India is a melting pot of races and religions. Every
religion has its own unique style of celebration. Diwali
(also known as Deepawali), or ‘the festival of
lights’ is perhaps the most popular of all Hindu
festivals. Like most festivals, Diwali has its mythological
and historical bedrock. Legend has it that Hanuman (the
legendary monkey-god and prime devotee of Lord Rama,
the god-hero of the great Hindu epic, the Ramayana)
delivered the much awaited message of Rama’s return
to Ayodhya (Rama’s kingdom) after 14 years in
exile. The entire kingdom rejoiced upon hearing the
news and Ayodhya was washed, cleansed and dressed up
with lights and shimmering earthen lamps to welcome
the Lord himself. Diwali is celebrated even today to
commemorate this event.
Hindus all over the world celebrate Deepawali with great
enthusiasm. This is a major Hindu festival honouring
Mother Lakshmi – the goddess of wealth. Diwali
is a holy tradition, not to be put in the shade. It
symbolizes the victory of light over darkness; darkness
refers to ignorance and light refers to knowledge. Celebrated
joyously all over India, it is a festival of wealth
Deepavali is celebrated 20 days after Dussehra, on Amavasya
- the 15th day of the dark fortnight of the Hindu month
of Ashwin (Aasho) in (Oct/ Nov) every year.
The Mythological Story
The mythological story of Sagar Manthan or ‘churning
the ocean’ may help us understand why Lakshmi,
the Goddess of Wealth, is worshipped during Diwali.
Legend has it that once all the devtas, or demigods
were under a curse that made them weak in body and mind.
They were advised by Brahma (Creator in the Hindu Holy
Trinity of Creator-Preserver-Destroyer) to drink amrit,
or the elixir of life. But amrit could only be obtained
by the churning of the ocean, which, needless to add,
was no mean feat. Now the question arose as to how to
go about churning the gargantuan ocean. Lord Vishnu
(the Hindu Preserver of the Universe) came up with a
solution saying that Mount Meru could act as the churning
stick, while Vasuki (the mythical serpent) could be
used as the coil around Meru. Pleased with the suggestion,
the devtas went to the asuras, or demons and sought
their help in accomplishing the formidable task. The
devtas’ promise to share the amrit with the asuras
tricked the latter into consenting to tug Vasuki from
Thus ensued a phenomenal churning that, however, threatened
to destroy the three worlds (Heaven, Earth and Hell).
The gods simply could not let that happen, so Vishnu
appeared in the guise of a giant tortoise or Kurma (Vishnu's
second incarnation) and stabilised the churning by acting
as a base under Mount Meru. It is said that eventually,
spectacular treasures emerged from the great ocean including
Laksmi the Goddess of Prosperity and Wealth, Sura the
Goddess of Wine, Chandra, or the moon, Apsaras, the
celestial nymphs, Kaustabha, the precious gem of Vishnu,
Uchchaishravas, the divine horse, Parijata, the wishing
coral tree, Kamdhenu, the wish-fulfilling Divine Cow,
Airavata, the four-tusked white elephant, Panchajanya,
or the conch, Sharanga, the invincible bow, and Dhanvantri,
Nimi and Bharadwaj - the physicians and surgeons.
On the night of Diwali, all the shops & offices
are decorated with electrical bulbs of various colors.
They are filled to capacity in this festive season.
People visit their friends and relatives and present
them sweets. Many people make "rangoli" inside
& outside their house. Rangoli is a pattern which
is made on the floor, normally by coloured powder, but
in the house it is made with paint.
In the evening the family prays to Laskmi, the goddess
of wealth. Then people put diyas (oil lamps) all around
the house. About 8.00 pm the fireworks start. This is
the time when the whole country is lit up and fireworks
continue uptill midnight.
In north India, Deepavali is celebrated as an auspicious
occasion of Rama's homecoming from fourteen years of
exile and also after defeating Ravana and his coronation
as king; In Gujarat, the festival is celebrated to honour
goddess Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth; and in Bengal,
it is related with goddess Kali. Everywhere it is celebrated
with the same spirit and signifies the renewal of life.
Diwali is also celebrated outside India mainly in Britain,
U.S.A., Guyana, Fiji, Malaysia, Nepal, Mauritius, Myanmar,
Singapore, Srilanka, Trinidad and Tobago, Indonesia,
Japan, Thailand, Africa, and Australia among the Hindus
world over. Whatever may be the legend behind the festival
but people celebrate it with great enthusiasm. In this
festive season people exchange sweets, wear new clothes
and buy precious items for celebration and enjoyment.