Houses lit up with lamps, the sound of crackers in the air, the delicious smell of sweets wafting about – Diwali is here again. Appropriately called the ‘Festival of Lights’, this is a celebration of good’s triumph over evil time and time again. Mythology narrates several tales which are taken as the reason for celebrating this festival.
The most popular tale is probably the return of Lord Rama to Ayodhya after defeating Ravana and fourteen years of exile. The people of Ayodhya cleaned their houses and placed oil lamps (diyas) to light the path for their soon-to-be King, his consort Sita and their Prince Lakshman.
Another version celebrates the defeat of Narakasura, the ‘asura’ (demon) son of Bhumidevi (Godess Earth), who brought all the worlds under his power-hungry control, kidnapped 16,000 women and, in an act of arrogance, snatched away the precious earrings of Aditi, mother of the devas. It was Lord Krishna who, with the assistance of his consort Satyabhama, brought about his end. Satyabhama, a reincarnation of Narkasura’s mother, declared that her son’s death should not be a day of gloom and Hindus celebrate this event as it shows the power of good over evil.
Yet another legend refers to Lord Indra’s defeat at the showdown between him and Lord Krishna. Indra, god of rain, flooded the village of Gokulam with a thunderstorm because he was furious when the villagers failed to pay their annual tribute to him, choosing instead to worship the Govardhana mountain on Krishna’s advice. Krishna shelters the villagers under the mountain itself, which he lifts on his little finger. This is to remind us not to take our prosperity for granted.
There are many more legends associated with this festival including the story of Mahishasura’s defeat and the churning of the Ocean of Milk, ‘Samudra Manthan’. All these stories have but one message – the triumph of good over evil, light driving away the darkness.
Unlike Onam, Diwali is not celebrated with as much pomp in Kerala; but in most parts of India, Diwali is celebrated over five days, the first being Dhanteras when Yama, god of death, is worshipped for protection from untimely death. Some consider it auspicious to buy precious metals like gold or silver on Dhanteras for good luck. The second day, also called Choti Diwali, is Narak Chaturdasi when Krishna defeated Narakasura while the third day is Diwali when Lakshmi Puja is performed seeking prosperity and well being. The fourth day is for Govardhan Pooja while the fifth is Bhratri Dooj or Bhai Dooj, where brothers visit their sisters to enquire after their well-being. This last is mostly a North Indian tradition.