused, saying that he must honour his father's word. Bharat returned sadly to Ayodhya. King Dasaratha, broken-hearted at what he had been forced to do, died of grief.
Bharat refused to be king and ruled Ayodhya in Ram's name. He never sat on the throne, but put there instead a pair of Ram's wooden slippers, symbolic of the fact that Ram was the true king of Ayodhya.
Ram, Sita and Lakshman lived in the forest for many years. One morning, a rakshasni, a female demon, called Surpanakha saw Ram, and fell in love with him. She begged him to marry her. Ram refused, saying he was already married. She then asked Lakshman, who also refused. Surpanakha threatened to eat Sita if neither of the brothers married her. In anger, Lakshman cut off her nose and her ears.
Furious, Surpanakha went to her brother Ravan for help. Ravan was a great and powerful demon, and ruler of the golden city of Lanka. He had 10 heads and 20 arms, and had been granted a boon by the gods - that neither god nor demon could kill him.
When Ravan heard Surpanakha's story he was furious. He decided to carry off Sita. But he could only do this by trickery. He enlisted the help of another demon called Marich.
Marich turned himself into a golden deer and allowed Sita to see him in the forest. Sita was enchanted by the beauty of the deer. She begged Ram to catch the deer for her so that she could keep it as a pet. Ram followed the deer deep into the forest. When he did not return for a long time, Sita sent Lakshman to look for him. As soon as Sita was alone, Ravan appeared, but disguised as a holy man begging for food. When Sita stepped out of her hut to give him the food, Ravan assumed his true form, and grabbing her, put her into his flying chariot and carried her off to Lanka.
Ram and Lakshman came back, and found Sita gone. They learnt from the birds and animals that Sita had been carried off by Ravan.
Ram and Lakshman set off to find Sita. On the way they were helped by all the animals of the forest, particularly the bears and the monkeys. Among the monkeys, Hanuman became Ram's strongest ally and closest friend. Hanuman was not an ordinary monkey - he was the son of the Wind, and had the power to fly over mountains and across oceans.
It was Hanuman who finally found Sita, imprisoned in one of Ravan's beautiful gardens, and guarded by demons. Hanuman managed to whisper in Sita's ear that Ram was looking for her, and now that they knew where she was, Ram and his friends would be here soon to rescue her.
Sure enough, when Ram heard from Hanuman where Sita was, he and Lakshman marched at once towards Lanka, with their army of monkeys and bears. They were joined by Vibhishan, himself a demon and the brother of Ravan, but who felt that Ravan had done wrong in carrying off Sita.
With Vibhishan's advice and the help of their army, Ram and Lakshman killed hundreds of Ravan's demons. Ram himself killed Kumbhakaran, Ravan's fearsome brother who could gobble up entire armies in a mouthful. Lakshman killed Indrajit, Ravan's son who had the ability to turn invisible, and had never been defeated by anyone in battle before.
Now only Ravan remained. The battle between Ram and Ravan raged for ten days, with neither winning. Finally Ram used a special arrow given to him by the gods - and shot Ravan in the breast. This was the end of Ravan.
Ram and Sita were reunited. By now their 14 years of exile were over, and they decided to return to Ayodhya. Hanuman went ahead and gave Bharat the good news. The entire kingdom of Kosala celebrated the return of Ram, Sita and Lakshman. Ayodhya was decorated with flowers and lamps. Ram was crowned king of Ayodhya, and Sita his queen. Ram ruled for many many years. He was a good and great king.
More than five thousand years later, Ram is still remembered in India where he is worshipped as a god. His return to Ayodhya with Sita, and his coronation as king, is celebrated on Diwali, one of the most important festivals in India. All over the country, lamps are lit, and homes, shops, offices, streets are decorated and fireworks set off in his honour, in much the same way as was done in Ayodhya all those thousands of years ago. Diwali day is a holiday all over India, with schools, colleges and most offices and shops closed in celebration.
Joined: 23 July 2012
In Bengal, Diwali is celebrated as Kali Puja, the day that the goddess Kali is worshipped. Kali is hideously ugly and terrifying to look at - but only because she is so angry at the wickedness in this world. Kali is the destroyer of all evil, and is worshipped as such on Kali puja.
The story of Kali that is told to children in Bengal on the occasion of Kali Puja is as follows:
Long long ago, the world was overrun with evil - men had turned to wicked ways, and demons, rakshasas and ogres thrived and prospered. The gods were helpless. They could do nothing to control or contain the evil in the world.
In desperation they turned to the supreme goddess Devi for help. Devi agreed to end the evil, and took on the black and frightening form of the goddess of destruction to do so. This form of Devi is known as Kali, which means 'black'. Devi in the form of Kali then went on a rampage of destruction, killing and destroying all the evil men and demons in the world.
Kali became so angry that she could not stop, even when all the evil had been destroyed. She began destroying the entire world in her fury. The gods asked her to stop, but she didn't hear them. They turned to Shiv her husband for help as the only one who could stop her. But Kali didn't hear him either. So Shiv lay down in her path - and only when she put her foot on him did she come to her senses, and stop her madness of destruction.
Kali is worshipped in her destructive mode. She is terrifying to look at, black and furious, with four hands, dripping blood and dressed in skulls. She is shown with one foot on Shiv who lies prone in her path, and with her tongue sticking out in shock and horror as she realises the destruction she is causing.
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