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November 7, 2005

Diwali, Hindu festival of lights, brings joy

By Nikita Modi 

  The idol of Ganesh and Goddess Lakshmi (the Goddess of Wealth), and oil lamps called diyas are encircling them.

Hindus all across the globe wait anxiously each year for Diwali, the festival of lights that marks the victory of good over evil.
We celebrate it with much fanfare and grandeur, as Diwali, even in modern times, reflects the glories of Indian culture.
Preparations for the holiday start well in advance, with the cleaning and renovating of the entire house. People shop for clothes and jewelry, sending retails sales of those items soaring.
But sweets are even more in demand. During Diwali, the sales of sweets skyrockets. It is mandatory for people to go to their relatives' houses with sweets on this special day.
Sweetshops remain open until midnight. People do not mind spending a few bucks and indulging in these sweet sins!
Diwali celebrations are spread over five days. The first day is called Dhanteras ('Dhan' means wealth; 'teras' means day.) On this day my house is decorated with colorful designs called rangoli, which are drawn on the floor of the entrance to the house or the temple within the house to welcome the goddess.
Small footprints of Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth, are drawn using rice powder and colored vermillion powder. We light the house with tiny light bulbs and oil lamps.
On this auspicious day, my parents go shopping for gold and silver items. Although it is not compulsory, we believe it adds to your wealth.
On the second day, we take a traditional oil bath before sunrise and apply a beautiful-smelling paste made of herbs called "ubtan" all over our body instead of soap.
In Bengal, we worship Kali, the goddess of strength, on this day.
Lovingly decorated pandals, which are huge bamboo shelters for idols, are found in every nook and cranny of the city for Goddess Kali.
On the third day, which is the most important one, a big ritual called "Lakshmi Puja" is performed after sunset to honor Hindu gods and goddesses -- in this case, Goddess Lakshmi.
Custom dictates that we leave the gates and windows open at that time to welcome Goddess Lakshmi into the house.
After enjoying a sumptuous meal comes the most important part: exploding firecrackers. Everyone, from six to 60, explodes them with fervor.
Hindus believe that Lord Rama returned from his 14-year exile at night, so in order to celebrate his homecoming, his countrymen illuminated their houses with oil lamps and burned firecrackers. So, it is considered important for us to do the same.
On the fourth day, the elders of the family go to their relatives' homes and wish them luck and prosperity.
On the fifth and final day, all sisters treat their brothers to show the love they share.
It's considered a lucky time for gamblers, too. Hindus say the Goddess Parvati played dice with her husband Lord Shiva on this day and she granted that those who gambled on Diwali would prosper in the
following year.
During these three days, my family performs all the rituals together.
We play traditional card games during Diwali, and we eat dinner together all of which generates love between family members.
Diwali is the time when Hindu youth realize the importance of family and our centuries-old traditions and customs and have fun at the same time.

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