Diwali is a festival of joy, lights, color, and opulence. It celebrates the success of good over evil or light over darkness. Diwali or Deepavali also means an arrangement of diyas or lamps. 'Deepa' means deep, diya or lamp and 'vali' means an array or arrangement.
Deepavali is celebrated in the Hindu month 'Kartik'. It falls on the darkest night of that month or 'amavasya' night in the fall season or 'Sharad ritu'.
Diwali celebrates the homecoming of Lord Ram to his kingdom Ayodhya. It also marks the victory of Ram over Ravan in the Ramayan and signifies the triumph of good over evil. It is also a time of inner reflection and to weed out the darkness within us and fill it up with light, hope, positive energy, happiness, and new goals or targets.
Lakshmi is the Goddess who fulfills new 'lakshya' or goals. She signifies, wealth, happiness, fertility, abundance, and beauty. She is prayed along with Lord Ganesh.
Lord Ganesh is called 'vighnaharta' or the remover of all obstacles and helps in reaching our goals effortlessly and smoothly. Together, Lakshmi and Ganesh symbolize great power and magic to help their devotees realize all their cherished dreams.
Lakshmi-Ganesh puja is performed on Diwali night when the lamps and diyas are casting dazzling light all around. Lakshmi is said to travel at night only since her vehicle is a owl. Owls can only see clearly at night so it is believed that the owl will carry Lakshmi to one's home at night only. For this reason, people keep their doors and windows open to welcome the Goddess to their homes that night.
Elephant, Horse, Lion and Cow:
During Lakshmi-Ganesh puja, one prays to the elephant, horse, lion and cow. The elephant has large ears and when he flaps them it is said to blow away all diseases. The horse symbolizes a fast vehicle so that one can travel around easily. The lion is powerful and so depicts safety and security. Finally, the cow gives us milk and nourishes our bodies. Food, vehicle, power, health and security also means everlasting prosperity.
Diyas and Lanterns:
Diwali is the festival of lights and all around people decorate their homes, offices, and gardens with a variety of lights. Tiny diyas are lined up every where, especially near the puja place. Nowadays people buy or make colorful paper lanterns and strings of tiny colored lights. The strings are conveniently tied around the house or even on the trees and shrubs in the garden. The whole house looks dazzling, bright and well lit up.
Deepavali is incomplete without fire crackers. They signify festivity, positive energy, celebration and good cheer. The 'fuljhari', 'Chakkers' and 'Anars' spew light and color as everyone looks on with great joy and happiness. Young boys have more fun with the 'phatakas' and 'rockets' that make huge noise and provide burst of merriment.
Clean and Decorated Homes:
It is believed that Goddess Lakshmi is very beautiful and likes all beautiful things. She cannot stand anything unclean and cluttered. She goes to places that are clean, organized, and full of joy and faith.
Indian women, therefore, start the home cleaning process well in advance of Deepavali day. The home is thoroughly cleaned. Cupboards and Almira's are turned out and stuff organized. Broken fixtures are fixed and if need be the home gets a fresh coat of paint. Everything is made spotless for the Goddess to visit their homes.
Gardens, yards, cars and attic are also cleaned up so that everything is in order and harmony for the auspicious day.
The poetry of 'Shree Sukta' describes at length the beauty of Goddess Lakshmi. She is dazzling in her richness and opulence. She reflects wealth, fertility, grace, and good fortune. She is depicted as wearing embellished red saree, bejewelled in gold Jewellery and a perfect embodiment of feminine beauty. She stands atop a lotus flower in pure perfection.
On Diwali day people also dress up in the reflection of the mother goddess and invite her to come into their lives. Women wear colorful heavy sarees and salwar kameez. Red, green, gold and silver are the preferred colors. Women also wear their gold and diamond jewellery. Beauty parlours are crammed full assisting every women look her best. The men also wear their kurta pajama and are all groomed up. Everyone is lavishly beautified to the best of their abilities.
Dressing up also spreads a feeling of happiness and festivity and the colors add to the vibrant energy all around
Rangolis are beautiful colored patterns that people make aound their homes, usually on the floor for decorative purpose.
Usually colored sands, colored petals, or color stained rice is used for making the patterns. These patterns just add a dash of vibrant color to the house.
Strings of marigold flower, jasmine flower and banana leaves are hung all around the house for circulating auspicious energy. A symbolic gesture welcoming the Goddess of wealth and prosperity are the tiny footprints of the Goddess that are made with rice paste.
Mithai, Chocolates, Good Food:
Food is the most basic symbol of wealth. No celebration is complete without arranging for a feast. On Diwali day, people eat heavy food and lots of sweets or 'mithai' or chocolates to partake in the festivities.
Playing Dice, Cards or Gambling:
It is a customary tradition for some people to play cards, dice or just gamble some money on Diwali night. Even the Indian stock exchange, the Sensex, opens for 'muhurat' or auspicious trading after a small puja on Diwali. This custom hales from the popular belief that wealth is received by part 'karma' and part luck, or the blessings of the Goddess Lakshmi. It is never certain who will win the bet even though many play the game.
It is believed that the best way to receive something is by giving something or 'daan-punya'. Goddess Lakshmi's urn is always filled and overflowing and she keeps moving around distributing wealth and nourishment to her devotees. Hindus therefore, distribue lots of sweets and dry fruits to all their acquaintances, friends, family, business partners and needy people on Diwali day.