Article: Dīvālī

Contributed by Nalini Balbir

Worship of wealth

Lakṣmī-pūjā or worship rite to Lakṣmī or Śrī, goddess of beauty, wisdom, fertility and wealth. At the start of the year Mūrti-pūjak Jains make offerings to the deity and inscribe new account books in the hope of gaining wealth in the months ahead

Offerings to Lakṣmī
Image by Bansri Mehta © Bansri Mehta

The opening ceremony of Dīvālī is known as Lakṣmī-pūjā or 'Wealth 13th'. This rite of worshipping affluence is performed on the 13th day of the dark half of Āśvina, which is known as Dhanya-trayodaśī in Sanskrit or Dhanteras in Gujarati.

This ceremony varies immensely among different communities of Jains. The main feature is worship of the goddess Lakṣmī who is wealth incarnate and thus of great importance for Jain business communities. Some communities worship silver coins with materials normally used for religious images, such as incense or scented powder, and buy silverware and account books for the new year on this day (Cort 2001, page 164). Worship of the goddess is usually elaborate. Auspicious diagrams of coloured powder – rangolis – are drawn on the ground or walls, and temporary shrines made of leaves are erected in houses (Laidlaw 1995, pages 370 to 371). In some cases, 'religious objects are all put together in what looks like a flagrantly syncretistic way' (Laidlaw, page 372), but they used separately in the worship ceremonies.

Account books

As Dīvālī marks the end of the year and the beginning of a new one, Jain businessmen and women open new account books. Among Jain merchants, these account books are objects with religious significance.

The account books start with an invocation to Mahāvīra and Indrabhūti Gautama, who is called Gautam Swami in modern parlance. These two are the key individuals in Dīvālī celebrations. In many respects, Gautam Swami is equated with the Hindu god Gaṇeśa, who has the same place in Hindu account books (see Laidlaw for more details).

The first page of the account books contains a list of virtues believed to be auspicious, each of them illustrated by a character known from the story literature. These lists vary, but six virtues are often mentioned (Laidlaw 1995, page 380 onwards):

All these virtues are those that an ideal businessman or merchant should possess.

On this day shops are decorated, lights are lit everywhere in the streets and savoury food is prepared in abundance.

Fourteenth day

Marking the turning of the year at Dīvālī – the festival of lights – involves lighting small lamps. The central event of Dīvālī for Jains is the liberation of the 24th Jina, Mahāvīra. One of the biggest Jain festivals, Dīvālī is also celebrated in other I

Dīvālī lights
Image by Anil Wadghule © CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

The 14th day of the dark half of Āśvina is considered an intermediate day, because it comes between the start of Dīvālī and the new year. It is known and celebrated in contrasting ways depending on the community.

The 'Black Fourteenth' or Kālī Caudaś is often thought to be a day of inauspiciousness, which has to be counteracted. Reporting on how it was celebrated by the Jains in Patan in 1985, Cort tells how the day was dedicated to the cult of the heroic male deity Ghaṇṭākarṇ Mahāvīr. He is worshipped as a figure who can help Jains in worldly matters (2001, pages 164 to 166).

An opposing view takes this day as 'Beauty Fourteenth' or Rūp Caudaś, also known as Little Diwali (Laidlaw 1995, page 365). Then decoration of the person and of houses, buying new clothes and jewellery are the highlights of the day.

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