Legends of Diwali: Boodhi Diwali

Sunday Mid-Day | October 15, 2017
Most of us associate Diwali with the return of Lord Rama to Ayodhya on the darkest new moon night of the month of Kartika. But there is one part of India that celebrates Diwali almost a full month after that date. In many districts of Himachal Pradesh—Ani, Nirmand, Shillai, Giripar, Sangrah, Rajgarh and Chopal—this timelag version of Diwali is known as Boodhi Diwali literally meaning old Diwali. I have always been fascinated by this regional variation. Why should a mainstream festival be celebrated a full month later by some regions? Strange, isn’t it?

If we view the Ramayana as a historical rather than mythological event, the logic of Boodhi Diwali becomes immediately apparent. When Lord Rama entered Ayodhya after fourteen years of exile, the news of his arrival spread. The citizens of Ayodhya began celebrating by lighting mud lamps and distributing mithai. But this rejoicing would have been limited to the capital and the immediate surrounding regions. Many mountainous and inaccessible areas would have been completely unaware of Rama’s return. The news of his victory over Ravana and his safe homecoming would have reached these corners of the kingdom only after several weeks. Hence the people living in these parts rejoiced a full month later. Thus Boodhi Diwali is observed on the first new moon after regular Diwali in these regions.

But Diwali is not only about Rama’s return. Diwali is also variously associated with the incarnation of Lakshmi, the killing of Narakasur, the return of the Pandavas , the rescue of Lakshmi, the coronation of Vikramaditya, attainment of nirvana by Mahavira and the return of Mahabali to the subterrainean world. But in the Boodhi Diwali districts, it is related to the victory of the gods over the demons Dano and Asur who resided there as snakes. As part of the celebrations, a rope fashioned from grass and resembling a snake is carried into the fields. It is then cut into pieces thus representing the victory of good over evil.

And ultimately all these ideas constitute the core of Diwali, irrespective of whether one celebrates a month earlier or later. Victory of good over evil. Destruction of darkness through light. Spiritual awakening. Renewal. Birth. Material prosperity through the arrival of Lakshmi. In that sense Diwali is a magnificent umbrella. Anyone can sit beneath it and create yet another reason to celebrate.