Pooja Bhula tells you what is unique about the way the festival of lights is celebrated in the city of its inception
If you’re curious enough to make a trip to the place where the festival of lights originated, “Leave behind any expectations of the huge celebrations you’ll find in big cities,” says a local. “Come here for sadhana. You’ll find sadhus chanting by the Sarayu river, on the ghats and in places like cemeteries that people don’t go to even during the day just so they can pray or chant in solitude. Chanting during this period is supposed to help you accomplish what may be otherwise difficult.”
Rangoli is a rarity here. But like most of India, people in Ayodhya also buy vessels on Dhanteras, the first day of Diwali. “Shops shine with metalware; those who can’t afford much, buy atleast a spoon,” says another local. What’s interesting and unusual is that on the second day that they call Naraka Chaturdashi (Choti Diwali), locals celebrate Hanuman Jayanti. While jayanti generally denotes birthday, people here worship Hanuman because as per legend, Hanuman reached Ayodhya a day before to inform villagers that Ram, Sita and Laxman will be arriving. It is considered as important as Diwali. Around 10pm, throngs of people start lining -up near Hanuman Garhi for darshan, which starts at 12 am; all the idols of Hanuman are decorated. Built like a fort, it has 76 steps leading to the main temple area and its entrance is believed to have been the main gate of Raja Dashrath’s palace. Again unheard of elsewhere, I’m told, diyas are lit not only in and around the house, but also on garbage, ravines etc. to bring them to light. On this day, and the next, you’ll find fireworks too.
While Laxmi puja is commonplace on Diwali, locals also include Ganesh and Hanuman idols in it. Interesting, yet unsurprising, an idol of Ram is present in almost every temple. On the night of Diwali, some families with small kids (10 days–5 years), use the diya’s ashes to put a tika on the kids as it is considered auspicious.
For some tasty treats, you must visittemples on the next day–Pareva (usually called Naya Saal in other places) as chappan bhog or 56 delicacies, mainly consisting fruits and a variety of sweets, is offered to deities and distributed as prasad to devotees. This practice called annakut is seen in other places too, but the sweets here are traditional and care is taken that each is different from the other.
On Bhai Duj besides inviting brothers for a meal, sisters even do Yam puja; while some bring home an idol of Yamraj for it, others create an impression of him with dried cow dung and mud.
Ayodhya has over 7, 000 temples, but to really experience Diwali here, visit its main attractions - Garhi, Valmiki Bhavan, Kanak Bhavan and Nageshwarnath temple. You can cover them by foot, as they are all close to each other, and enjoy the open skies since multi-storeyed buildings are far and few.