Diwali part of the rich mix of India’s festivals
INDIA is sometimes called “Land of festivals and fairs”. India’s festivals offer a unique perspective of its culture and civilisation and a full flavour of the diversity.
With 29 provinces and seven federally administered regions, diverse geography (there are around 10 recognised biogeographic zones), a medley of languages (22 official languages, 99 other languages and thousands of dialects – more than 19500 at some estimates) and home to all the major religions of the world (Hinduism, Islam, Christianity, Jainism, Buddhism, Zoroastrianism, Judaism, etc), the number and geographical expanse of the festivals is but a way to do justice with the diversity of the nation – and rejoice in the unity in diversity when people from different faiths join in to celebrate the festivals of other faiths.
All Indians have grown up celebrating Holi, Diwali, Eid, Onam, Pongal, Bihu, Durga Puja, Christmas, Baisakhi, etc with equal fervour.
Earlier this week, Diwali was celebrated in India and in different corners of the world. The “Festival of Lights” marks the return of Lord Ram along with his spouse Sita and brother Lakshman to Ayodhya after an exile of 14 years and after defeating demon king Ravan.
It is said that villagers en route lit up the path with earthen lamps to welcome them back, hence the name Diwali or Deepawali (“deep” means lamps, wali is “rows”).
Followers of the Sikh faith celebrate the day as “Bandi Chor Diwas”, commemorating the release of Guru Hargobind, the sixth of the 10 gurus in Sikhism, from the Gwalior Fort prison by the Mughal emperor Jahangir, and the day he arrived at the holy Golden Temple in Amritsar. Jains celebrate it as the day Lord Mahavir attained Nirvana (moksha or final release) in the 6th century BCE.
The story of Lord Ram and his victory over demon king Ravan has been immortalised in the epic Ramayan.
Ravan had abducted Sita, spouse of Lord Ram, while they were in exile; Ram, with the help of monkey God Hanuman, defeated the evil army of Ravan and rescued Sita.
The annihilation of Ravan and his army is marked as Dusshera, a festival celebrated around 20 days before Diwali.
Diwali celebrations this year in Ayodhya were also unusual in another respect. Kim Jung-sook, first lady of South Korea, was the chief guest at the Deepotsav (Festival of Lights) organised on Tuesday, November 6. Readers might be wondering about the Korea connection to Ayodhya.
Through her visit, Kim Jungsook was commemorating the deep historical connection between the two countries through the legendary Princess Suriratna of Ayodhya, who travelled to Korea in 48 CE and married the Korean King Suro, starting the Karak dynasty.
It’s estimated that progeny of the royal couple number more than 6 million today, around 10% of the population of South Korea.
The first lady also led the groundbreaking ceremony for the new memorial of Queen Suriratna (Huh Hwang-ok) in Ayodhya on Tuesday.
The legend of Ram and the epic Ramayan has traversed far and wide across the centuries. At almost the same time last year, world leaders and delegates were pleasantly surprised to witness a dance drama, Rama Hari, based on Ramayan at the opening ceremony of the Association of South-East Asian Nations Summit in Manila in the Philippines.
In fact, the story of Ramayan is a living shared heritage between India and countries in South-East Asia. The story of Ramayan has been adapted in local cultural milieus across the region. It is also represented in myriad ways in mythology, literature and art forms such as dance, drama, music, sculpture and architecture.
Ayutthaya, the second capital of the Siamese Kingdom in Thailand (14th-18th centuries CE) is said to derive its name from Ayodhya in India. Ramakien, a Thai national epic, is derived from Ramayana and has important influence on Thai literature, art and drama.
Ramaker is the Khmer version of Ramayan in Cambodia.
Indonesian adaptations of Ramayan are found in Kakawin Ramayana of Java and Ramakavaca of Bali. Yama Zatdaw or Rama Zatdaw is the Burmese version of the Ramayana.
Ram is as much a hero for people in South-East Asia as he is for the those in India. The name finds its manifestation in both local nomenclature as well as iconography.
Murals based on Ramayan abound in temples, palaces and other iconic monuments across the region.
A unique blend through intermixing with Buddhist mythology and iconography has produced a splendid cultural heritage in the region.
The festival of Diwali is an official holiday not just in India, but also in about 10 other countries with large populations of Indian diaspora.
Diwali is celebrated in the Oval Office in Washington, at 10 Downing Street in London, as well as in millions of temples and homes across the world, with much enthusiasm and passion.
Diwali is a bond that unites nations and peoples through its message of the victory of good over evil, light over darkness and knowledge over ignorance.