Light is said to be energy and flame has an upward motion.
Hence the gift of light, which is energy, enhances the energy of man.
Sharad Purnima brings to close the first month of Sharad rtu and ushers in the last month of the autumnal season – Kartika. In this month the transition to the oncoming winter season is palpable. The days grow noticeably shorter and colder. The warmth of the Sun is distant. But Kartika is also the month of auspicious rituals of fire – with lamps lit in rituals of festivities, prayer and personal practices. Kartika is considered amongst the holiest of months in the Hindu calendar across regions.
Legends of Light
In a rtu of festivals and fragrant nights, it is in this auspicious month of Kartika that we celebrate one of the most famous festivals of the subcontinent – Dipawali or the Festival of Lights. The Sanskrit word Dipawali literally means "row or series of lights". But Dipawali in India is more than one day of festivities. It is the coming together of many traditions and rituals; of the home, of food, of shringar, of auspiciousness and of shared delight. Typically, the Dipawali festivities span five days. But the rituals of cleaning and brightening the home start from the time of Ashwina Navratras itself.
Dipawali festivities start with Dhanteras, the thirteenth tithi of the waning Moon phase leading to the New Moon, observed two days before the night of light. Traditionally this day is considered auspicious for buying anything made of metal such as jewellery. The next day is the celebration of Narak Chaturdashi which is also celebrated as Kali Chaudas in some parts of India. And then comes Amavasya, the night of the New Moon, that is illuminated by a million diyas. The day after Dipawali is celebrated as Govardhan Puja, also known as Annakut puja. This day is also celebrated as the beginning of the new year as per the regional Gujrati calendar. The next day marks the end of the Dipawali festivities. This fifth day is also celebrated in different regions and traditions as Yama Dwitiya, the day of the God of Death and as Bhai Dooj. Incidentally, the origin legend for this day is Yama visiting his sister Yamuna. This visit is always on the second moon-day of the waxing Moon phase in the month of Kartika.
It is thought that these five-day long festivities and the accompanying rituals for each, which have many regional variations, point towards the coming together of harvest festivals from different regions and other ritual celebrations. Many older legends posit Dipawali as the night of worshipping Kuber, the lord and keeper of wealth. In some regions it is the night of Kali – as the Adishakti, who rules darkness and time and chaos. It is perhaps this celebration of Amavasya as the night of Kali that is possibly the origin of the Jamdani Neelambari saree – a saree woven in the deepest shades of indigo with motifs that were originally woven in pure Silver thread.
While we light up our homes on the New Moon of Kartika in the celebration of Dipawali, the banks of the river Ganges in Benaras are lit up with hundreds of lamps on the Full Moon of Kartika to celebrate the celestial festival of lights dedicated to the gods – Dev Dipawali. The Full Moon of Kartika is also celebrated in different regions such as Orissa with differing rituals and legends.
Rtusandhi: Time of Transition
In India no festivity or ritual celebration is complete without elaborate traditions of food. And so it is with Dipawali – the festival of sweets and savoury treats, of shared feasts and merry making. But in this time of indulgence it is equally important to nurture and nourish our bodies as we begin the transition to the next rtu – Hemant rtu, which is the onset of winters.
Dipawali concludes with the waning lunar phase of Kartika. In the following bright half of the month – Shukla Paksh, when the Moon increases in fullness, it is good to follow the tradition of fasting every few days to ensure that our bodies recover well from the festive feasts. This fifteen-day period is also the time of rtusandhi – when one season gives way to another and our bodies also undergo this transition.
In Ayurvedic terms, we need to prepare our bodies to transition from the Vata predominant autumn to the season of Kapha dosha. When in balance Kapha is a time of stability and strength but in excess it can also be a time of sluggishness of the body and mind and mucus-related problems. Some simple practices can make this transition easier:
- Abhyanga: A regular bi-weekly self-massage of the body with warmed medicinal oil is highly recommended as it nourishes the skin and body, grounds and calms us.
- Warm Herbal Teas: Drink tisanes with spices that enhance digestion and support immunity - Ginger, Coriander, Cumin, Cinnamon and Cardamom. Avoid cold, iced beverages and cold foods such as ice cream.
- Prevention: For many of us the onset of winters also brings with it congestion and other phlegm related problems. Licorice or Mulethi is particularly good at this time of the year as it helps discourage the build-up of excess phlegm in the body. You can also try gargling with a cup of hot water with 1 teaspoon each of Turmeric and Rock Salt to help keep your throat well. Including Ginger, Black Pepper and Pippali (Piper Longum or Indian Long Pepper) in your diet is excellent for clearing excess mucus and toxins from the body and strengthening digestive fire. A delicious and traditional dish that offers the benefits of Pippali is Kandathippili Rasam. Kandathippili is the Tamil name for Indian Long Pepper.
As the days come and go and the Moon turns, the bright, blazing clarity and beauty of Sharad rtu gives way to the quieter beauty of winter. Which brings with it its own share of delight.