Diwali- The Festival of Lights- History, Significance and Importance

Diwali or Deepawali, called the festival of lights, is one of the most-awaited and celebrated Indian festivals, not only in India but also all around the world. The term ‘deepawali’ derives from Sanskrit terms ‘deepa’ meaning earthen lamps and ‘awali’ meaning rows. Thus, in the literal sense, the meaning of Diwali is ‘row of lights’. Now, when is Diwali celebrated? Diwali is a five-day festival celebrated on  the 15th day of Hindu month, Kartik.

Diwali Celebration

Read here: Indian Festival Holi

Diwali Shubh Muhurat 2021

Diwali 2021 date is 4th November 2021. The Amavasya tithi starts at 06:03 a.m. (IST) on 4th November 2021 and ends at 02:44 a.m. (IST) on 5th November 2021. The shubh muhurat for Diwali Lakshmi Puja on 4th November 2021 is from 06:39 p.m. to 08:32 p.m. (IST).

History of Diwali

The origin of Diwali goes back to ancient times. Historically, Diwali meaning lay in the celebration of the harvest month. With time, the festival came to be associated with various other religious traditions and mythologies of Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhism and Jainism, communities who celebrate Diwali.

Diwali has been celebrated since ancient times; the reason behind its celebration is varied for different people. Below are a few traditional reasons believed to be behind Diwali celebrations:

  • The most famous and known story behind the Diwali celebrations is the return of Rama and Sita to Ayodhya after 14 years of exile and defeating Ravana, who abducted Sita when they were in exile. Upon hearing of the return of Rama, the prince of Ayodhya, the overjoyed people of Ayodhya celebrated their return by decorating the city, lighting earthen lamps and bursting firecrackers.
  • In Mahabharata, the Pandavas, after losing to the Kauravas in gambling, had to enter into exile for 13 years. After their exile, they returned to Hastinapura, their birthplace, on the 15th day of the Kartik month. The people of Hastinapura celebrated their return by lighting clay lamps. Many believe this tradition was carried forward, which is now celebrated as Diwali.
  • During Samudra-manthan, a mythological event where devas (demigods) and asuras (demons) churned the ocean of milk in search of Amrit, Goddess Lakshmi, among other things and deities, appeared from the ocean on the 13th day of the Kartik month with a garland in her hand. She spotted Lord Vishnu among the many present and garlanded him. Everyone celebrated the marriage by lighting lamps on Earth.
  • During the Kartik month, Lord Vishnu defeated King Bali, powerful demon ruler of the Earth, disguised as a dwarf. Bali was a wise and generous king cruel to the gods. On the insistence of gods, Lord Vishnu, in the form of a dwarf Brahmin, appeared in front of Bali and asked from Bali a piece of land that he (Brahmin) would be able to cover in just three steps. Bali granted the wish, confident that the dwarf Brahmin would fail miserably. After the promise, the Brahmin transformed into Lord Vishnu, who covered the Earth and the sky in just two steps and, with the third step, kicked Bali to the underworld. However, Bali was allowed a day to visit Earth and meet his people. This day was celebrated by his people as Diwali.
  • Lord Vishnu, in his 8th avatar as Krishna, killed Narakasura, an evil king who ruled heaven and earth, a day before Diwali. Narakasura abducted young women who had to forcefully live with him. After Narakasura’s death, Lord Krishna freed all the women, and the day was joyously celebrated.
  • A legend associated with Diwali celebrations is related to Goddess Kali. Kali was born from Goddess Durga’s forehead. After demigods lost in a battle against demons, Goddess Kali stepped in to save the universe from demons. After slaying all the demons, Kali became uncontrollable. At this point, Lord Shiva intervened and laid down in front of her. In anger, Goddess stepped on Lord Shiva. The pictures and sculptures of Goddess Kali with her tongue out in horror depicts this scene. This event is celebrated as Kali Puja in many places, parallel to Diwali.
  • Historically, the Indian king, Vikramaditya, was crowned on the day of Diwali in 56 B.C. His kingdom celebrated the event by lighting earthen lamps. Many historians credit this event for the annual celebration of Diwali.
  • Jains celebrate Diwali to honour the enlightenment of Mahavira, the founder of Jainism. It is believed that he achieved nirvana on October 15, 527 B.C.
  • Sikhs celebrate Diwali for a couple of reasons:
    • Guru Amar Das, the third Sikh Guru, marked Diwali as the day for Sikhs to gather together and seek the blessings of their Guru.
    • In 1619, Guru Hargobind, the sixth Sikh Guru, was released from imprisonment from the Gwalior fort under the Mughal Emperor, Jahangir.
    • In 1577, on Diwali, the foundation stone of the pious Golden Temple was laid.

Read here: How Hariyali Teej is Celebrated in India?

Diwali Festival

Dhanteras / Dhanatrayodashi / Yama Deepam1st day of Diwali; 2 days before the main festival.Marks the 13th day of Kartik month and the start of the Diwali festival. The day is associated with cleaning and wealth. People light earthen lamps before Lakshmi and Ganesha and purchase utensils or jewellery.1. Goddess Lakshmi, goddess of wealth and fortune, and Dhanvantari, god of health, appeared on this day in Samudra-manthan. People worship Lakshmi, and some also worship Dhanvantari on Dhanteras.

2. To appease Lord Yama, the god of death, and escape early death, people light lamps in the south direction.
Chhoti Diwali / Naraka Chaturdashi / Kali Chaudas / Hanuman Puja/ Roop Chaudas / Yama Deepam2nd day of Diwali; a day before the main Diwali day.Marks the 14th day of Kartik month. This day signifies the liberation of the soul from suffering and their peaceful journey to eternal life.1. The killing of demon Narakasura by Lord Krishna is celebrated.

2. In North India, women apply ubtan, a beauty paste, while bathing before sunrise by lighting a diya.

3. Mahakali is worshipped for killing the demon, Raktavija. Black magic is performed.

4. It is believed that spirits are present on Kali Chaudas, and to fight these spirits, Lord Hanuman is worshipped.

5. Touched by Hanuman’s devotion, Lord Rama asked people to worship Hanuman before him.

6. Some people pray to Lord Yama
on Chhoti Diwali.
Diwali / Kali PujaThe main day.Diwali is the main day. People decorate their houses, exchange gifts and seek the blessings of elders. Businesses close for the day by afternoon or don’t open at all. Everyone wears new, clean clothes. In the evening, Lakshmi and other deities are worshipped. Lamps are lit and put all over the house to welcome Goddess Lakshmi in their homes. At night, firecrackers are burst, and family members relish delicious foods.Bengalis worship Goddess Kali instead of Lakshmi on this day.1. Lord Rama returned to Ayodhya with his wife Sita and younger brother Lakshmana from 14 years of exile, and after killing Ravana, king of Lanka, who abducted Sita while in exile.

2. The Pandavas returned to Hastinapura after 13 years of exile, a consequence of losing in gambling to Kauravas.

3. Jains celebrate Diwali to honour Mahavira, who attained enlightenment on the day of Diwali.

4. Sikhs celebrate Diwali as a day- when all Sikhs gather to seek the blessings of their Gurus, to remember the release of Guru Hargobind Ji from imprisonment; and, of the foundation of Golden Temple.
Annakut / Balipratipada / Govardhan Puja4th day of Diwali; a day after the main Diwali festival.This day is a celebration of the bond and relationship among people. In many Hindu houses, people create a replica of Lord Krishna holding Govardhan mountain on his fingers using cow dung and rice and worship the replica. People greet each other, husbands give gifts to their wives, newly married couples visit their parents for a feast and exchange gifts.1. On this day, Parvati won in a game of dice against Shiva, which represents the importance of males and females for the continuation of balance in the world.

2. In many places of India, multiple varieties of foods are made in devotion to Lord Krishna, which is then distributed among the devotees.

3. On this day, it is believed that Bali visits his people from the underworld.

4. Lord Krishna lifted the Govardhan mountain on his finger and sheltered the villagers of Gokula from heavy rain under the mountain.
Bhai Dooj5th day of Diwali; 2 days after the main festival.The bond between a brother and sister is celebrated on Bhai Dooj. Sisters pray for the welfare of their brothers, prepare food for them and apply tilak on their forehead.1. Yamuna, Yama’s sister, greeted her brother by applying tilak on his forehead.

2. After defeating Narakasura, Subhadra, Lord Krishna’s sister, welcomed Krishna with a tilak on his forehead at her home. 

Process of Lakshmi Puja

On the day of Diwali, at home and business enterprises, Goddess Lakshmi is worshipped for prosperity and wealth. Earthen lamps are lit in front of Goddess Lakshmi and then placed all over the house to welcome Her and clean the surroundings. Traditional sweets and foods are offered to Her, and devotional songs dedicated to the Goddess are sung.

However, before starting the Puja, a few preparations need to be done:

  • Clean the Puja area.
  • Bathe the deity of Lakshmi in normal and rose water.
  • Prepare panchamitra- a mixture of 5 elements (milk, honey, curd, sugar and ghee).
  • Light clay-oil lamps and incense sticks (agarbatti) in front of the deity to clear the evil spirits.
  • Offer sweets, fruits and snacks as prasad.
  • Offer flowers, red colour (abir), turmeric, cloves, vermillion (sindoor) and betel leaves (paan) to the deity. 
  • After these preparations are made, worship the deity.

Regional celebration of Diwali

Diwali Celebration

North India

In north India, Delhi and Uttar Pradesh celebrate Diwali to mark Lord Rama and Sita’s return to Ayodhya. During Diwali, Kashmiri pundits pray to Goddess Lakshmi after sunset and light lamps at the house, public places and roads.

 In Himachal Pradesh, people clean and paint their homes and courtyard. In the evening, clay lamps are lit to remember the ancestors and then placed inside the house; women pray to small vessels (auloo), which they paint in clay. In Punjab, Diwali is celebrated with Bandi Chhor Diwas, an event marking the release of Guru Hargobind Ji.

East India

In East Indian states, Diwali is celebrated by lighting lamps, offering sweets and fruits to the beloved deity and bursting firecrackers. In Orissa, Kauriya Kathi, worship of ancestors, is performed in Diwali puja. They remember their ancestors by burning jute sticks placed inside a sailboat shaped rangoli.

In Bihar, the tribe worships Goddess Kali on Diwali. In West Bengal, Kali Puja coincides with Diwali. The Bengalis do not buy anything new. They worship the power of Goddess Kali.

West India

In Maharashtra, Diwali starts with Vasu-baras– a celebration for cows. Dhanteras is dedicated to Lord Dhanvantari and Yama. On Narak Chaturdashi, the family wakes up early and rubs scented oil on their body and uses utane, an Ayurvedic mixture, to bathe. Diwali ends with the start of Tulsi-vivah, the wedding of the pious tulsi plant.

In Gujarat, Govardhan Puja marks Gujarati’s New Year. Let’s see when is Diwali celebrated in Goa. Goa celebrates Narak Chaturdashi as Diwali; people burn down Narakasura with taunts and insults. In West India, many people celebrate the next day of Diwali as Balipratipada.

South India

In South India, Thalai Deepawali is celebrated where the newly-wedded couple spends their first Diwali at the bride’s maiden home. In Kerala, a few Tamil, Bengalis or North Indians residing there are the ones who celebrate DIwali. The natives of Kerala do not celebrate Diwali.

In Andhra Pradesh, Diwali celebrations are organized by state. The festive celebrations start early in the morning. On Diwali, buffaloes are bathed in Hyderabad. In Karnataka, the legend of Bali is celebrated. In Tamil Nadu, Diwali celebrations start a day before Diwali. Before sunrise, family members take a bath in oil, which is considered equal to taking a dip in Ganga.

Importance of Diwali

Diwali is an important festival that marks the end of evil and untruth. It establishes the ideals of victory of good over evil. Diwali brings together all the family members. Ever wondered, why is Diwali called the festival of lights? Well, lighting different lights and lamps are an important part of Diwali rituals as they end the darkness and bring light to the lives of people. On the occasion of Diwali, every house is decorated with lights and that’s why it is called Festival of Lights.

Significance of Diwali

  • The lighting of lamps symbolizes the victory of good over evil. It is believed that firecrackers inform the gods about the happiness of their children down on Earth.
  • Diwali emphasises on leaving behind the past and moving forward. Diwali unites and unifies people.
  • Cleanliness has a lot of significance on Diwali. Homes are cleaned to bring prosperity as it is believed, Goddess Lakshmi only enters clean homes.
  • Economically, Diwali is highly significant. During Diwali people buy utensils, clothes, decorating items, fruits, flowers, firecrackers and many other things, greatly boosting the economy.
  • Diwali is a five-day long festival that brings families close and together. Everyone celebrates the festivals together with their loved ones. Along with celebration, Diwali also helps one to become a better person.
  • Diwali is associated with spiritual significance also as lord Rama came back to Ayodhya on this very day after completing 14 years of exile.

Frequently Asked Questions

Which state celebrates Thalai Deepawali?

Tamil Nadu celebrates Thalai Deepawali.

Apart from Goddess Lakshmi and Ganesh, which other deity is worshipped on Dhanteras?

Lord Kubera, the god of wealth, is also worshipped on Dhanteras.

Which other deities are worshipped on Diwali other than Lakshmi and Ganesh?

Goddess Saraswati, Lord Rama, Lakshmana, Sita, Hanuman and Lord Kubera are also worshipped on Diwali.

How do Gujaratis celebrate their New Year on Govardhan Puja?

Gujaratis purchase essential house commodities, like salt, and visit Lord Krishna temples and worship him.

How is Diwali celebrated in Madhya Pradesh?

In Madhya Pradesh, markets and homes are nicely decorated. On the night of Dhanteras, the markets remain open all night to welcome prosperity. The Baiga and Gond tribes perform their folk dance to celebrate Diwali.

Is Diwali also celebrated outside India?

Yes, Diwali is celebrated in various countries outside the world. Some of these are Mauritius, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Fiji, Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia.

What is Diwali called in Nepal?

In Nepal, Diwali is known as Tihar.

What is Diwali called in Malaysia?

In Malaysia, Diwali is called Hari Diwali. It is a public holiday in Malaysia.

What are some of the sweets that are made in Diwali?

Some of the sweets are barfis, sandesh, kachori, shrikhand and halwa.

What is the other name of Diwali in Jharkhand?

Diwali is also called Bandna in Jharkhand.

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