Significance of Diwali
Diwali or Deepavali is the most important festival of India. Like all Indian festivals, it has no fixed dates. It follows Hindu calendar and falls on the thirteenth/fourteenth day in the dark fortnight (Krishna Paksha) of Kartik Month. In Gregorian calendar, this can fall anytime between mid-October and mid-November. Being the fourteenth night in Krishna Paksh, Diwali is also known as Krishna Chaturdashi.
A usual Diwali in India is made of cleaning houses and shops, drawing Kolam or Rangoli, praying, bursting crackers, feasting on good food, meeting dear ones, and exchanging sweets and gifts. There’s however surprisingly more to the significance of Diwali. It’s way beyond Ram’s return to Ayodhya, as put in Ramayana. In fact, significance of Diwali in other religions is as much, if not more, as in Hinduism. We’ve put forth some cross-religion reasons for celebration of Diwali
Rama Returns to Ayodhya
Basics first. After killing Ravana in (Sri) Lanka, Ram returned to Ayodhya after a 14 year exile in forests. The day of their return was new moon of Karthik. Ram’s followers in Ayodhya celebrated Diwali by illuminating the entire city with candles and lamps.
Krishna Kills Narakaasur
Narakaasur was a demon who scandalized and often kidnapped the villagers of Vrindavan, including Krishna’s Gopis. He had kidnapped as many as 16,000 women and had a boon that he can only be killed by his mother (earth). The all-knowing Krishna took his wife Satyabhaama who was a reincarnation of earth. Unaware of Narkaasru’s parentage, Sathyabaama aimed an arrow at him (when Krishna was unconscious) and killed him instantly. His death – on 14th night of Karthik – is what we know as Narak Chaturdashee Parv.
Pandavas emerge from exile
In a deceitful game of dice-gambling, Pandavas were imposed with a 12 year exile in forest followed by a year of living incognito. The end of their thirteenth year was Karthik Amavasya (dark night). The well-wishers of Pandavas celebrated this by lighting up their homes.
Vaman (Vishnu) banishes Bali
The demon-king Bali was mighty and god-loving but arrogant ruler who practiced vainglory. Vishnu – in his 5th incarnation as Vaman (dwarf) – schemed and sent Bali to netherworld (Patal Lok). He then rescued Lakshmi and returned to his holy abode called Vaikuntha. This is why Lakshmi and Vishnu are worshipped on Diwali.
Mahavir attains Nirvana
Mahavira or Vardhamana was the last Jain Tirthankar (liberator) and therefore the founder of modern Jainism. It is said that Mahavir attained Salvation on the day of Diwali (fourteenth), back on 527 BCE. Jainis celebrate Diwali by remembering and revering Mahavira in several ways.
Significance for Arya Samajis
The moment of Arya Samaj was founded by Maharshi Dayanand Saraswati, a Hindu religious leader of 19th century. Swami Dayanand – after being poisoned by his cook under the influence of a female dancer – breathed his last and attained salvation on Diwali. The day therefore holds a special significance for Arya Samaj, a spin-off from Hinduism. You can read the detailed story of Dayanand Saraswati’s death here.
Krishna Defeats Indra
On this day in past, Indra (the god of rain) was angry at citizens of Vrindavan and rained havoc on them. To save the people from rain, Krishna lifted the Govardhan Parvat on his finger. Govardhan Puja is performed for the same reason each year.
Significance of Diwali for Sikhs
The origin of Sikhism is in Hinduism. Our Sikh brothers were originally a clan of warrior Hindus, formed to protect our land and women from alien infiltrators.
Back in 1619, Guru Hargobind Ji, the sixth guru of Sikhs was released (with 52 kings) from the Fort of Gwalior by then Mughal emperor Jehangir, a day before Diwali. The following day which was Diwali, he reached Amritsar to meet his followers. They celebrate this occasion as Bandhi chor Divas (Prisoners’ Release Day). Akhand Paath(continuous chanting of Guru Granth Sahib), Nagar Kirtan (town procession),
Besides the above mentioned reasons, Diwali or the day after it also marks the beginning of a new year. This is why you clean our houses, dress in your finest and exchange good wishes with everyone. These celebrations were induced as allegorical tools to cleanse your mind and heart.
Alas, we’re losing the real meaning of the multi-event festival and are being consumed more and moer by the so called rituals. Some of us gamble that night, saying it’s the day of Lakshmi’s and gambling is good. If that were true, were Pandavas actually respecting Draupadi when they gambled her in Mahabharata?
If not as a pious festival, consider Diwali as a new beginning without and within you. Try to do one good thing for someone this day. Feed a hungry person, brighten up a dark hut, share sweets with the famished, give education to someone, use your cracker’s money to burn up someone’s miseries, and not merely pollute the world. You will then begin to understand the real significance of Diwali.