Deepawali, Deepavali, or Diwali is the biggest and the brightest of all Hindu festivals. It is the festival of lights: deep means “light” and avali “a row” to become “a row of lights.” Diwali is marked by four days of celebration, which literally illuminates the country with its brilliance and dazzles people with its joy.
The Diwali festival occurs in late October or early November. It falls on the 15th day of the Hindu month of Kartik, so it varies every year. Each of the four days in the festival of Diwali is marked with a different tradition. What remains constant is the celebration of life, its enjoyment, and a sense of goodness.
History of Diwali
It is since ancient times that Diwali has been celebrated. It is not easy to say now what really was the reason behind its origin. 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 occassion with much grandeur, a tradition that is believed to be alive through the annual observance of Diwali.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Message by Sudarshan Bandu –
President of the Hindu Cultural Society
It is of great significance that many cultures depict the divine as light. We may have often heard the phrase Tamaso ma Jyotir Gamaya (Lead us from darkness unto light).Light is the ultimate goal. It is from darkness that we all strive towards becoming the best we can. Diwali or Deepavali is a significant festival in Hinduism that will be celebrated on the darkest night (amavasya) by Hindu’s across the globe .This is perhaps the most well-known of the Indian festivals: it is celebrated throughout India, as well as in Indian communities throughout the diaspora. Every human being experiences life by the way of both pain and pleasure. In order to grow and attain our full potential, this journey of trials and tribulations is essential. Diwali symbolises this process. This festival of goodness over evil is the pinnacle of all religious activities for the year. Diwali is characterised by rejoicing, mutual friendship and sharing. The celebration of this joyous festival signifies the removal of all darkness, jealousy, greed, envy and other negative emotions. In its place shines the light of wisdom and knowledge. Even though the night sky is enveloped in darkness, the rows of little lamps provide hope and a pathway towards peace and happiness. This is also the reason why so many lamps are left burning on Diwali night .Lighting of lamps or diyyas during Diwali signifies the triumph of virtue over vice, of good over evil, of light over darkness and of knowledge over ignorance. This enchanting and popular festival with its sanctity, splendour, rejoicing and festivity does not only unify the Hindus of all castes and nationalities, but in reality blankets the whole world with the feeling and thoughts of Goodwill, love, brotherhood and charity. Thus Diwali brings out the full potential to experience life on a positive level.
The external ethics of Deepavali heralding in happiness, stability and security, peace and prosperity, is profoundly meaningful to our world. To save ourselves, mankind needs to learn from the lessons of universalism and humanism of Deepavali and Hindu Dharma that is enshrined in such basic tenets as: The world is one family, may we look at all with a friendly eye, God is one, and the wise describe the one Supreme Being in various forms. It is only this realisation that all human beings, regardless of race, religion, colour or creed are equal children of the one God that will stop the senseless destruction of man by man. It is only when we understand that God is present in all things that we recognise the sanctity of all beings, respect the dignity and divinity in all beings and treat all life as sacred.
The light of Deepavali urges us to help the poor and needy, the sick and the starving and the forlorn and forgotten. For Deepavali to be meaningful, its spirit of good will and generosity must flow beyond the event itself and diffuse into and direct our daily lives. In order for us to face the challenges and solve the problems in this day and age, we need to individually replace the darkness within ourselves with the striking light of righteousness. We need to eradicate the ‘dark’ habits of greed, lust, jealousy, selfishness and hate and replace them with virtuous qualities of love and selflessness. Let us not keep finding faults in others but identify faults in ourselves and rectify them. If the individual grows with admirable qualities then society will reflect this.
The upward movement of the flame in a lamp beckons man to pursue the road to progress and urges him to ascend spiritually through sacrifice and service to mankind. The clay lamp burning with ease and grace, equally brilliant whether in a hut or bungalow, imparts the lesson that all humans are born equal, irrespective of their colour or creed. The lamp is a reminder for the upliftment of the individual, free of linguistic, social, cultural, religious, political and other dividing influence that separates us from one another. Even in the darkest of days one should not despair .The little shimmering lamps beckon one to never quit, pick yourself up and pursue the path of light, moksha (liberation) from our various levels of despair will surely be attained.
On behalf of the Estcourt Hindu Cultural Society I would like to wish all Hindus a joyous, blessed and prosperous Deepavali. May the festival of lights continue to transcend barriers, illuminate our hearts, rekindle the divine spiritual spark within us, and help bring back love, goodwill, harmony, peace and a sense of brotherhood amongst all, thereby uniting all of mankind. May the loving Lord light up the lives of all human beings with peace, progress, prosperity, health, harmony and happiness.
The Spiritual Significance of Diwali
Diwali is also a time to reflect on life and make changes for the upcoming year. With that, there are a number of customs that revelers hold dear each year.
Give and forgive.
It is common practice that people forget and forgive the wrongs done by others during Diwali. There is an air of freedom, festivity, and friendliness everywhere.
Rise and shine.
Waking up during the Brahmamuhurta (at 4 a.m., or 1 1/2 hours before sunrise) is a great blessing from the standpoint of health, ethical discipline, efficiency in work, and spiritual advancement. The sages who instituted this Deepawali custom may have hoped that their descendants would realize its benefits and make it a regular habit in their lives.
Unite and unify.
Diwali is a unifying event, and it can soften even the hardest of hearts. It is a time when people mingle about in joy and embrace one another.
Those with keen inner spiritual ears will clearly hear the voice of the sages, “O children of God unite, and love all.” The vibrations produced by the greetings of love, which fill the atmosphere, are powerful. When the heart has considerably hardened, only a continuous celebration of Deepavali can rekindle the urgent need of turning away from the ruinous path of hatred.
Prosper and progress.
On this day, Hindu merchants in North India open their new account books and pray for success and prosperity during the coming year. People buy new clothes for the family. Employers, too, purchase new clothes for their employees.
Homes are cleaned and decorated by day and illuminated by night with earthen oil lamps. The best and finest illuminations can be seen in Bombay and Amritsar. The famous Golden Temple at Amritsar is lit in the evening with thousands of lamps.
This festival instills charity in the hearts of people, who perform good deeds. This includes Govardhan Puja, a celebration by Vaishnavites on the fourth day of Diwali. On this day, they feed the poor on an incredible scale.
Illuminate your inner self.
The lights of Diwali also signify a time of inner illumination. Hindus believe that the light of lights is the one that steadily shines in the chamber of the heart. Sitting quietly and fixing the mind on this supreme light illuminates the soul. It is an opportunity to cultivate and enjoy eternal bliss.