In either the months of October or November, which ever happens to correspond with the lunar Hindu month of Ashwayuja, a five-day Festival of Lights called Diwali is celebrated by Hindus, Sikhs, and Jains all over the world. Because the holiday is associated with the lunar calendar, in 2005 Diwali began on November 1 and in 2006 it will fall on October 21.
Celebrating the return of Lord Rama and Sita from exile, most of Northern India celebrates Diwali with key points of emphasis on each of the five days. The first day called, Dhan teras or Dhantrayodashi, marks the emergence of Lord Dhanvantari from the ocean at which time mankind received the knowledge of Ayurveda or spiritual medicine. (Ayurveda represents a holistic system of medicine with a five-thousand-year history of effectiveness.)
The second day, Naraka Chaturdasi commemorates a story teaching the lesson that the greater social good should always outweigh the personal. The third day is actually that known as Diwali. On this day, the moon is completely dark. At the close of the day as darkness begins to fall, homes and public streets are awash in the light of countless candles and lamps. Firecrackers are also popular throughout the festival.
Because the goddess of wealth, Lakshmi, enjoys special prominence on Diwali, cards often come out and players gamble in the hope of increasing their personal fortunes. With this strong association with Diwali, cards and card play are an important part of the celebrations, providing families with an excuse to invite people over for a game and also giving casinos a healthy boost in business during the festival.
Both flush and rummy are popular card games during Diwali. At the heart of many invitations to gather on Diwali, cards not only provide social enjoyment during the five-day event, but also justify the rectitude of this mild vice by assuring those who don't play that they will come back in their next life as a donkey!
The fourth day of the Festival of Lights is known as Padwa (or alternately as Varshapratipada and Kartika Shudda Padyami). On this day wives honor their husbands and receive Diwali gifts in return. Finally, on the fifth day, Bhayiduj, brothers and sisters honor one another. This is also the day when the business community of North India begins its new financial year. (Both the Sikhs and the Jains celebrate Diwali with variations on its observances and significance.)
As Indian culture has spread to other parts of the globe, so has the much-anticipated festival of Diwali. Gifts and elaborate firecracker displays characterize the observance of Diwali. Cards and gambling also remain a major part of the festivities as the holiday is associated with potential financial prosperity. The 2005 Diwali festival was also a prominent online observance with Diwali cards, of the greeting variety, available to be sent and received via email.
For both its religious and cultural significance, for the fun of card play, and for its glittering lights and crackling firecrackers, Hindus, Sikhs, Jains, and many others around the world look forward to this five day Festival of Lights known as Diwali.