Hindu mythology accords Diwali, a well-known festival in India, with a great deal of spiritual reverence. It is widely observed in our nation and is referred to as the festival of lights.
Every year, the festival, whose name is derived from the Sanskrit word Deepavali, which means “row of lights,” shines brightly in honor of the triumph of light over darkness, good over evil, and knowledge over ignorance.
People celebrate Diwali (sometimes spelled Divali) in different ways throughout the culturally diverse regions of India and throughout the global diaspora, just like so many other cultural and religious holidays.
This festival’s dates are determined by the Hindu lunar calendar, which assigns a month to the length of the moon’s orbit around the Earth.
Between the Hindu months of Asvina and Kartika, which usually fall in October or November on the Gregorian calendar, is when Diwali begins. Diwali will begin on October 24 in 2022, and its most significant festival day will fall on October 25.
Dhantrayodashi, Narak Chaturdashi (Choti Diwali), Lakshmi Puja (Diwali), Govardhan Puja, and Bhaiyya Dooj are among the festivals associated with Diwali. However, generally speaking, each of the five Diwali days has a unique significance.
People pray to the goddess Lakshmi on the first day of Diwali, bake sweets, and clean their homes. The following day, they decorate their homes with lamps and rangolis, which are patterns made on the floor out of colored sand, powder, rice, or flower petals.
The third day of Diwali is the most significant; people may visit a temple to honor Lakshmi on this day or gather with friends and family for celebrations and fireworks. The lamps that the devotees had displayed the day before were also set on fire.
The fourth day of Diwali is often considered the New Year and a time for greetings and gift-giving. The fifth day is usually reserved for honoring one’s siblings.
We can therefore conclude that the Diwali festival fundamentally represents the spiritual triumph of light over darkness, good over evil, and knowledge over ignorance.
History of Diwali
India celebrates Diwali as its most important holiday. People who are far from home because of their work or studies find joy and happiness in it. They use it as an opportunity to go back to their hometown and celebrate the festival with their family and friends.
Diwali is a festival of lights that is annually observed between October and November, and it is firmly believed that it originated more than 2500 years ago.
A few of the numerous Tamil Scriptures, Travelers, Publications, etc. that make reference to Diwali are listed below:
- The diyas, or lamps, in the Skanda Purana, named for Skanda, a son of Shiva and Parvati, are represented as the parts of the Sun, which provides light and energy to all life. The purana also mentions that this occurs during the Sun God’s transition in the month of Karthika.
- In the seventh century, King Harsha wrote the play Nagananda, which mentions Deepavali as the day when diyas were lit and gifts were given to newlyweds and grooms.
- It is cited in the Padma Purana as
Thaile Lakshmirjale Ganga Deepavalyaschaturdasheem ।
Praatahkaale Tu Yah Kuryath Yamalokam Na Pashyathi ।।
Meaning that those who take an oil and water bath on Chaturdashi, the fourteenth day of the Karthika month, will generally don’t go to Yamaloka because they believe Lakshmi lives in oil and Ganga in water there.
- Rajasekhara referred to Deepavali as Dipamalika in his Kavyamimamsa, written in the ninth century. He mentions the custom of homes being painted white and oil lamps decorating streets, markets, and homes at night.
- Hindu holidays such as Diwali and other celebrations were also mentioned by Islamic historians of the Delhi Sultanate and the Mughal Empire. Some, including the Mughal emperor Akbar, approved of the celebrations and took part in them, while others, like Aurangzeb in 1665, outlawed holidays like Diwali and Holi.
- Several tourists who traveled to India described Diwali.
- In the Persian traveler and historian Al Biruni autobiography from the 11th century, he described how Hindus would celebrate Deepavali on the day of the New Moon in the Kartika month.
- Early in the 15th century, Venetian merchant and traveler Niccol de’ Contivisite visited India. In his memoir, he noted that during one of the festivals, “They fix up an innumerable number of oil lamps which are kept burning day and night within their temples and on the outside of the roofs,” and the families would gather to feast and “clothe themselves in new garments.”
- The 16th-century Portuguese traveler Domingo Paes described his journey to the Hindu Vijayanagara Empire, where people celebrated Dipavali by lighting lamps in their homes and temples in October.
- Diwali was mentioned in publications from the British Colonial era as well.
Why is Diwali celebrated?
Diwali has been celebrated for a very long time. The five-day holiday is celebrated for a variety of reasons, like many Hindu festivals. It is impossible to determine which tale appeared in religious texts first or how long ago Diwali began because the ancient festival is connected to many different tales.
The myths that are told during Diwali vary greatly by region and even within Hindu tradition, but they all share a common emphasis on morality, introspection, and the value of knowledge.
According to an Indologist and scholar of Religious Studies, Lindsey Harlan, is the way to dispel the “darkness of ignorance.” These myths’ narration is reminiscent of Hindu teachings that good always prevails over evil.
Below are some of the mythical and historical explanations for the Diwali celebrations:
1) The Ramayana, a renowned Hindu epic, contains the most well-known Diwali myth. The prince of Ayodhya, Rama, was told by his father, King Dasharatha, to leave his homeland and return after spending fourteen years in the forest.
Rama, his devoted wife Sita, and their obedient brother Lakshmana then left for exile. Rama engaged in battle with and eventually defeated Ravana when he kidnapped Sita and took her to his island kingdom of Lanka. Lord Ram saved Sita and after fourteen years, he returned to Ayodhya.
In Hinduism, Prince Rama is revered as both a manifestation of Lord Vishnu and a personification of dharma, or morality whereas Lakshmi, the goddess of abundance and prosperity, appears as Sita. Villagers lit up their homes with earthen lamps (diyas), set off fireworks, and lavishly decorated the entire city to mark Rama’s return to Ayodhya.
It is thought that this is where the tradition of Diwali originated. Every year on Diwali, people celebrate Lord Rama’s return home with lights, fireworks, the popping of crackers, and good times. As a result of the rows (avali) of lamps (deeyo) that the people of Ayodhya lit to welcome their King, the festival is also known as Deepawali or Diwali.
2) Another famous tale about the origins of Diwali is narrated in the other Hindu epic, known as ‘Mahabharata’. In the Mahabharata, the five royal brothers, the Pandavas, are shown to have lost to their brothers, the Kauravas, in a dice game (gambling).
The Pandavas were forced to follow a rule that required them to spend 13 years in exile. When the time period was over, on the day of “Kartik Amavasya” (the new moon day of the Kartik month) they went back to their hometown of Hastinapura.
All of the villagers adored the five Pandava brothers, their mother, and their wife Draupadi because of their honesty, goodness, gentleness, and compassion. The common people lighted bright earthen lamps all over their state to celebrate the joyous occasion of the Pandavas’ return to Hastinapura and to welcome them back.
The celebration of Diwali, which many people think commemorates the return of the Pandava brothers, is credited with keeping the tradition alive.
3) another tale of celebrating Diwali was after Krishna’s Victory over Narakasura. The Bhagavata Purana also describes Narakasura, a powerful evil demon king who somehow overcame the heavens and earth.
Narakasura was a terrible ruler and was very cruel. On the day before Diwali, Lord Vishnu is said to have killed Narakasura and freed a large number of the demon’s captive women. The release from the terrible Narakasura’s control brought great relief to the inhabitants of heaven and earth.
They observed the occasion with great splendor, continuing a custom that is thought to still exist today thanks to the annual celebration of Diwali.
4) Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth and prosperity and the wife of Vishnu, is also said to have emerged from the ocean on this very Diwali day. According to Hindu scriptures, both Devas (gods) and Asuras (demons) were mortal long ago. They had to pass away eventually, just like us. However, they desired eternal life.
In order to find Amrita, the nectar of immortality, they churned the ocean (a process known in Hindu scriptures as “Samudra-Manthan”), during which many divine objects appeared. The first of these was Goddess Lakshmi, who appeared on the new moon day (Amavasya) of the Kartik month. Lord Vishnu wed her that very night.
To mark this holy occasion, brilliant lamps were illuminated and arranged in rows. This incident is thought to have inspired a yearly celebration that takes place around the same time each year. Hindus still commemorate the goddess Lakshmi’s birth and her union with Lord Vishnu on Diwali and ask her blessings for the upcoming year.
Ganesha, the elephant-headed son of Parvati and Shiva of the Shaivism tradition, is remembered as a person who symbolizes ethical beginnings and the remover of obstacles alongside Lakshmi, who is representative of Vaishnavism.
5) The stories told in the Hindu Puranas, the main repository of Hindu religious texts, are also referenced in discussions of the origin of Diwali. The most revered Hindu text, the Bhagavata Purana, states that Lord Vishnu defeated King Bali on a Kartik day by taking the form of a dwarf (Vaman-avtaara).
Bali, or more precisely King Mahabali, was the earth’s most potent demon king. Bali once received a blessing from Lord Brahma that rendered him impregnable. Even gods could not outmatch him in combat. Mahabali was cruel to the Devas despite being a wise and honorable king in other respects (gods).
The Devas went to Lord Vishnu and begged him to find a way to stop Bali after they were unable to defeat Bali. Lord Vishnu devised a scheme. He approached Bali and asked for some alms in disguise as a short Brahmin. Mahabali, a kind-hearted king, made an effort to assist the Brahmin.
However, it turned out to be Lord Vishnu’s trick, and the King ultimately had to forfeit his entire throne and fortune. Diwali commemorates Lord Vishnu’s victory over Mahabali as well as another symbolic triumph of good and knowledge over ignorance and evil.
6) Additionally, trade and merchant families as well as others pray to Kubera, who represents bookkeeping, treasury, and wealth management, and as well as Saraswati, who represents music, literature, and learning.
The Diwali festival marks the beginning of a new year in some northern Hindu communities in India and in western states like Gujarat.
7) Another myth claims that long ago, after the gods had fallen to the demons in a war, Goddess Kali was born from the forehead of Goddess Durga to protect heaven and earth from the demons’ escalating cruelty.
After eliminating all the demons, Kali lost control and began murdering anyone who got in her way. She was only stopped when Lord Shiva stepped in. You must be all familiar with the iconic image of Ma Kali sticking out her tongue.
Actually, that captures the moment she steps on Lord Shiva and stops in awe and regret. Since then, people have celebrated Kali Puja, which is observed in many regions of India around the same time as Diwali, as a way to remember this unforgettable occasion.
8) History holds that King Vikramaditya, the legendary Hindu king of India renowned for his wisdom, bravery, and big heart, was crowned and proclaimed to be a king on a Diwali day in 56 BC.
The coronation of their king was celebrated by the people of Vikramaditya’s kingdom by lighting up small earthen lamps, and this tradition still exists today. Many individuals, including some historians, claim that this incident is what gave rise to the annual celebration of Diwali.
9) Additionally, Diwali commemorates the holy day when Swami Dayananda Saraswati, one of Hinduism’s greatest reformers, attained nirvana (enlightenment) and took the name “Maharshi” Dayananda, or “the great sage Dayananda,” on a new moon day of Kartik (Diwali day).
Maharshi Dayananda established the Arya Samaj, also known as the “Society of Nobles,” in 1875 in order to rid Hinduism of the numerous vices that had come to be associated with it during that time. Every Diwali, Hindus across India remember this great reformer.
According to a scholar of Jainism and Nivethan, the Jain tradition celebrates Diwali in remembrance of “Mahavira Nirvana Divas,” which commemorates Mahavira’s actual death and ultimate nirvana.
Many regions of India celebrate Jain Diwali, which follows similar customs to Hindu Diwali, including lighting lamps and praying to Lakshmi. However, the devotion to Mahavira continues to be the main focus of Jain Diwali.
The festival commemorates the emancipation of human spirit from earthly desires, and according to Jain tradition, the practice of lighting lamps first started on the day of Mahavira’s nirvana in 527 BCE, when 18 kings who had gathered for Mahavira’s final teachings issued a proclamation that lamps be lit in remembrance of the “great light, Mahavira.”
Jains’ historical works of art, such as paintings, reflect their traditional understanding of Diwali’s beginnings and the significance of the holiday to them.
In remembrance of Guru Hargobind’s release from the Gwalior Fort prison by the Mughal emperor Jahangir and the day he arrived at the Golden Temple in Amritsar, Sikhs observe Bandi Chhor Divas.
J.S. Grewal, a specialist in Sikhism and Sikh history, asserts that Diwali predates the legend of the sixth Guru Hargobind. In order to foster a sense of community, Guru Amar Das, the third Guru of the Sikhs, constructed a well in Goindwal with 84 steps and invited Sikhs to bathe in its holy waters on Baisakhi and Diwali.
These spring and fall celebrations rose to prominence as the most significant Sikh holidays, and holy locations like Amritsar became the main destinations for yearly pilgrimages.
The founding of Amritsar in 1577, Guru Hargobind’s release from the Mughal prison, and the day of Bhai Mani Singh’s martyrdom in 1738 as a result of his failure to pay a fine for trying to celebrate Diwali and later refusing to convert to Islam are the three historical events that Ray Colledge claims the festival of Diwali highlights.
With the exception of the Newar people of Nepal, who honor various Vajrayana Buddhist deities and observe Diwali by praying to Lakshmi, most Buddhists do not observe the holiday of Diwali.
In the same manner and on the same days as Nepalese Hindus, Newar Buddhists in the country’s valleys also observe the five-day Diwali festival. Some observers contend that the worship of Lakshmi and Vishnu during the traditional Newar celebration of Diwali is not syncretism but instead a reflection of the freedom within Mahayana Buddhist tradition to worship any deity for one’s worldly advancement.
13) Harvest festival
The Hindu festival of Diwali has also been thought of as the start of the harvest season in India, according to ancient Sanskrit texts. This fact is mentioned in the Skanda Purana and Padma Purana.
Diwali was a harvest festival that was primarily observed by farmers in ancient India in light of the fact that they would harvest their crops between October and November. Insects that ate the crops and destroyed them posed a serious threat to the farmers.
As a result, the farmers began illuminating diyas to draw and kill insects. This turned out to be quite successful because their crops were stored safely and they could now benefit from a good harvest.
Another widely held opinion holds that Diwali may have started out as a harvest festival, celebrating the year’s final harvest before winter.
14) The Dhanvantari, the Lord of Medicines who bestowed the knowledge of Ayurveda, is also connected to Diwali. His birthday is commemorated today in honor of him teaching people about medicine.
After knowing the history of Diwali, you may want to know about its significance.
The Significance of Diwali
In addition to its enormous popularity and spectacular fireworks displays, Diwali is significant because it represents the triumph of light over darkness, good over evil, knowledge over ignorance, and right over wrong.
Every Diwali festival ritual has a purpose and a version of history to go along with it. It is a moment of great spiritual significance because it represents the shining of our own inner light and the sharing of it with others.
Diyas, candles, and lamps are placed all over the house on this day to “light” the path to wisdom and success. As a sign of respect for the gods who are responsible for the attainment of knowledge, health, wealth, peace, and prosperity, homes are lit up with lights and firecrackers fill the sky. It is a truly wondrous sight to behold, the whole country bathed in the soft glow of light and warmth emanating from every home.
The lights of Diwali symbolize a time to extinguish all of our evil intentions and fantasies, to banish all shadowy forces, and to give us the vigor and zeal to continue spreading goodwill throughout the rest of the year.
They brighten the energetic path that allows the Light within us to shine. They serve as a reminder of the value of knowledge, the significance of knowing oneself, and the importance of knowing and seeking the good and correct path. For Light Seekers, Deepavali holds a special significance and value because it only occurs once a year.
It’s also thought that the sound of fireworks signals the happiness of earth’s inhabitants and the existence of the abundant Gods. People are discovering better ways to express their joy, though, because of the impact they have on the environment.