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Isheeta Sharma

May this lady that is autumn—
with her face the lotus blossom,
her eyes the full blue lily blooms,
robed in new white kasha florets,
with a charming smile that is
the kumuda in flower—
instil in hearts of passionate women
all the best of love.

Ritusamharam: A Gathering of Seasons
Kalidasa (Trans. A.N.D. Haksar)

Nature is consistently in transition. As we near the end of Sharad rtu it is time to prepare ourselves for the onset of winter. In the Indian subcontinent winter was traditionally not one season but two: the onset – Hemanta rtu and then the deeper cold of Shishira rtu. Already dawn now brings with it a crisp, cold breeze and nights are significantly cooler.

Sharad rtu, marked by grace and beauty, parts from us on festive notes.  

Dhanteras falls on October 25 this year. This day is traditionally considered an extremely auspicious day for purchasing gold, silver and any other metals. This marks the official beginning of the preparations for Diwali. One old legend associated with Dhanteras links it to King Hima’s son and his daughter-in-law. It was predicted that Hima’s son would die from a snake bite on the fourth night after his wedding. To protect him, Hima’s daughter-in-law sang songs and narrated stories to her husband all night so he wouldn’t fall asleep. Along with that she laid out all her gold jewellery and coins at the threshold of their bedroom. When Yama, the god of death, arrived disguised as a serpent he was blinded by the bright glint of the jewellery. Unable to enter the room, he sat there the whole night listening to the stories of the new bride. He was so impressed by her stories and songs that when the sun rose, Yama left silently leaving King Hima’s son alive.

Diwali arrives two days after Dhanteras, on October 27. This night of the dark Moon celebrates the goddess of wealth and wisdom, Lakshmi. Ritual offerings invoke the blessing of the goddess, which is said to bring luck and prosperity. Because Lakshmi is said to abhor darkness and squalor, it is traditional to clean and then decorate the houses to entice Lakshmi. So, after a ‘spring cleaning’ of sorts, all the houses are bedecked with flowers and fragrances. The doorways are adorned by Torans and strings of flowers. Rangolis are drawn in the front of the houses. And finally, the dark night of Kartik Amavasya is lit up with diyas. Electric lights may have become more convenient, but the magic and myth of Diwali still lies in the soft flickering flames of cotton wicks in handmade clay diyas.

In the Skanda Purana, these diyas were seen as representations of the Sun – traditionally venerated as the source of light and life. This year the ideal time to perform Lakshmi puja is between 07:15 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. In the epic tale that is Ramayana, Diwali is the night when Rama, Sita and Lakshmana returned to Ayodhya after 14 years of exile and victory over Ravana.

The day after Diwali – 28 October this year – is celebrated as Govardhan puja. For the Gujaratis, this marks the beginning of the New Year according to their traditional calendar.

Bhaidooj is celebrated the next day, on October 29 this year. Traditionally this day is also known as Yama Dwitiya. Legend has it that when the Sun rises on this day Yama goes to visit his sister Yamuna. And for that split second at dawn there is no death anywhere. Traditional celebrations consist of sisters greeting their brothers with a lit diya and adorning their forehead with a Tilak and offering them sweets and almonds.

Chhath puja is a festival celebrated widely in parts of Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Jharkhand, Odisha and West Bengal. This year it falls on November 2. It is a four-day festival that is dedicated to the Sun god and his sister Chhati Maiya. The siblings are invoked for their blessings and thanked for all that they have offered. Environmentalists have claimed that Chhath puja is one of the eco-friendliest festivals of the subcontinent – one that reveres nature with ritual practices and offerings.

There is something indescribably beautiful in the fact that the Sun god is worshipped and acknowledged, his blessings sought just as Sharad rtu gives way to the onset of winter – the season marked by a longing for the Sun and its life-giving warmth.

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