Dev Deepawali, much like the revered celebration of Diwali is also a festival of lights. The only factor that sets it apart is the fact that Gods celebrate it among themselves. Yes, it is Diwali of Gods. Legends suggest that 15 days after Diwali, Gods descend to the holy river Ganga to celebrate Lord Shiva’s triumph over Tripurasura. Hence, the festival is also called Tripurari Purnima. By Angira Kar
Skandh Seven of the Shrimad Bhagwat cites the story of Tripurari Purnima. Taarkaaksh, Kamalaaksh and Vidyunmaali upon seeking their desired wish from Lord Brahma requested the demon named Maydaanav to construct three aerial purs or cities of gold, silver and iron for them. The demons flew to these cities whenever they wished and destroyed the places upon landing. The devas then approached Lord Shiva for succour. Another reference cites that Naradji instigated the three demons to attack and destroy Kailash – Lord Shiv’s abode. An angered Shiva then destroyed the three purs. Henceforth he came to be known as Tripurari. The devas rejoiced on this day, and that’s how Dev Deepawali was born.
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This celebration of good over evil begins on Devprabodini Ekadashi i.e. the eleventh Lunar day of the month of Kartik and ends on Kartik Purnima. Though the Devas celebrated the Lord’s return, we mortals celebrate Dev Deepawali by eradicating our inner demons. The idea is to let go of the basic instincts of ego, anger, greed and lust, and manifest the divinity within.
Every year on Devprabodini Ekadashi, the 84 bustling Ganga ghats of Uttar Pradesh are aglow with tiny earthen lamps, or diyas and gorgeous floral rangolis in the evening are drawn, bejewelling the steps from Varuna to Assi Ghat as a befitting welcome to the Gods.
Devotees and tourists throng the ghats to take a holy bath in Ganga, the Kartik Snan, and to take a boat ride to savour the beauty of the ghats. They hoard on the banks in the evening for deep daan or offering of oil-lit earthen lamps to Ganga. On the night of the festival, thousands of devotees from the holy city of Varanasi, nearby villages, and across the country gather on the ghats of Ganga to watch the majestic Ganga Aarti.
The sight of a million lamps, the tranquillity of the religious hymns among the chaos of the crowded ghats, the lighting of the ghats and the river can only be summed as breathtaking. Apart from the aarti at the Dashameshwar Ghat, all buildings and houses are lit with earthen lamps. Nearly 100,000 pilgrims visit the riverfront to watch the river aglitter with lamps. Twenty-one young Brahmin priests and 24 young women perform the aarti. The rituals involve chanting hymns, rhythmic drum beating, blowing conch shells, and lightning the brazier.
Boat rides along the riverfront in the evening are popular among tourists. Especially when all the ghats are lit with lamps and the aarti is performed, it makes for an otherworldly spectacle. Moreover, on this the festival, martyrs are remembered at the ghats by worshipping Ganga and lighting lamps. The three armed forces — Indian Army, Navy and Air Force perform the traditional last ritual. Patriotic songs, hymns, bhajans and the Bhagirath Shourya awards are also a part of this festival. The local government makes several intensive security arrangements to ensure order during the festival.
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Dev Deepawali plays a massive role in Varanasi’s economy. The local food vendors, flower garland makers, boatmen, puja article shops and hotels make five times the usual money. Thirty per cent of the available hotels are booked a year in advance. Tourists prefer hotels near ghats as they are the prime location for the festivities. Taxi bookings also take place three months in advance. This festival, hence, sustains a large number of people residing in the city.
When devotees from every corner of the globe come together to witness the world-famous aarti, it makes a lifetime of an opportunity for anyone who wishes to get a glimpse of India’s diverse culture. Even though this festival has only been around for the last 25 years, today a Varanasi without Dev Deepawali is unimaginable.