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May the festival of lights be the harbinger of joy and prosperity. As the holy occasion of Diwali is here and the atmosphere is filled with the spirit of mirth and love, here's hoping this festival of beauty brings your way, bright sparkles of contentment, that stay with you through the days ahead. Best wishes on Diwali and New year.

Leading us into Truth and Light, Diwali is celebrated on a nation-wide scale on Naraka Chathurthasi day on the dawn of Ammavaasa during the Hindu month of Aippasi  (September/October) every year. It symbolizes the age-old culture of our country which teaches us to vanquish ignorance that subdues humanity and to drive away darkness that engulfs the light of knowledge. Diwali, the festival of lights even today in this modern world projects the rich and glorious past of our country and teaches us to uphold the true values of life.

 "Diwali" is the easy-to-pronounce form of Deepavalai. In Sanskrit “Deepawali” is the marriage of two Sanskrit words- Deepa meaning light and Avali, meaning a row. Indeed celebrating the row of lights forms one of Diwali’s main attraction. Every home - huts of the poor to the mansions of the rich are aglow with the orange glow of twinkling diyas. Lighting these small earthen lamps welcome Lakshmi, the Goddess of wealth and prosperity. Multi-colored Rangoli designs, floral decorations and fireworks lend vivid, colorful imagery and grandeur to this festival which heralds joy, mirth and happiness in the ensuring year.

This festival is celebrated on a grand scale in almost all the regions of India and is looked upon in some parts of India as the beginning of New Calendar or Financial Year. For those who believe Diwali begins a new financial year tidy up their accounts and are much more apt to hold grand pujas and devotional displays for Goddess Lakshmi. As such the blessings of Lakshmi, the celestial consort of Lord Vishnu are invoked with prayers. Even countries like Kenya, Thailand, Trinidad, Siam and Malaya celebrate this festival but in their own ways.

DhanterasThis Diwali festival, it is surmised dates back to that period when perhaps history was not written, and in its progress through centuries it lighted path of thousands to attain the ultimate good and complete ecstasy. Diwali is very enthusiastically celebrated for five continuous days and each day has its significance with a number of myths, legends and beliefs.
Dhanteras

Dhanteras marks the first day of five-days-long Diwali Festival. Dhanteras Festival, also known as Dhantrayodashi or Dhanwantari Triodasi, falls on the auspicious thirteenth lunar day of Krishna Paksha in the Hindu month of Kartik (October/November). In the word Dhanteras, "Dhan" stands for wealth. On Dhanteras Goddess Laxmi is worshiped to provide prosperity and well being. Hence Dhan Teras holds a lot more significance for the business community.
Choti Diwali / Narak Chaturdasi

Choti DiwaliThe day before Diwali is celebrated as Chhoti Diwali / Narak Chaturdasi or 'small Diwali'. It is Diwali on a smaller scale, with fewer lights lit and fewer crackers burst. The morning after Choti Diwali, the women of the house make beautiful, colored rangoli in the doorway and courtyard. Tiny footprints made out of rice paste are a special feature of the rangolis made for Diwali. In Hindu homes, Chhoti Diwali celebrations involve a ritual puja to Goddess Lakshmi and also to Rama in the evening. Songs in honor of the god are sung and aarti is performed. Lakshmi Puja on Diwali

The third day of the festival of Diwali is the most important day of Lakshmi-puja and is entirely devoted to the propitiation of Goddess Lakshmi. On this very day sun enters his second course and passes Libra which is represented by the balance or scale. Hence, this design of Libra is believed to have suggested the balancing of account books and their closing. Despite the fact that this day falls on an amavasya day it is regarded as the most auspicious.

Lakshmi Puja on DiwaliThe day of Lakshmi-Puja falls on the dark night of Amavasya. The strains of joyous sounds of bells and drums float from the temples as man is invoking Goddess Laxmi in a wondrous holy "pouring-in" of his heart. All of a sudden that impenetrable darkness is pierced by innumerable rays of light for just a moment and the next moment a blaze of light descends down to earth from heaven as golden-footed Deep-Lakshmi alights on earth in all her celestial glory amidst chantings of Vedic hymns.

A sublime light of knowledge dawns upon humanity and this self enlightenment is expressed through the twinkling lamps that illuminate the palaces of thewealthy as well as the lowly abodes of the poor. It is believed that on this day Lakshmi walks through the green fields and loiters through the bye-lanes and showers her blessings on man for plenty and prosperity.

Lakshmi Pooja, or the worship of the goddess of wealth, is the main event on Diwali in North and West India. It is extremely important to keep the house spotlessly clean and pure on Diwali. Goddess Lakshmi likes cleanliness, and she will visit the cleanest house first. This is also the reason why the broom is worshiped on this day with offerings of haldi and kumkum (turmeric and vermilion). Lamps are lit in the evening to welcome the goddess. They are believed to light up Her path.

Lakshmi Puja consists of a combined puja of five deities: Ganesha is worshiped at the beginning of every auspicious act as Vighnaharta; Goddess Lakshmi is worshiped in her three forms - Mahalakshmi (the goddess of wealth and money), Mahasaraswati (the goddess of books and learning), and Mahakali; Kuber (the treasurer of the gods) is also worshiped.
Padwa & Govardhan Puja

Padwa & Govardhan PujaPadwa
The day following the Amavasya is "Kartik Shuddh Padwa" and it is only on this day that the King Bali would come out of Pathal Loka and rule Bhulok as per the boon given by Lord Vishnu. Hence, it is also known as "Bali Padyami". This day also marks the coronation of King Vikramaditya and Vikaram-Samvat was started from this Padwa day.

Gudi Padwa is symbolic of love and devotion between the wife and husband. On this day newly-married daughters with their husbands are invited for special meals and given presents. In olden days brothers went to fetch their sisters from their in-laws home for this important day.

Govardhan-Puja
Govardhan-Puja is also performed in the North on this day. Govardhan is a small hillock in Braj, near Mathura and on this day of Diwali people of Punjab, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh and Bihar build cowdung, hillocks, decorate them with flowers and then worship them. This festival is in commemoration of the lifting of Mount Govardhan by Krishna. As per Vishnu-Puran the people of Gokul used to celebrate a festival in honor of Lord Indra and worshiped him after the end of every monsoon season but one particular year the young Krishna stopped them from offering prayers to Lord Indra who in terrific anger sent a deluge to submerge Gokul.

People were afraid that the downpour was a result of their neglect of Indra. But Krishna assured them that no harm would befall them. He lifted Mount Govardhan with his little finger and sheltered men and beasts from the rain. This gave him the epithet Govardhandhari. After this, Indra accepted the supremacy of Krishna.

This day is also observed as Annakoot meaning mountain of food. Pious people keep awake the whole night and cook fifty-six or 108 different types of food for the bhog (the offering of food) to Krishna. In temples specially in Mathura and Nathadwara, the deities are given milkbath, dressed in shining attires with ornaments of dazzling diamonds, pearls, rubies and other precious stones. After the prayers and traditional worship innumerable varieties of delicious sweets are ceremoniously raised in the form of a mountain before the deities as "Bhog" and then the devotees approach the Mountain of Food and take Prasad from it.
Bhai Duj / Bhaiya Duj / Bhai Dooj

Bhai DujThe fifth day of Deepavali or Diwali is celebrated as Bhaiya Dooj, popularly know as Bhai Dooj. The name itself denotes the day of the festival i.e it falls on Dooj, the second day after the new moon. This day Yamaraj went to his sister's house who put an auspicious mark on his forehead for his welfare. Thus, on this day sisters perform puja for their brothers safety and well being. Brothers in return give gifts to their sisters as a token of love.

Another version is after killing Narakasur, Lord Krishna, went to his sister Subhadra who welcomed him in the traditional way by showing him a light and putting on his forehead a tilak of her sisterly protection. Another myth behind this begins as when Bhagawaan Mahavir found nirvana, his brother Raja Nandivardhan was distressed because he missed him and was comforted by his sister Sudarshana. Since then, women have been revered during this festival.

The festival of Diwali is not complete without "Bhaiyya-Duj" in the Hindi-speaking belt, "Bhav--Bij" in the Marathi-speaking communities, "Bhai Phota" to the Bengalees and in Nepal by the name of "Bhai-Tika".

Diwali is a personal, people-oriented festival when enmities are forgotten, families and friends meet, enjoy and establish a word of closeness. Reflecting this essence, Bhai dooj has its own importance in continuing to maintain the love between brothers and sisters for it is the day of food-sharing, gift-giving and reaching out to the inner most depths of the hearts.

As a festival of light and beauty it encourages artistic expressions through home-decorations stage-plays, elocution competitions singing and dancing programmes, making gift items and making delectable sweets thereby discovering new talents of younger people. As a result innumerable communities with varying cultures and customs mingle together to make Bhai Dooj celebrations a very happy occasion for all.

Senate Resolution 299, recognizing the "religious and historical significance of the festival of Diwali," passed unanimously on November 14, 2007 in the U.S. Senate.

DiwaliNearly identical to the House Resolution 747 that passed in the full House of Representatives on October 29, 2007, the senate resolution was introduced by Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ) and was co-sponsored by Senators Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ), Carl Levin (D-MI), Sherrod Brown (D-OH) and Robert Casey (D-PA).

Both resolutions were written with the input of the Hindu American Foundation (HAF), and recognized Diwali as a festival celebrated by Hindus, Jains and Sikhs. The text explains the meaning of the festival, how it is celebrated and describes its religious significance.

"I am delighted that the Senate has agreed to pass this resolution to recognize the religious and historical significance of the festival of Diwali," said Sen. Menendez. "It is important that we celebrate the great diversity that makes up and strengthens our national fabric, and it gives me great pride to commemorate what Diwali stands for – a time to be with family, and to pray for health, knowledge, and peace."
HAF released a joint statement lauding the resolution and welcomed their passage as a testament to the increase in understanding of Hinduism and Hindu Americans that has occurred among U.S. policy makers and elected officials. It thanked Sen. Menendez, and the co-sponsors of the Senate resolution, for their commitment to the Hindu American community and for encouraging their colleagues to support the resolution.

"These resolutions are symbolic, but we hope that the momentum of this event – where hundreds of legislators voted to recognize a Hindu festival – will inspire Hindu Americans everywhere to work towards Diwali's recognition at the state level, having the festival listed on more calendars, and taking the opportunity to spread awareness of their faith and its festivals at their schools and places of work," the statement read.

The passed resolutions have already been distributed at several Hindu temples and at Diwali celebrations throughout the US, according to the Foundation, and these efforts will continue.

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