Deepavali chronicles: Stories that illuminate the festival of lights
DEEPAVALI, or Diwali, is a festival celebrated by Hindus not only in India but all over the world. It embodies a rich tapestry of ancient legends and traditions, signifying the victory of light over darkness and good over evil.
Malaysian Indians, who are largely comprised of Tamils, celebrate Deepavali on a grand scale, but have you wondered why Deepavali is celebrated? Let's take a look at the various traditions behind the celebration of Deepavali.
As we already know, Deepavali is celebrated by Hindus who come from different parts of India. Every story is unique, and Deepavali stories vary by region.
They all revolve around victorious figures seen as incarnations of Vishnu, the god who maintains a balance between good and evil.
Northern India commemorates Prince Rama's return, while South India celebrates Lord Krishna's victory over the demon King Narakasura.
In western India, Deepavali marks Vishnu banishing King Bali to the underworld. The Sikhs, Jains, and Buddhists have their own Diwali tales.
Meanwhile, for Sikhs, Deepavali commerates the release of Guru Hargobind; Jains honour Lord Mahavira's nirvana; and Buddhists mark the conversion of Emperor Ashoka.
Let’s delve into the reasons behind the celebration of Deepavali.
Deepavali in the Ramayana: The Return of Lord Rama and His Wife
The most well-known tale associated with Deepavali revolves around Rama's homecoming to Ayodhya, as narrated in the epic Ramayana. According to this legend, Rama, along with his brother Lakshman and wife Sita, were exiled from the kingdom of Ayodhya for 14 years. They lived harmoniously in the forest along a riverbank until the day Sita was abducted by the demon king, Ravana.
Rama embarked on an extensive search for Sita, eventually locating her, defeating Ravana, and reuniting with her. He, along with his companions, then returned to Ayodhya to rightfully reclaim the throne. Their triumphant return signifies the victory of good over evil, and the day of Deepavali is said to commemorate Rama's joyous homecoming after vanquishing the demon king, Ravana.
The Rebirth of Lakshmi
Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth and fortune, holds a central role in Deepavali celebrations, and her story bears great significance for the festival.
According to the legend, God Indra, driven by pride, provoked Lakshmi to depart from the divine realm and enter the Milky Way. In her absence, the world plunged into darkness, and the gods were determined to welcome her back.
After tirelessly churning the milky ocean for a millennium, Lakshmi was reborn, emerging gracefully on a resplendent lotus flower, once more bestowing her blessings of prosperity upon the world.
During Deepavali, people light up the night to guide Lakshmi into their home and bring good fortune and prosperity for the year to come.
The Triumph of Lord Krishna
In the southern region of India, Deepavali carries the tale of Lord Krishna's conquest over the mighty demon king Narakasura, a story of particular importance.
This narrative narrates how Narakasura received a boon from Lord Brahma, rendering him impervious to death by anyone but his own mother, as he believed her love would spare him. However, his mother was reborn as Krishna's spouse, Satyabhama.
When she witnessed Narakasura grievously wounding her husband Krishna during battle, she struck the final blow, ending his life. In his last moments, Narakasura requested that his demise be celebrated with vitality and colours, a tradition seen annually during the Diwali festival.
The Legend of King Bali
The fourth day of Deepavali, known as Balipratipada, is dedicated to the return of the revered King Bali.
According to the legend, King Bali was a formidable ruler who held dominion over the netherworld, earth, and heavens. The gods grew anxious about his power and sent Lord Vishnu to deal with him. Vishnu took the form of a dwarf and approached Bali requested to be granted land that he could cover in three paces. Bali, underestimating the dwarf's size, readily agreed. To his surprise, Vishnu expanded to immense proportions, covering Bali's entire kingdom in just two paces and banishing him to the netherworld with the third.
In recognition of Bali's noble character, Vishnu permitted him to return to earth for a single day each year. As a result, Bali is commemorated during Diwali, standing alongside other legendary figures.
Deepavali in the Mahabharata: The Return of the Pandavas
In the ancient Hindu epic, the Mahabharata, the Pandavas, five sons of King Pandu, faced a period of 12 years of exile following a fateful dice game. Revered by the people, their return was celebrated with illuminated lamps adorning city streets. This event coincided with Deepavali, and it has since become a cherished annual tradition.
Kali's Triumph Over Darkness
In West Bengal, Deepavali honours Kali, the goddess of destruction, known for her role in liberating heaven and earth from oppressive demons. Her relentless destruction, eventually curbed by Lord Shiva, is commemorated on Diwali, symbolising the triumph of good over evil through Kali's awe-inspiring power.
Lord Mahavira attaining Nirvana
In Jain tradition, Deepavali is significant as it marks the enlightenment of Lord Mahavira, a contemporary of Gautama Buddha, during the 6th century BCE. His attainment of nirvana aligns Jain Diwali with the long-standing Hindu celebration.
Guru Hargobind's Release from Prison
Sikhs observe Bandi Chhor Divas, their version of Diwali, which coincides with the Hindu and Jain celebrations. This day marks the release of Guru Hargobind in the 17th century, an important Sikh religious figure who had been imprisoned under the Mughal empire. This tradition has been a significant Sikh festival since the 16th century and is an occasion for Sikhs to come together to seek blessings from the guru.
In addition to these legends, Diwali is a festival dedicated to Lakshmi, the Hindu goddess of prosperity and luck. In India's ancient agricultural communities, Diwali aligned with the final harvest before winter, making it an occasion to seek Lakshmi's blessings for a prosperous year ahead.