~Bumped for 2010 Diwali~
(..)The five-day Diwali festival is as important to Hindus as Christmas is to Christians. Leading up to the festival, dozens of special dishes are prepared, houses are cleaned, candles lit, sweets are distributed and, in India, firecrackers are set off in huge celebrations. But for some followers, Diwali is as much about the “awareness of the inner light,” its literal meaning, as it is the opportunity to ask the gods for a fortuitous balance sheet.
…The financial aspect of Diwali was first started centuries ago in Western India, where many families owned businesses and the holiday was considered the official start of the new year. Handwritten ledger books were traditionally closed on the holiday, and new ones were opened and blessed by a priest. The practice soon became recognized and adopted by many throughout India and overseas.
…Based on the Hindu calendar, the actual date of Diwali changes every year, but always occurs during the new moon in October or November. This year, it falls on Oct. 17.
Hindus believe Diwali is the day Lord Rama returned to the holy kingdom of Ayodhya after 14 years in exile. He was greeted with rows upon rows of lit diyas, or small clay lamps, celebrating the triumph of good over evil. It is said that homes that glow the brightest will be the ones to best attract the attention and blessings of Goddess Lakshmi, who symbolizes the earth, wealth, prosperity and abundance. A deity of near-cult status among Hindus, the goddess is often depicted with coins falling from her hands.
Most devotees will light up their homes with lamps and candles, distribute sweets and visit a temple — they regard the holiday as a time to start new projects and relinquish grudges. But the growing group that recognizes the financial aspects of the holiday will go through a formal prayer ceremony called Sharada, or Chopda Puja (accounts prayer)…
As with other Indian festivals, Diwali signifies many different things to people across the country. In north India, Diwali celebrates Rama’s homecoming, that is his return to Ayodhya after the defeat of Ravana and his coronation as king; in Gujarat, the festival honors Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth; and in Bengal, it is associated with the goddess Durga. Everywhere, it signifies the renewal of life, and accordingly it is common to wear new clothes on the day of the festival; similarly, it heralds the approach of winter and the beginning of the sowing season.