The word “Diwali” is a contraction of Deepavali, originating from the Sanskrit word Dipavali (दीपावली) when translated it means ‘A row of lights’.
Hence the Diwali Festival is also called the ‘Festival of Lights’. It has a major cultural and religious significance for Hindus, Sikhs, Jains alike- Not only in India but also for living abroad in places like United States, Canada, United Kingdom, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, Mauritius, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Fiji, Philippines, Brazil.
In the western (Gregorian) calendar, Diwali falls on a day in October or November every year- just after the monsoon season in India. It also marks the beginning of the Hindu New Year, and many businesses in India starting a new accounting year on the Diwali Holiday.
This festival is as important to Indian’s as the Christmas holiday is to Christians all around the world.
Diwali is celebrated for various cultural reasons but historically, it is called Naraka Chaturdashi because Narakasura, a very cruel king, was killed by Krishna. Because of that, this celebration happened in such a big way. The celebration is auspicious in so many different ways.
In India, people have completely forgotten why every year on Amavasya– (No-moon light) they celebrate Diwali, a festival of lights.
People light a row of clay lamps, light candles, lights in their houses, This is the night when Mahavira became enlightened. And this festival is also is in remembrance of Mahavira but nobody even thinks of Mahavira.
(Especially in Jainism, Diwali marks the nirvana, or spiritual awakening, of Lord Mahavira on October 15, 527 B.C.)
Likewise, the history of Diwali is replete with legends that are moored to the stories of Hindi religious scriptures, mostly the Puranas. The central theme of all the cultural reasons and the historical significance is all about the classic truth of victory of the good over the evils. Diwali, being the festival of Lights, Creating an Inner Light within our means to understand and reflect upon the significant purpose of each of the five days of festivities and to bring that clarity and thoughts into the day to day lives.
So let’s get to know about different cultural reasons and history behind
Why Diwali Is Celebrated And For What Reasons?
We’re celebrating the killing of a man- Because, he requested “My death anniversary should be celebrated” Naraka came from a good background. They say he’s the son of Vishnu. But, this happened when Vishnu had taken the form of a wild boar or a pig. So, he had certain tendencies.
More than that he made certain friendships, He became friends with Mura. Who later on became his General, and they fought battles and battles, killing thousands of people. Then first Krishna killed Mura, because with the two of them together, there was no way to deal with Naraka. That’s the reason why Krishna has this name Murari because he slew Mura, who in the legend it says he had magical powers in battle and nobody could stand against him. Once Mura was taken off- Naraka was more of a ceremony. So, this happens to a lot of people. At the moment of death, they realize their limitations. They realize now, life could be improved. But most people wait till the last moment. Naraka is one of them. He did his life completely wrong. And later at the end of his life he realized and said, “Today that you are killing, not me but all the wrongs that I did, this must be celebrated.”
You should not celebrate the killing of Naraka’s wrongs, you must celebrate the killing of all the wrongs and negativity among you bring in clarity within yourself and “be a light unto yourself” that’s when the real Diwali, Deepawali, Deepavali happens. This is the entire thing.
All of us are made of the same stuff but you need to have a keen eye and look into the matter that how differently each one has become. So, when Krishna killed Naraka, this is the thing. It is the contrast that made him realize, “Both of us are the same but see what I have done of myself and what you have done to yourself.”
So, this legend about Naraka being of good birth but going bad is significant. What it is trying to tell you is even if you’re born to a pig, It’s still a very good birth. But it all depends on what you make out of yourself. Krishna made himself godlike, Naraka made himself into a demon.
The end is that either you wait for your life to whip you or you whip yourself into shape this is the choice. So Naraka chose that Krishna comes and whips him up. Krishna chose that he whip himself into shape. That’s a big drastic difference. One gets worshipped as a god, another gets puts down as a demon. So, Diwali is a big reminder to all of us- Let’s light it up
It is only the absence of light. That is called Darkness. Obliteration of Darkness is the nature of light. May the light arise in your life, to light you up and all that you touch on this festival of lights. -Sadhguru
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In Northern India, they celebrate the story of King Rama’s return to Ayodhya after he put an end to Ravana “King of Lanka”
Two religions in India, Hindus, and Jains, celebrate the festival of lights. They have different cultural reasons; it is just a coincidence that something has happened on the same day in the history of both religions. Hindus celebrate it because Rama, one of the Hindu incarnation of God Vishnu, was victorious over Ravana. He came back after fourteen years of exile in which he put an end to the “King of Lanka”- Ravana who was a great ruler and had many qualities that made him a learned scholar. After the victory of Good over Evil, In Ayodhya, the people welcomed them by lighting rows of clay lamps, and the capital rejoiced with lights and firecrackers.
Many Hindus associate the festival with Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth and prosperity. Goddess Lakshmi was born from Samudra Manthan, the churning of the cosmic ocean of milk by the Devas (Gods) and the Asuras (demons)- a Vedic legend that is also found in several Puranas such as the Padma Purana, while the night of Diwali is when Lakshmi chose and wed Vishnu. On this day, it is said that if someone needs money, Lakshmi will come in. If someone wants health, Shakti will come in. If someone wants an education, Saraswati will come in. These are all dialectical ways of expressing that it will lead to wellbeing.
It is the main event on Diwali in Northan and West India. It is extremely important to keep the house spotlessly clean and pure on Diwali. Goddess Lakshmi likes cleanliness, and she will visit the cleanest house first. This is also the reason why the broom is worshiped on this day with offerings of haldi and kumkum (turmeric and vermilion). Lamps are lit in the evening to welcome the goddess. They are believed to light up her path.
Hindus of eastern India associate the festival with the goddess Kali, who symbolises the victory of good over evil.
Devotees also offer prayers and offerings to Goddess Saraswati, who embodies music, literature, and learning and Kubera, who symbolizes book-keeping, treasury, and wealth management. In western states such as Gujarat and certain northern Hindu communities of India, the festival of Diwali signifies the start of a new year.
In Jainism, Diwali marks the nirvana, or spiritual awakening, of Lord Mahavira on October 15th, 527 B.C; and Mahavira is the most important individual in the history of Jainism. And he attained liberation in a unique way- Gautam Buddha became enlightened on a full-moon light. And except for Mahavira, anybody who has become enlightened has done so either on a full-moon night or close to it. Mahavira is unique in that he became enlightened on the night of amawas, No-moon, and completes darkness. Mahavira is the only one, and there is nobody else who has become enlightened on the night of amawas.
Osho says that: Mahavira became enlightened on the no-moon night, amawas. The full moon night is called Purnima- the moon has become perfect, purna. And the no-moon night is no moon at all, absolute darkness.
Except Mahavira, nobody has become enlightened on amawas, no-moon night. Mahavira’s name was not Mahavira- He was a great warrior, his name was Vardhaman. But because he became enlightened on amawas, no-moon night, he proved that he could go against the current. It was natural for everybody to become enlightened on the full-moon night. But, Mahavira tried to against the normal order of things, and still managed to become enlightened.
In western India, the festival marks the day that Lord Vishnu, the Preserver (one of the main gods of the Hindu trinity) sent the demon King Bali to rule the world.
The story concerns King Bali, who was a generous ruler. But he was also very ambitious. Some of the Gods pleaded Vishnu to check King Bali’s power. Vishnu came to earth in the form of a Vamana (dwarf) dressed as a priest. The dwarf approached King Bali and said. “You are the ruler of the three worlds: The Earth, the world above skies, and the underworld. Would you give me the space that I could cover with three strides?” King Bali laughed, surely a dwarf could not cover much ground, thought the King, who agreed to the dwarf’s request. At this point, the dwarf changed into Vishnu and his three strides covered the Earth, the skies, and the whole Universe! King Bali was sent to the underworld. As part of the Diwali celebration, some Hindus remember King Bali.
Krishna and Miracle at Mount Govardhan
This was when Lord Krishna wanted to teach Indra the god of rain a lesson. In the village of Gokula, the people prayed to the God Indra. They believed that Indra sent the rains, which made their crops, grow. But Krishna came along and persuaded the people to worship the mountain Govardhan whose fertile soil provided the grass upon which the cows and bulls grazed, and to honour the cows and bulls who provided milk and ploughed lands and it happened a little while after Krishna’s revolutionary act of dropping and starting the Gopotsav. The storm picked up great violence and torrents of rain fell. The Yamuna overflowed and Gokula was flooded.
The people cried to Krishna to help, Krishna saved the villagers by lifting the top of the mountain with his finger. For seven days and seven nights, Sri Krishna held up Govardhan Hill, providing a giant umbrella to shelter the inhabitants of Vrindawan from torrential rain.
Several thousand year later, on this same day, Srila Mahavenra Puri established a temple for the self-manifest Gopala Diety on top of Govardhan Hill.
Devotees and Bhakt’s prepare varieties of foodstuffs with grain and ghee and all kind of milk preparations, The food is stacked like a small hill and offered to Lord Sri Krishna. Then later distributed to everyone as prasadam- Hence this festival day is also known as Annakut Festival.
Significance of Govardhan Puja:
The Govardhan Puja is also significant as it spreads the message of conserving natural resources; Worshipping Mother Nature has always been an integral practice in Hindu Dharma. Nowadays it’s not that intact. People need to realize this and act accordingly and save Mother Nature and causing harm to Mother Nature. The offering of food to God on this day of Diwali is a reminder to Hindus of the importance of food and it is a time for being thankful to God for the bounty of nature.
In Sikh’s perspective, They celebrate Bandi Chhor Divas in remembrance of the release of Guru Hargobind from the Gwalior Fort by the Mughal emperor, Jahangir, and the day he arrived at the Golden Temple in Amritsar. To commemorate his undying love for Sikhism, the townspeople lit the way to Harmandhir Sahib (referred to as the Golden Temple), in his honor.
It is been said that Diwali in the Sikh tradition is older than the sixth Guru Hargobind legend. Guru Amar Das, the third Guru of the Sikhs, built a well in Goindwal with eighty-four steps and invited Sikhs to bathe in its sacred waters on Baisakhi and Diwali as a form of community bonding.
Over the centuries, the spring and autumn festivals became the most important of Sikh festivals and holy sites such as Amritsar became focal points for annual programmes.
Diwali is mostly celebrated by the Newar people of Nepal who revere various deities in the Vajrayana Buddhism and celebrate Diwali by offering prayers to Lakshmi. They also celebrate the Diwali festival over five days in Nepalese valleys. As they worship Lakshmi and Vishnu during Diwali, it is being observed rather as a reflection of the freedom within Mahayana Buddhist tradition to worship any deity for their worldly betterment.
Diwali simply means moving from darkness to light- Tamaso Maa Jyotir-Gamaya, And that’s the Pavamana Mantra (pavamana meaning “being purified, strained”, historically a name of Soma), is an ancient Indian mantra introduced in the Brhadaranyaka Upanishad. The mantra was originally meant to be recited during the introductory praise of the Soma sacrifice by patron sponsoring the sacrifice. That’s the message of Upanishads, the sage, and all the enlightened being. Buddha says: Appo Deepo Bhava- Be a light unto yourself.
Om Asato Maa Sad-Gamaya |
Tamaso Maa Jyotir-Gamaya |
Mrtyor-Maa Amrtam Gamaya |
Om Shaanti Shaanti Shaantih
This translates to:
Lead me from the asat to the sat Lead me from darkness to light. Lead me from death to immortality Om Peace, Peace, Peace.
(Brhadaranyaka Upanishad- I.iii.28).
The fist line – Asato ma sadgama- means, “Lead me from asat to the sat.” In fact, it is best to not translate sat (nor its negative counterpart asat) for, as with many Sanskrit words, sat has many meanings, and not only are most of them applicable here, their deliberate combined import provides a depth that no one of them could hold independently. These co-applicable meanings include existence, reality, and truth. (Co-applicable meanings for asat being: non-existence, non-reality, and untruth.) This Diwali creates an inner light within you.
The idea of Diwali is to bring that aspect of celebration into your life- that is why the firecrackers, to set fire to you a bit! The main purpose is not just to enjoy these five days and forget. In the end, what it reminds us that it must happen like this within us every day, If we simply sit, our life energy, heart, mind, and body must be exploding like a live cracker.
Now you must have got a gist about why Diwali celebrated in India.
Lets move forward and get to know more: How to Celebrate Eco-Friendly Diwali