Go over ten mythical and
historical reasons why Diwali (Deepavali) is celebrated annually.
1. Goddess Lakshmi’s Birthday:
On this very Diwali day, the Goddess of
wealth, Lakshmi is said to have been incarnated from the depth of the
bottomless ocean. The Hindu scriptures tell us that both Devas(gods)
and Asuras (demons) were mortal (Mrita) at one point of time. Seeking a
deathless condition (Amarattva), they churned the ocean to seek
Amrita, the nectar of immortality (an event mentioned in the Hindu
scriptures as "Samudra-manthan"), during which a host of divine
celestial 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. She was subsequently married to Lord
Vishnu on the same darkest night of the year and brilliant lamps were
illuminated and placed in rows to mark this holy occassion.
Hence the association of Diwali with Goddess Lakshmi and the tradition
of lighting of lamps and candles during the festival. To this day,
Hindus celebrate the birth of the goddess Lakshmi and her marriage to
Lord Vishnu on Diwali and seek her blessings for the coming year.
2. The Legend of King Mahabali:
The Bhagavata Purana (also known as
Srimad Bhagavatam), the most sacred Hindu text, reveals how on a
Lord Vishnu, in his fifth incarnation as Vaman-avtaara,
rescued Lakshmi from the prison of King Bali during the Treta Yug.
Bali, or rather King Mahabali, was a powerful demon king who ruled the
earth. Powered by a boon granted to him by Lord Brahma, Bali was
invincible and even gods failed to defeat him in battles. Although a
wise and perfect king otherwise, Mahabali was violent in his ways with
the Devas (gods). On their insistence, Lord Vishnu disguised himself as
a short Brahmin and approached Bali for some charity. The righteous
and benevolent King couldn't refuse the Brahmin's offer and was
tricked into giving up his kingship and wealth (of which Lakshmi is
said to be the Goddess). Diwali marks this overcoming of Mahabali by
Lord Vishnu and this is another reason why Goddess Lakshmi is
worshipped on Diwali.
In Kerala, the festival of 'Onam' is celebrated around the month of
August to mark this legend.
3. The Killing of Narakasura:
The Bhagavata Purana tells us about
Narakasura, an evil demon king who had managed to acquire awesome
powers. Unrivalled in prowess, he conquered both the heavens and earth
and was tyrannical in his reign. Addicted to power, he even stole the
earrings of Aditi, the heavenly mother goddess, and usurped some of
her territory. When Lord Vishnu was incarnated as Krishna in the
Dwapara Yuga, he killed Narakasura on the day preceding Diwali and
rescued 16,000 women whom the demon had imprisoned in his palace. The
deliverance from the terrible Narakasura was celebrated with much
grandeur, a tradition that continues to this day.
However, another version of the story credits Lord Krishna's wife
Sathyabhama as the one who eliminated Narakasura. It is said that
Narakasura could only be killed by his mother Bhudevi and as
Satyabhama was an incarnation of the same Bhudevi, she only could kill
him. Before death, however, Narakasura realized his mistake and
requested a boon from Satyabhama that everyone should celebrate his
death with colorful light. To commemorate his death, the event is
celebrated in some parts of India as Naraka Chaturdasi, two days
before Diwali day.
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4. The Return of the Pandavas:
The great Hindu epic ‘Mahabharata’
reveals that it was ‘Kartik Amavashya’ (the new moon day of the Kartik
month) when the Pandavas appeared from their 12 years of banishment as
a result of their defeat in the hands of the Kauravas at the game of
dice (gambling). 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. And the tradition is maintained to this day.
5. The Victory of Rama:
The great Hindu epic ‘Ramayana’ describes how
Lord Ram (the incarnation of Lord Vishnu in the Treta Yug) conquered
vanquishing the evil King Ravana and after passing a
period of of fourteen years in exile returned to his capital Ayodhya
on a new moon day of Kartik with wife Sita and brother Lakshman. To
celebrate the homecoming of their beloved king, the people of Ayodhya
burst crackers, lit up their houses with earthen lamps (diyas), and
decorated the entire city in the grandest manner. 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.
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6. Coronation of Vikramaditya:
It is also said that Vikramaditya, the
legendary Indian king famed for his wisdom, valour and magnanimity was
coroneted on the Diwali day following his victory over the Sakas in 56
BC. This was marked by a grand celebration which is still maintained
annually. One of the greatest Hindu monarchs, Vikramaditya ruled the
greatest empire in the world from modern-day Thailand in the east to
the borders of modern-day Saudi Arabia in the west. Diwali, thus,
apart from being a religious festival also has a historical
7. The Enlightenment of Swami Dayananda Saraswati:
Diwali also marks
the auspicious 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
8. The Enlightenment of Vardhamana Mahavira:
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
9. Special Day for the Sikhs:
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.
10. Goddess Kali:
Kali, also called Shyama Kali, is the first of the
(incarnations) of Goddess Durga, Lord Shiva's consort.
According to legend, long ago after the gods lost in a battle with the
demons, Goddess Kali was born as Kal Bhoi Nashini from the forehead of
Goddess Durga. Said to be a personification of Nari Shakti (female
power), Kali was born 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. The well-known picture of Ma Kali, with
her tongue hanging out, actually depicts the moment when she steps on
the Lord and repents.
That momentous day has been commemorated ever since and the main
purpose of celebrating Kali Puja is to seek the help of the goddess in
destroying evil both external and internal to us as also to get her
blessings for general happiness, health, wealth, and peace.
11. The Harvest Festival: Diwali also falls in the time of the Kharif crop, a time when rich rice cultivation gives its fruits. India being a agro-economic society, the significance of a rich harvest gives a new meaning to the celebrations.
12. Hindu New Year day: Diwali is also the Hindu new year, Hinduism being the third largest religion of the world. It is at this time that Hindu businessmen offer pujas, start new books of accounts, and pay off all debts to start a new year afresh, a good enough reason alone to indulge in the festivities.
To conclude, there are several reasons behind Diwali celebrations and
almost every region of India has its own reason to observe the
occasion. All of these however, matters little to the festival
itself. Whatever the cause behind its celebration, Diwali is
undoubtedly a national festival of India, and the aesthetic aspect of
the festival is enjoyed by most Indians regardless of faith.
Happy Deepavali to everyone!
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