Diwali, or Deepavali, is a Hindu festival that is celebrated every year on the 15th day of the month of Kartik in the Hindu calendar (in October or November on the Western calendar). During Diwali, sometimes called the “Festival of Lights,” clay lamps or diyas are lit to signify the destruction, through knowledge, of all negative qualities — be it violence, anger, jealousy, greed, fear or suffering. In other words, Diwali celebrates the victory of good over evil.
The story of Diwali is known by every Hindu child as it is celebrated in almost every home. There are several legends about the origin of Diwali. One goes back to the Hindu Epic of the Ramayana.
Over a thousand years ago, there was a kind, humble, and much beloved Prince named Rama who was soon to be named King. Instead, his jealous stepmother found a way to have Rama banished to the forest for 14 years. His wife, Sita, and brother, Lakshman, went with him because they did not want to leave his side. One day, a demon king named Ravana saw Sita and fell in love with her beauty. He hatched a plan and eventually kidnapped her. Rama went in pursuit of Ravana and fought a great war to win his beloved Sita back. After their reunion and completing their 14 year exile, Rama, Sita, and Lakshman returned home to Ayodhya where the people rejoiced and lit lamps all over the kingdom to welcome them back. Shortly after, Rama was crowned King of Ayodhya.
Another story for Diwali is about the victory of Krishna over the demon Narakasura. Thousands of years ago, there lived a young lad named Narkasura. He was the son of Mother Earth. Narakasura could have been a very fair ruler, but over time he befriended a demon and soon Narakasura also became evil. Narkasura was horrible and wreaked havoc on all of those around him. He started taking over neighboring kingdoms and soon set his sights on a heavenly kingdom called Svargaloka. He seemed unstoppable. As the demon felt more and more empowered, his evil doings grew greater. One day he decided to kidnap all the beautiful young damsels of the kingdom. The inhabitants of Svargaloka could take it no longer. They called upon Lord Krishna to save them from Narkasura’s terror. Lord Krishna came as soon as he heard and fought the demon in a fierce battle. Lord Krishna defeated Narakasura and stopped the evil demon, restoring peace and prosperity to the people.
Sikhs also recognize Diwali to celebrate the release of the Sixth Guru, Hargobind, one of their spiritual leaders, from captivity by the Mughal Emperor Jehangir. In his honor, lamps were lit all the way to the Golden Temple, welcoming his return. For Jains, Diwali is the day Lord Mahavira, the last of the Jain Tirthankaras (Ford-maker or Savior), achieved enlightenment or nirvana/moksha. Lastly, Buddhists, especially Newar Buddhists, commemorate Diwali as Ashok Vijayadashami, the day the great Emperor Ashoka embraced Buddhism as his faith.
As per Hindu tradition, Diwali is celebrated with grand splendor, many to welcome the new year. It is on Diwali that…
…sweet and savory snacks are prepared throughout the day.
…every home is lit with diyas, leaving no room for darkness to enter.
…every doorstep is decorated with rangoli to welcome guests with great honor.
…one fashions new clothing to thank Goddess Lakshmi for providing prosperity and good fortune.
…when the sun sets, firecrackers light up the streets.
It is on Diwali that every face is adorned with a smile.