Kalpana Trivedi, 70, who lives in Amratlal ni pol of Khadia, and Prafullaben Shukla, 71, who lives in Ghuma, the new suburb of Ahmedabad, look forward to Diwali festivities this year, after last year’s celebrations were muted owing to the Covid-19 pandemic.
Trivedi’s is a 125-year-old house — typical to the Ahmedabad old city style — with a courtyard and a door facing the main street, and Shukla lives in a row house. Both have finished spring cleaning and refurbishing their homes to perform the Wagh Baras rituals, which mark the beginning of the six-day Diwali festival.
Diwali, marking the end of the Gujarati calendar year, falls during the transition from Aaso to Kartak months of the Vikram Samvat, beginning from Wagh Baras through Dhanteras on Tuesday, Kali Chaudas, and finally Diwali, which is celebrated across the country. In Gujarat, the celebrations are considered complete when businesses open on Labh Pancham, the fifth day of the New Vikram Samvat Year, the 2078th.
This year, the state government has announced a full Diwali vacation of 21 days for educational institutions. In view of the reduced Covid cases and most of the population vaccinated, the festival is back in its full form.
Preparations begin right after Navratri, when people begin cleaning up their homes. By Wagh Baras (the 12th day of the last month), Gujaratis worship the umbro, the threshold of the house, decorating it with swastika and tilak after cleaning it. Wagh Baras is devoted to Goddess Saraswati.
Trivedi says, “We get our entire house done with a fresh coat of paint before Diwali every year, before we begin celebrations by worshipping the umbro and Goddess Saraswati on Wagh Baras.” Two of her three children live abroad, and the family is away for four to six months a year. But on Diwali, they make sure to be in their Ahmedabad home.
While the general mood of people ahead of Diwali is quite upbeat, the spectre of Covid still looms.
Says Trivedi, “We are very enthusiastic about Diwali this year. Last year, we could not celebrate it with traditional fervour. So, this year, people seem desperate to celebrate. I am taking a lot of precaution and hope that the situation [of Covid-19] does not deteriorate.”
Former state minister Jaynarayan Vyas says on Wagh Baras — also known as Vasu Baras, Poda Baras or Wak Baras — “there is a special significance of worshiping the cow and its calf”.
Dhanteras is devoted to Goddess Lakshmi, when people do a symbolic worship of wealth and invest in something valuable, which usually is gold.
“On Dhanteras, we do a puja of currency notes and offer the prasad of lapasi (a sweet made of coarsely ground wheat) to the Goddess. We also avoid going out of the house to ensure that we do not spend money on the day,” says Shukla.
The Trivedis have old coins preserved from generations in their family, which become the deity on Dhanteras and are washed and consecrated with vermillion as part of the rituals.
On Kali Chaudash, which is also known as Narak Chaturdashi, Lord Hanuman and some fierce deities like Bhairav and Rudra are given special importance, says Vyas. It is believed that burning of oil on Kali Chaudash will lessen the element of kaklat (negative elements like resentment, heaviness, domestic grievances, etc.). Families prepare a special vada (delicacy made of millet flour fried in oil) and place it on crossroads near their house to drive away kaklat. The ritual is called ‘Kaklat Kadhvo‘ (driving out negative energy from the house).
Referring to the significance of the ritual, Vyas says, “If looked at it symbolically, when a festival like Diwali is there and we have any sort of heaviness or resentment in mind, then it weakens the delight of the festival.”
Shukla adds, “We light three lamps of oil and ghee on either side of the deity (Lord Hanuman on Kali Chaudas) as part of the worship. We also recite the Hanuman Chalisa and Sundar Kand. On Kali Chaudash, we avoid stepping out of the house, especially in the evening.”
Pilgrimages like Mahudi, Salangpur, etc., hold special puja sessions of Lord Hanuman on this day.
Shukla explains that on the first day of Wagh Baras, they light one diya, then two on Dhanteras, three on Kali Chaudas, four on Diwali and five on Bestu Varsh. She says she collects the vermilion used to make swastikas in the plate to perform the puja during the Diwali days and uses it throughout the year to make tilaks before leaving for any auspicious work.
The day of Kali Chaudash is also when some people go to cremation grounds or some deserted place to “invoke spirits”. Many rationalist groups across the state have, however, campaigned to raise awareness against such “superstitious” acts.
On Diwali, trading communities worship ledgers in which they keep records of their businesses of the entire year; the ritual is known as Chopda Pujan. With changing times, people also worship their pen drives or hard discs. After Chopda Pujan, they take a break and reopen only on the fifth day of the new year which is called Labh Pancham.
Vyas says, “Chopda Pujan is a symbol that our financial transactions are clean and holy. In any field, if financial transactions are not transparent, it cannot last for long. The Chopda Pujan of Diwali points in that direction.”
A traditional ritual of Diwali is carrying the meraya — a torch lit on a wooden or sugarcane stick with an earthen lamp at one end. Children carry merayas after sunset and put them out in the chowk or outside the village.
The Trivedis have continued to follow this tradition. “We prepare merayas and then put them in the chowk on the night of Diwali,” she said.
Almost the entire night of Diwali is celebrated by bursting firecrackers. It is believed the celebrations first happened to welcome Lord Ram from his 14-year exile, along with his wife Sita and brother Lakshman, when the trio returned to Ayodhya in UP.
On Bestu Varsh (New Year), Gujaratis have two special traditions: Alas Kadhvi and purchase of sabras (salt).
The ritual of Alas Kadhvi is marked by women cleaning the house and carrying the household waste in an old earthen pot, disposing it outside the village or society. It also involves clanking the earthen pot with a stick. It is symbolic of ushering Goddess Lakshmi in one’s home.
Trivedi says, “We do it every year. Lakshmi mata likes cleanliness and will come to your home only if it is neat and clean.”
The early morning of New Year is also known for the purchase of sabras.
Shukla says vendors come to people’s houses early in the morning of Bestu Varsh and hand over packets of sabras. “And we give dakshina to the person as per our wish. Buying sabras is considered to be the auspicious beginning of the New Year.”
People also prepare a curry of chawli (black eyed beans) on this day. According to Shukla, the demand for chawli surges during the days of Diwali.
People also visit the temples of their family deities. On this day, they exchange New Year greetings. Most Gujaratis do not go out till Diwali day and after the New Year begins.
The day after Bestu Varsh is known as Bhai-Beej, which is one of the four festivals in Gujarati culture celebrating the relationship of brother and sister. On this day, a brother visits his sister to seek her blessings; later, they dine together. The festival is akin to Raksha Bandhan, where the sister seeks protection from her brother.
The fifth day is Labh Pancham, when businesses reopen per an auspicious muhurat.
Diwali comes to a formal end on the fifteenth day of the New Year (Kartiki Purnima), which is being celebrated as Dev Diwali (Diwali of the Gods). “According to Hindu mythology, Dev Diwali marks the celebration of the slaying of tripura (three cities) of devils — Tarkash, Kamlaaksh and Vidhyunmali — by Lord Shiva,” Vyas explains.