Deepawali or Diwali is certainly the biggest and the brightest of all Hindu festivals. It’s the festival of lights (deep = light and avali = a row i.e., a row of lights) that’s marked by four days of celebration, which literally illumines the country with its brilliance, and dazzles all with its joy. Each of the five days in the festival of Diwali is separated by a different tradition, but what remains true and constant is the celebration of life, its enjoyment and goodness.
Legend and stories on why Diwali is celebrated:
Different people believe different events to be the cause behind this festival. Here are ten mythical and historical reasons that are possibly behind the Diwali (Deepavali) celebrations.
1) The most well known story behind Diwali is in the Ramayana, the great Hindu epic. According to Ramayana, Rama, the prince of Ayodhya was ordered by his father, King Dasharatha, to go away from his country and come back after living in the forest for fourteen years. So Rama went on exile with his devoted wife Sita and faithful brother, Lakshmana. When Ravana, the demon king of Lanka abducted Sita and took her away to his island kingdom of Lanka, Rama fought against and killed Ravana. He rescued Sita and returned to Ayodhya after fourteen years. The people of Ayodhya were very happy to hear of their beloved prince’s homecoming. To celebrate Rama’s return to Ayodhya, they lit up their houses with earthen lamps (diyas), burst crackers and decorated the entire city in the grandest manner. This is believed to have started the tradition of Diwali. Year after year this homecoming of Lord Rama is commemorated on Diwali with lights, fireworks, bursting of crackers and merriment. The festival gets its name Deepawali, or Diwali, from the rows (avali) of lamps (deepa) that the people of Ayodhya lit to welcome their King.
2) Another well known story related to Diwali history is narrated in the other Hindu epic, ‘Mahabharata’. Mahabharata reveals to us how the five royal brothers, the Pandavas, suffered a defeat in the hands of their brothers, the Kauravas, in a game of dice (gambling). As a rule imposed on them, the Pandavas had to serve a term of 13 years in exile. When the period was over, they returned to their birthplace Hastinapura on ‘Kartik Amavashya’ (the new moon day of the Kartik month). The five Pandava brothers, their mother and their wife Draupadi were honest, kind, gentle and caring in their ways and were loved by all their subjects. To celebrate the joyous occassion of their return to Hastinapura and to welcome back the Pandavas, the common people illuminated their state by lighting bright earthen lamps everywhere. The tradition is believed to have been kept alive through the festival of Diwali, which many believe, is held in remembrance of the Pandava brothers’ homecoming.
3) It is also believed that on this very Diwali day, the Goddess of wealth, Lakshmi rose up from the ocean. The Hindu scriptures tell us that long long ago both Devas (gods) and Asuras (demons) were mortal. They had to die sometime or other, like us. But they wanted to live forever. So they churned the ocean to seek Amrita, the nectar of immortality (an event mentioned in the Hindu scriptures as “Samudra-manthan”), during which many divine objects came up. Prime among these was Goddess Lakshmi, the daughter of the king of the milky ocean, who arose on the new moon day (amaavasyaa) of the Kartik month. That very night, Lord Vishnu married her. Brilliant lamps were illuminated and placed in rows to mark this holy occassion. This event is supposed to have given rise to an annual celebration at the same time each year. Even today, Hindus celebrate the birth of the goddess Lakshmi and her marriage to Lord Vishnu on Diwali and seek her blessings for the coming year.
4) The origin of Diwali also refers to the stories narrated in the Hindu Puranas, the primary source of Hindu religious texts. According to the Bhagavata Purana (the most sacred Hindu text), it was on a Kartik day that Lord Vishnu, took on the form of a dwarf (Vaman-avtaara) and defeated King Bali. Bali, or rather King Mahabali, was a powerful demon king who ruled the earth. Once Bali got a boon from Lord Brahma that made him unconquerable. Even gods failed to defeat him in battles. Although a wise and good king otherwise, Mahabali was cruel to the Devas (gods). Finding no way to defeat Bali, the Devas went to Lord Vishnu and insisted him to find a way to stop Bali. Lord Vishnu made a plan. He disguised himself as a short Brahmin and approached Bali for some charity. A large-hearted king, Mahabali tried to help the Brahmin. But the whole thing was a trick by Lord Vishnu and ultimately the King had to give up all his kingship and wealth. Diwali celebrates this defeating of Mahabali by Lord Vishnu.
5) The Bhagavata Purana also tells us about Narakasura, an evil demon king who somehow got great powers and conquered both the heavens and earth. Narakasura was very cruel and was a terrible ruler. It is believed that Lord Vishnu killed Narakasura on the day before Diwali and rescued many women whom the demon had locked in his palace. The people of heaven and earth were greatly relieved to have got freedom from the hands of the terrible Narakasura. They celebrated the occasion with much grandeur, a tradition that is believed to be alive through the annual observance of Diwali.
6) According to another legend, long ago after the gods lost in a battle with the demons, Goddess Kali took birth from the forehead of Goddess Durga to save heaven and earth from the growing cruelty of the demons. After killing all the devils, Kali lost her control and started killing anyone who came her way which stopped only when Lord Shiva intervened. You all must have seen the well-known picture of Ma Kali, with her tongue hanging out? That actually depicts the moment when she steps on Lord Shiva and stops in horror and repentance. This memorable event has been commemorated ever since by celebrating Kali Puja, which is observed in several parts of India in about the same time as Diwali.
7) Historically it is believed that on a Diwali day in 56 BC King Vikramaditya, the legendary Hindu king of India famed for his wisdom, bravery and large-heartedness, was crowned and declared to be a king. This was marked by a grand celebration by the citizens of Vikramaditya’s kingdom celebrated the coronation of their king by lighting up small earthen lamps and that custom still prevails. Many people and even some historians say that this event gave rise to the annual observance of Diwali.
8) Diwali also marks the sacred occasion when on a new moon day of Kartik (Diwali day) Swami Dayananda Saraswati, one of the greatest reformers of Hinduism attained his nirvana (enlightenment) and became ‘Maharshi’ Dayananda, meaning the great sage Dayananda. In 1875, Maharshi Dayananda founded the Arya Samaj, “Society of Nobles”, a Hindu reform movement to purify Hinduism of the many evils it became associated with at that era. Every Diwali, this great reformer is remembered by Hindus all over India.
9) For Jains, Diwali commemorates the enlightenment of Vardhamana Mahavira(the twenty-fourth and last Tirthankaras of the Jains and the founder of modern Jainism) which is said to have occurred on Oct. 15, 527 B.C. This is one more reason to engage in Diwali celebrations for pious Jains and other than the purpose of commemoration, the festival stands for the celebration of the emancipation of human spirit from earthly desires.
10) For Sikhs, Diwali holds a special significance for it was on a Diwali day that the third Sikh Guru Amar Das institutionalized the festival of lights as an occasion when all Sikhs would gather to receive the Gurus blessings. It was also on a Diwali day in 1619 that their sixth religious leader, Guru Hargobind Ji, who was held by the Mughal Emperor Jahengir in the Gwalior fort, was freed from imprisonment along with 52 Hindu Kings (political prisoners) whom he had arranged to be released as well. And it was also on the same auspicious occasion of Diwali when the foundation stone of the Golden Temple at Amritsar was laid in 1577.
The five main days of Diwali:
First Day : Dhanteras Diwali begins with Dhanvantari Trayodashi (Dhanwantari Trayodashi), which is the thirteenth lunar day of Krishna Paksha, of the Hindu month of Kartik. Dhanvantari Trayodashi is popularly known as Dhan-teras. Legends have it that Lord Dhanwantari (Lord Dhanwantari) came out of the ocean with Ayurvedic on this day for the welfare of the mankind. The people worship Lord Yamaraj, the God of death, on this day and light a ‘Yama-Diya’ in the night to offer prayers to Him. Purchasing a new utensil by the people on this day is also a tradition related with Dhanvantari Trayodashi.
Second Day : Choti Diwali or Narak Chaturdashi After the Dhanvantari Trayodashi the second day of Diwali is Narak Chaturdashi. Legends have it that Lord Krishna killed the demon Narakasur on this day to make the mankind free from his fear. It is a tradition to massage the body with oil and to bathe on this day. According to an interesting saying it is believed that those who do not bathe on this day go to the Narak (hell)
Third Day : Badi Diwali or Lakshmi Puja The third day of DIWALI also called Badi Diwali is the main day of celebrations of the festival of Diwali. People perform Lakshmi Pujan (worship of divine Goddess Lakshmi) on this day and offer prayers to her to bless them with wealth and prosperity. On this day people clean their homes and decorate it with various colorful lights and fire crackers to express their joy.
Fourth Day : Gowardan Puja (Gowardhan Puja) or Padwa As the name itself suggests the fourth day of diwali is devoted to Govardhan Pooja (worship of Lord Govardhan Parvat). Legends have it that Lord Shri Krishna once performed the Govardhan Pooja along with the people of Vraja for their protection from heavy rains. Since then it became a tradition for Hindus to worship Govardhan Parvat to honour that first Pooja on this day.
Fifth Day : Bhai Duj (Bhaiya Dooj) or Bhratri Dooj The fifth day of the diwali is Bhai Dooj, the time to honour the brother-sister relationship. Legends have it that in the Vedic era, Lord Yamaraj (the God of death) visited his sister Yamuna on this day and blessed her with a boon that if brothers visit their sisters on this day then they will be liberated from all their sins. Since then it is a tradition that brothers visit their sisters on this day and the sisters sweeten their mouths with variety of sweets. In the Bengali culture this day is celebrated as ‘Bhai Fota’. The celebration of the Bhai Dooj marks the end of the five days long festivities of Diwali.
Pyari Deepawali Hai Aayi
“Bachchon khushiyan khoob manaao rang birange deep jalaao,
dene fir khush haali aai pyari deepawali hai aayi.
Ghar-ghar deep jalaana hai khoob mithaai khana hai.
pataakhe nahin bajaana hai.
paryavaran ko bachaana hai.
Mat karna bachchon manmaani pataakhon se nahin chhedkhaani.,
sabhi ke cheharon par hai laali “Jatan” sabhi ko subh Diwali.”
By Ashwani Kumar Jatan
“The clear blue sky,
The scent of flowers,
The colours of Rangoli,
And the sound of crackers.
The gifts and sweets from dear ones,
And the getting of their love,
The light of the candles below,
And the dazzling fireworks up above.
Lighting lamps at our homes,
Making the less fortunate smile,
Putting on new apparels,
Show our friends some style.
Paying respects to the gods,
And decorating for them the thali,
This is what the occasion is all about,
This is the spirit of Deepavali.”
Essence of Diwali : Diwali is made of many aspects as below. Many add to the enjoyment and add happiness in our lives but few have adverse effects as well.
- Diya: Diya is a small earthen lamp primarily lit during Diwali, the festival of lights. Also, known as ‘deep’, diya is traditionally made of clay. During Diwali, the earthen lamps are used for illuminating the entire home and premises. Lights: All the houses and shops are decked up with lights and is a sight to behold.
- Crackers: Fireworks are one of the major attractions of Diwali. People of all ages – from children to the old one – enjoy bursting crackers on the occasion. Crackers are burst during the night time in northern parts of India, while in southern parts of the country Diwali is celebrated early in the morning. Crackers are traditionally burst to ward off the evil spirits. he best way to ensure that you do not do much harm to your environment is to use crackers that do not make much noise and are safe to use. Children should burst crackers only under the guidance of adults.
- Maha-Laxmi Aarti Pooja is one of the most important features of Diwali celebrations. Lakshmi, who is considered the goddess of light, beauty, good fortune and wealth, is worshipped on the occasion of Diwali to bring prosperity in the family. She is also worshiped to achieve success and fortune. It is however said that she does not reside long with anyone who is lazy and untidy or desire her only as wealth. That is why before the Lakshmi Pooja, people actively clean their home and worship her with immense devotion.
- Dresses: Diwali time is incomplete without traditional Indian attire like sarees, lehengas, kurtas and salwar suits. New clothes are bought and wore with enthusiasm especially children.
- Cleaning: The home is scrub cleaned few days prior to the festival, in order to welcome Goddess Lakshmi – the Goddess of Wealth. People ensure that every nook and corner of their home and premises is cleaned. Apart from cleaning, they would decorate their place with flower garlands, torans, wall hangings, embellishments made of bells and mirrors etc.
- Giving Gifts: The festive season is the perfect time to revive your emotional and personal relationships as well as the social bond. Exchanging gifts is a lovely tradition of Diwali, which helps you make your personal, social and business ties stronger. The custom of exchanging gifts on Diwali is followed to show love, respect, thankfulness, appreciation and togetherness.
- Rangoli: Rangoli is the art of drawing images and figures on the floor, at the doorstep of one’s home. With the beautiful combination of colors, rangoli makes a magnificent piece of art. It has been a tradition in culturally rich India, to draw rangoli on festivals and other auspicious occasions, as it is considered a holy ritual. It makes a part of Diwali celebrations too. The main purpose of making rangoli at the doorstep, on Diwali, is to welcome Goddess Lakshmi, the Goddess of Wealth.
- Playing Games Playing cards is a good old tradition of Diwali. It is the one of the best pastimes for the occasion. While playing cards, be sure not to keep a lot of money on stake. You may play cards without gambling as well. Rummy is a popular game of cards. Apart from card games, you can utilize the time in playing indoor games such as ‘dumb charades’, ‘pass the parcel’, ‘musical chair’, and outdoor games such as ‘scavenger hunt’, ‘hide and seek’ etc.
- Diwali House Parties: Diwali is a festival when people feast on lavish meal. Delicious sweets are prepared by the women, to serve on sumptuous dinner and lunch. You may call upon and host a dinner or lunch. Although feasting is not mandatory for Diwali, many households take immense pleasure in hosting lunch or dinner, because they get a chance to strengthen their social ties, through the get-together.
- Decorated Markets and melas are a common sight and good for businesses. Shopping is on a large scale on this festive occasion but extravagant spending beyond budgets should be avoided as there are enough variety of stuff available at all price ranges.
- Just as there are drawbacks in every festival Diwali is no exception. Security threats because of crowded markets, Fire hazards due to improper storage and misuse of firecrackers, Pollution at alarming levels because of uncontrolled bursting of large crackers causing harm to environment and disturbing animals and old ad young, Traffic jams due to everyone trying to reach a particular destination and people addicted to reckless drinking and gambling using the festival as an excuse.
“May lights triumph over darkness May peace transcend the earth May the spirit of light illuminate the world May you celebrate a wonderful Diwali this year! Happy Diwali”