As one of the major festivals that lights up the whole country, Diwali is celebrated with vigor.
The most popular myth behind this celebration is the return of Lord Rama to Ayodhya along with Sita and Lakshmana after defeating the demon Ravana and completing 14 years of exile. Diwali also welcomes Goddess Lakshmi, the goddess of prosperity, together with Lord Ganesha, the epitome of wisdom and the remover of obstacles. However, there are many other lesser known legends and tales of mythological significance related to the festival. In some parts of India, especially Bengal, Diwali is dedicated to the worship of Maa Kali. It is said that the Goddess was born to save the earth and heavens from the atrocities of cruel demons. However, in her rage, she lost control and slaughtered everyone who came in her way. Lord Shiva had to intervene to stop her killing spree, at which point she stepped on him. Filled with horror and remorse over this action, her red tongue came out, and she ultimately stopped her violent actions. The festival is also linked to Lord Vishnu, who, after being utterly impressed by the serene beauty of Goddess Lakshmi, decided to marry her. Earthen diyas were illuminated in a row to mark the occasion. Additionally, the victory of Lord Krishna over the wicked demon Narakasura is also commemorated by this festival.
Besides mythological significance, Diwali also holds great significance for farmers. In ancient India, farmers faced a huge threat from insects that were destroying their crops, especially during the months of October and November. So they started lighting diyas in order to attract the insects and kill them.
In this way, their crops remained safe, and they were able to enjoy the benefits of a good harvest. Today, farmers celebrate Diwali and pray for a good harvest of their crops during these months. Being one of the most auspicious occasions, Diwali is celebrated not only in India, but also in Southern Asia and other parts of the world.
Every ritual of the Diwali festival has a significance and a story behind it, symbolising the spiritual victory of light over darkness, good over evil. This gives people the strength and zeal to carry on with their goodwill for the rest of the year. The first day of Diwali is popularly known as dhanteras. Typically, people start cleaning their homes and workplaces a month before Diwali. Most people usually do deep cleaning, sometimes even going for whitewashes or painting. On Dhantaras, people buy new metallic items, like jewellery. Some even buy clothes and furniture. The second day of Diwali is known as Choti Diwali or Naraka Chaturdashi. This day indicates freedom from all kinds of suffering. A variety of sweets are prepared and distributed among relatives and friends. Houses are decorated by illuminating earthen diyas. The third day of the festival is considered as the main day of Diwali, also known as Lakshmi puja as devotees welcome Goddess Lakshmi into their homes.
Popular belief is that, during samudra manthan, or the churning of the sea during Satyuga, Goddess Lakshmi emerged from the cosmic ocean with a pot of gold. Dhanvantari, the God of medicine, is also said to have appeared on this day. The last day of Diwali is associated with Lord Yamraj or Yama, the God of death, and his sister Yamuna. Govardhan puja is also performed on this day, when people express their gratitude to Lord Krishna, who, according to Hindu mythology, lifted Govardhan hill in Vrindavan to provide shelter to villagers from the torrential rain. In some Jain homes, Diwali also marks the great event of Lord Mahavira attaining nirvana.
Throughout Diwali, people cover streets and buildings in festive lighting accompanied with lively songs, dance and dazzling fireworks, creating a spectacle of noise and light, which helps scare away evil spirits and celebrate the victory of good over evil. Diwali is also a time to settle debts and make peace. It is common for people to reach out to loved ones who may have lost touch and organise family reunions. In the past, Indian and Pakistani soldiers have exchanged sweets along the disputed borders as a gesture of goodwill on Diwali. Even though the festival’s rituals last for five days, the fireworks and festivities often last for days afterwards. The festival of lights not only involves the lighting of physical lamps, but also evokes the light of happiness, togetherness, spiritual enlightenment, and prosperity within everyone. With houses decorated with colourful rangolis, flowers, and lights, Diwali is a day when dark forces are put to death and light reigns.
By Swaroopa Mitra