Review ten mythical and historical reasons why Diwali (Deepavali) is celebrated annually.
1. Birthday of Goddess Lakshmi: On this same day of Diwali, the Goddess of wealth, it is said that Lakshmi was embodied in the depth of the bottomless ocean. Hindu scriptures tell us that both the Devas (gods) and the Asuras (demons) were mortal (Mitra) at any given time. Seeking an immortal condition (Amarattva), they stirred the ocean to look for Amrita, the nectar of immortality (an event mentioned in the Hindu scriptures as “Samudra-Manthan”), during which a great number of divine celestial objects arose. The chief among them was Goddess Lakshmi, the daughter of the king of the milky ocean, who rose on the day of the new moon (Amavasya) of the month of Kartik. He later married Lord Vishnu on the same darkest night of the year and bright lamps were illuminated and placed in rows to mark this sacred occasion.
Hence the association of Diwali with Goddess Lakshmi and the tradition of lighting lamps and candles during the festival. To this day, Hindus celebrate the birth of Goddess Lakshmi and her marriage to Lord Vishnu on Diwali and seek her blessings for next year.
2. The legend of King Mahabali: The Bhagavata Purana (also known as Srimad Bhagavatam), the most sacred Hindu text, reveals how on one day of Diwali Lord Vishnu, in his fifth incarnation as Vaman-avatar, rescued Lakshmi from the King’s prison Bali during the Treta Yug. Bali, or rather King Mahabali, was a powerful demon king who ruled the earth. Driven by a blessing granted by Lord Brahma, Bali was invincible and even the gods could not defeat him in battles. Although otherwise, he was a wise and perfect king, Mahabali was violent in his ways with the Devas (gods). At his insistence, Lord Vishnu disguised himself as a brahmin and approached Bali in search of charity. The just and benevolent King could not reject the Brahmin’s offer and be tricked into renouncing his royalty and wealth (of which it is said that Lakshmi is the Goddess). Diwali marks this overcoming of Mahabali by Lord Vishnu and this is another reason why Goddess Lakshmi is worshiped on Diwali.
In Kerala, the ‘Onam’ festival is celebrated around the month of August to mark this legend.
3. The murder of Narakasura: The Bhagavata Purana tells us about Narakasura, an evil demon king who had gained incredible powers. Unmatched in his skill, he conquered the heavens and the earth and was tyrannical in his reign. Addicted to power, he even stole the earrings of Aditi, the heavenly mother goddess, and usurped part of her territory. When Lord Vishnu became incarnate as Krishna in Dwapara Yuga, he killed Narakasura the day before Diwali and rescued 16,000 women whom the demon had imprisoned in his palace. The liberation of the terrible Narakasura was celebrated with great greatness, a tradition that continues to this day.
However, another version of the story credits Lord Krishna’s wife, Sathyabhama, like the one that eliminated Narakasura. It is said that Narakasura could only be killed by his mother Bhudevi and since Satyabhama was an incarnation of Bhudevi himself, she could only kill him. However, before death, Narakasura realized his mistake and requested a blessing from Satyabhama so that everyone would celebrate his death with colorful light. To commemorate his death, the event is celebrated in some parts of India like Naraka Chaturdasi, two days before Diwali day.
4. The return of the Pandavas: The great Hindu epic ‘Mahabharata’ reveals that it was ‘Kartik Amavasya’ (the day of the new moon of the month Kartik) when the Pandavas appeared from their 12 years of exile as a result of their defeat in Las hands of the Kauravas in the game of dice (gambling). The five Pandava brothers, their mother and their wife Draupadi were honest, kind, gentle and affectionate in their ways and were loved by all their subjects. To celebrate the happy occasion of their return to Hastinapura and to welcome the Pandavas, ordinary people illuminated their state by lighting bright earth lamps everywhere. And tradition remains to this day.
5. Rama’s victory: The great Hindu epic ‘Ramayana’ describes how Lord Ram (the incarnation of Lord Vishnu in Treta Yug) conquered Lanka after defeating the evil King Ravana and after spending a period of fourteen years in the returned exile to his capital, Ayodhya, on a new moon day from Kartik with his wife Sita and his brother Lakshman. To celebrate his beloved king’s return home, the people of Ayodhya popped cookies, lit their houses with earth lamps (diyas) and decorated the entire city in the best way. Year after year, this return home of Lord Rama is commemorated on Diwali with lights, fireworks, cookie bursts and joy. The festival gets its name Deepawali, or Diwali, from the rows (avail) of lamps (Deepa) that the people of Ayodhya lit to welcome their King.
6. Coronation of Vikramaditya: It is also said that Vikramaditya, the legendary Indian king famous for his wisdom, courage, and magnanimity, was crowned on Diwali Day after his victory over the Sakas in 56 BC. This was marked by a great celebration that is still held annually. Vikramaditya, one of the greatest Hindu monarchs, ruled the largest empire in the world from present-day Thailand in the east to the borders of present-day Saudi Arabia in the west. Diwali, therefore, in addition to being a religious holiday also has a historical association.
7. The Illustration 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 reached his nirvana (illumination) and became in Maharshi Dayananda, which means the great sage Dayananda. In 1875, Maharshi Dayananda founded the Arya Samaj, “Society of Nobles,” a Hindu reform movement to purify Hinduism from the many evils with which it was associated at that time. Every Diwali, this great reformer is remembered by Hindus throughout India.
8. The illumination of Vardhamana Mahavira: For Jains, Diwali commemorates the illumination 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 October 15, 527 BC. C. This is one more reason to participate in Diwali celebrations for the pious Jainists and in addition to the purpose of the commemoration, the festival represents the celebration of the emancipation of the human spirit from earthly desires.
9. A special day for the Sikhs: for the Sikhs, Diwali has a special meaning because it was on a Diwali day that the third Sikh Guru Amar Das institutionalized the festival of lights as an occasion when all the Sikhs gathered to receive the Blessings of the Gurus. It was also on a Diwali day in 1619 that his sixth religious leader, Guru Hargobind Ji, who was held by the Mughal emperor Jahangir in the fort of Gwalior, was released from prison along with 52 Hindu kings (political prisoners) who had been Agreed to be released too. And it was also on the same occasion that Diwali was propitious when the first stone of the Golden Temple was laid in Amritsar in 1577.
10. Goddess Kali: Kali, also called Shyama Kali, is the first of the 10 avatars (incarnations) of Goddess Durga, the consort of Lord Shiva. According to legend, a long time 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. It is said to be a personification of Nari Shakti (feminine power), Kali was born to save heaven and earth from the increasing cruelty of demons. After killing all the demons, Kali lost control and began killing anyone who crossed his path, which stopped only when Lord Shiva intervened. The familiar image of Ma Kali, with his tongue hanging, actually represents the moment he steps on the Lord and repents.
That momentous day has been commemorated since then and the main objective of celebrating Kali Puja is to seek the help of the goddess to destroy both external and internal evil for us, as well as obtain her blessings for general happiness, health, wealth and the peace.
11. The Harvest Festival: Diwali also falls at the time of the Kharif harvest, a time when the rich cultivation of rice pays off. As India is an agroeconomic society, the importance of a rich harvest gives new meaning to celebrations.
12. Hindu New Year’s Day: Diwali is also the Hindu New Year, with Hinduism being the third largest religion in the world. It is at this time that Hindu businessmen offer bids, start new account books and pay all debts to start a new year, a sufficient reason to indulge in the holidays.
To conclude, there are several reasons behind Diwali celebrations and almost all regions of India have their own reason to observe the occasion. However, all this matters little to the festival itself. Whatever the cause behind its celebration, Diwali is undoubtedly a national festival of India, and most Indians enjoy the aesthetic aspect of the festival, regardless of their faith.