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Holi (Hindi: होली) or Phagwah (Bhojpuri) is a popular, Hindu spring festival, observed in North India and Nepal, also called the Festival of Colours. Last about five days. In West Bengal, it is known as Dolyatra (Doljatra) or Boshonto Utshob ("spring festival"). On the first day, bonfires are lit at night to signify burning Holika.

On the second day, known as Dhulandi, people spend the day throwing coloured powder and water at each other. The spring season, during which the weather changes, is believed to cause viral fever and cold. Thus, the playful throwing of the coloured powders has a medicinal significance: the colours are traditionally made of Neem, Kumkum, Haldi, Bilva, and other medicinal herbs prescribed by Āyurvedic doctors. A special drink called thandai is prepared, sometimes containing bhang (Cannabis sativa). People invite each other to their houses for feasts and celebrations later in the evening.

Rangapanchami occurs a few days later on a Panchami (fifth day of the full moon), marking the end of festivities involving colours.

Although a Hindu celebration, other religions in India celebrate it as well. In fact, some of the best Holi celebrations are said to happen in Punjab, where Hindus and Sikhs celebrate together. This celebration in Punjab typically involves Dholi's and other musical instruments as kids and adults celebrate.

Holi takes place over two days in the later part of February or early March. As per the Hindu calendar, it falls on the Phalgun Purnima (or Pooranmashi, Full Moon). (In 2007, Holi was celebrated on 3 March, the burning of Holika was on 4 March and the Dhulendi on 5 March.)

Deepawali or Diwali is certainly the biggest of all Hindu festivals. It's the festival of lights (deep = light and avali = a row i.e., a row of lights) that's marked by four days of celebration, which literally illumines the country with its brilliance and dazzles all with its joy. Each of the four days in the festival of Diwali is separated by a different tradition, but what remains true and constant is the celebration of life, its enjoyment and goodness.

The Origin of Diwali Historically, the origin of Diwali can be traced back to ancient India, when it was probably an important harvest festival. However, there are various legends pointing to the origin of Diwali. Some believe it to be the celebration of the marriage of Lakshmi with Lord Vishnu. Whereas in Bengal the festival is dedicated to the worship of Mother Kali, the goddess of strength. Lord Ganesha, the elephant-headed God, the symbol of auspiciousness and wisdom, is also worshipped in most Hindu homes on this day. In Jainism, Deepawali has an added significance to the great event of Lord Mahavira attaining the eternal bliss of nirvana. Diwali also commemorates the return of Lord Rama along with Sita and Lakshman from his fourteen year long exile and vanquishing the demon-king Ravana. In joyous celebration of the return of their king, the people of Ayodhya, the Capital of Rama, illuminated the kingdom with earthen diyas (oil lamps) and burst crackers.

These Four Days Each day of Diwali has it's own tale, legend and myth to tell. The first day of the festival Naraka Chaturdasi marks the vanquishing of the demon Naraka by Lord Krishna and his wife Satyabhama. Amavasya, the second day of Deepawali, marks the worship of Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth in her most benevolent mood, fulfilling the wishes of her devotees. Amavasya also tells the story of Lord Vishnu, who in his dwarf incarnation vanquished the tyrant Bali, and banished him to hell. Bali was allowed to return to earth once a year, to light millions of lamps to dispel the darkness and ignorance, and spread the radiance of love and wisdom. It is on the third day of Deepawali — Kartika Shudda Padyami that Bali steps out of hell and rules the earth according to the boon given by Lord Vishnu. The fourth day is referred to as Yama Dvitiya (also called Bhai Dooj) and on this day sisters invite their brothers to their homes.

The Significance of Lights & Firecrackers All the simple rituals of Diwali have a significance and a story to tell. The illumination of homes with lights and the skies with firecrackers is an expression of obeisance to the heavens for the attainment of health, wealth, knowledge, peace and prosperity. According to one belief, the sound of fire-crackers are an indication of the joy of the people living on earth, making the gods aware of their plentiful state. Still another possible reason has a more scientific basis: the fumes produced by the crackers kill a lot of insects and mosquitoes, found in plenty after the rains.

The Tradition of Gambling The tradition of gambling on Deepawali also has a legend behind it. It is believed that on this day, Goddess Parvati played dice with her husband Lord Shiva, and she decreed that whosoever gambled on Diwali night would prosper throughout the ensuing year.

From Darkness Unto Light... In each legend, myth and story of Deepawali lies the significance of the victory of good over evil; and it is with each Deepawali and the lights that illuminate our homes and hearts, that this simple truth finds new reason and hope. From darkness unto light — the light that empowers us to commit ourselves to good deeds, that which brings us closer to divinity.

During Diwali, lights illuminate every corner of India and the scent of incense sticks hangs in the air, mingled with the sounds of fire-crackers, joy, togetherness and hope. Outside India, Diwali is more than a Hindu festival, it's a celebration of South-Asian identities.

If you are away from the sights and sounds of Diwali, light a diya, sit quietly, shut your eyes, withdraw the senses, concentrate on this supreme light and illuminate the soul.

'Aarti' for the Festival of Lights

Jai lakshmi maataa, Maiyaa jaya lakshmi maataa

Tumako nishadina dhyaavata, Hara vishnu vidhaataa

Brahmaanii, rudraanii, kamalaa, Tuuhii hai jaga maataa

Suurya chandramaa dhyaavata, Naarada rishi gaataa

Durgaa ruupa nirantara, Sukha sampati daataa

Jo koi tumako dhyaavata, Riddhi siddhi dhana paataa

Tuuhii hai paataala basantee, Tuuhii shubha daataa

Karma prabhaava prakaashak, Jaganidhi ke traataa

Jisa ghara mein tuma rahatii, Saba sadaguna aataa

Kara na sake soyee kara le, Mana nahin ghabaraataa

Tuma bina yagya na hove, Vastra na koii paataa

Khaana paana kaa vaibhava, Saba tumase hii aataa

Shubha guna mandira sundara, Ksheerodadhi jaataa

Ratana chaturdasha tuma hii, Koii nahiin paataa

Aartii lakshmii jii kii, Jo koii nara gaataa

Ura aananda umanga ati, Paapa utara jaataa

Diwali is also considered to be the Hindu New Year. It is the occasion when the whole Hindu community is drenched in the mood of celebrations & happiness. The reason is not one but many. It is mentioned in the Pauranik Granthas that Diwali brings along a very auspicious time period of the year.

Offering prayers to Deities relevant to the festival is common to almost all Indian festivals. On the festival of Diwali, Hindus offer prayers to Goddess Lakshmi & Lord Ganesha with great devotion. It is believed that Goddess Lakshmi visits every home on Diwali and brings along peace and prosperity to all. After the Sun sets, Lakshmi Pujan is performed in all homes. The appropriate Muhurat is calculated by Pandits following Astrological rules.

Items required for performing Diwali Puja include, uncooked rice, paan leaves, camphor, kumkum, sweets, dry fruits, gold or silver coins etc. Naivedya of traditional sweets is offered to the deities and then songs in praise of Goddess Lakshmi and Lord Ganesha are sung with great fervor. Panchamitra made up of five ingredients milk, curd, ghee, sugar & honey is also an essential item in Puja. Five Diyas are placed before the idols of the deities.

Lord Ganesha is worshiped before commencing for any kind of work. As Diwali is the New Year for Hindus, offering prayers to Lord Ganesha becomes obvious. For Ganesha Puja, Ganesha Arti is sung. The deity is offered Motichoor Laddoos and the same laddoos become prasad for the puja.

Lakshmi Pujan is another important activity of the festive day of Diwali. Petals of various freshly picked flowers, especially Lotus are placed in the feet of the Goddess. Placing silver or gold coin soaked in Panchamitra is one of the important Lakshmi Puja rituals. Again as in Ganesha Puja, Lakshmi Arti is performed while showering flowers on the idol of Lakshmi. Lakshmi Puja holds a lot of importance for the Business community in India.

All these puja ritual are then followed by exchange of gifts ceremony. The religious aura changes into a fun & frolic one. Everyone fire crackers and enjoy good food. An atmosphere of jubilation is all around. Loved ones spend moments of happiness together and create fond memories to cherish life long

Goddess Lakshmi, the consort of Vishnu, is the most sought after Goddess of India. She is the ruler of the eight kinds of wealth. It is said that the household where she is not worshiped will never prosper. Dhana Lakshmi for wealth is the most worshiped. Vidya Lakshmi is worshiped for knowledge, Santana Lakshmi is worshiped for children, Vijaya Lakshmi is worshiped for victory in undertakings & court cases, Dhanya Lakshmi is worshiped by the farming community and Soubhagya Lakshmi is worshiped of marriage and happy married life. It is performed normally on a Thursday or Friday. The shodasopachara pooja is performed with the prescribed materials, 1008 Lakshmi Namavali and Sri Sooktam are recited. It will be done in your name with the specific sankalpa.

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