Diwali, Deepawali, Dipawali may be called differently across the globe. But it’s a Hindu festival celebrated collectively during the mid October- November months. It is also called as festival of lights diyas are lit inside and outside homes to welcome Goddess Lakshmi. The significance of this festival is that it emphasizes on the victory of good over evil, love over hatred, knowledge over darkness and hope over despair.
Mythologically, the festival is celebrated to welcome Lord Ram back to Ayodhya after his 14 years of exile and defeating the evil Raavan. Lord Ram was son of King Dashrath and was the incarnation of Lord Vishnu born to kill the evil Raavan. In the southern India, Diwali festival marks the day of Narak Chaturdashi, the 14th day of the second half of the month Ashvin and the second day of Diwali, as the day when Lord Krishna slew the devil Narakasur and freed the 16,000 women he had held captive.
The festival is celebrated for 5 days starting with Dhanteras, Naraka Chaturdasi, Lakshmi pooja, Saal Mubarak and Bhai Duj. Every state of India has a different approach and rituals during Diwali. While some celebrate Lord Ram, some states celebrate Lord Krishna.
Let us look at the spiritual significance behind each story.
The Story of Lord Ram and Sita:
Lord Ram was exiled by his father King Dashratha for 14 years. He was accompanied by his wife Sita and brother Lakshman. During the exile, they lived in the forest of Dandak much farther away from Ayodhya. Lady Sita was kidnapped by the evil Raavan and taken to Lanka. This was the incident which proved instrumental in ending the demon rule on earth along with the end of Ravana-the demon king. Lord Ram defeated Raavan along with the Hanuman and the army of monkeys. Lord Ram then returned to Ayodhya and people welcomed him by lighting rows of clay lamps and celebration of victory of good over evil.
The Story of King Bali and Vamana Avatar:
Lord Vishnu has taken many avatars. One such story is of King Bali and Vamana (dwarf) avatar of Lord Vishnu. King Bali was very ambitious and generous ruler. Some Gods didn’t believe him to be so generous, hence, requested Lord Vishnu to test him. Lord Vishnu took the avatar of Vamana, dressed as priest and appeared before King Bali. He said, “You are the ruler of the three worlds: the Earth, the world above the skies and the underworld. Would you give me the space that I could cover with three strides?” King Bali laughed at the size of a dwarf. He thought that with this size the vamana would not be able to cover much ground and agreed to the request. As soon as the King agreed, the vamana took 3 strides covering the Earth, the sky and the whole Universe as Lord Vishnu. King Bali was then sent to the underworld.
The Defeat of Narkasur by Lord Krishna:
Lord Vishnu in his incarnation as Lord Krishna, destroyed the demon Narkasura. Narkasura was the demon covered in dirt, believed to cause lot of unhappiness amongst the people. He used to abduct young and beautiful women and force them to live with him. The women cried and pleaded for mercy. Their cries were eventually answered by Lord Vishnu who came to rescue them in the form of Lord Krishna. He then defeated the demon on the day of Diwali and freed the women and spread joy among the people. Before dying, Narkasura hoped that his death might bring joy to others. Lord Krishna granted him his wish. For Hindus, this story is a reminder that good can still come out of evil.
Krishna and The Mountain:
In the village of Gokul, people worshipped Lord Indra. Lord Indra is considered to be the God of rains. People believed that if they prayed and made Lord Indra happy, he would shower his blessings in the form of rains which will eventually help people to grow the crops. However, Krishna did not believe in this and persuaded people to worship the mountain Govardhan as the land around it was fertile. Since people believed and loved Krishna, they agreed to do so. This infuriated Lord Indra and he sent thunder and torrential rains in the village. The village started flooding. Krishna saved the villagers by lifting the mountain with his finger. Hence this day is celebrated with the offering of food to God and acts as a reminder to Hindus of the importance of food and it is a time for being thankful to God for the bounty of nature.
Since India is a secularist country with multiple religions, let us look at story behind celebration of Diwali for other communities.
In Sikh perspective, Diwali is celebrated as the return of the sixth Guru, Guru Hargobind Ji from the captivity of the city, Gwalior. To commemorate his undying love for Sikhism, the towns people lit the way to, Harmandhir Sahib (referred to as the Golden Temple), in his honour.
On this occasion Jains celebrate the Moksha of Lord Mahavir who established the Jain dharma. Lord Mahavira was born as Vardhamana on Chaitra Shukla 13th in the Nata clan. He obtained Kevala Gyana on Vishakha Shukla 10 at the Jambhraka village on the banks of Rijukula river at the age of 42.
The reasons are unlimited to celebrate this festival of lights. You may choose any religion, any belief but it will always remain the festival of lights. So light up your hearts and spread the joy!