The word Diwali comes from the Sanskrit deepavali, which means a row of lights.
The festival of Diwali symbolizes the victory of light over dark, good over evil and knowledge over darkness.
Diwali is one of the biggest festivals in the Hindu calendar and there are multiple reasons why Hindus celebrate this festival. The most popular narrative, based in the ancient Sanskrit epic Ramayana, is of Lord Rama, his wife Sita and brother Lakshmana returning to their kingdom Ayodhya after defeating the demon king Ravana. On that dark new moon night, the residents of Ayodhya joyfully lit oil lamps to welcome Rama, Sita and Lakshmana back to the kingdom.
Following in that tradition, Hindus celebrate Diwali by lighting oil lamps, bursting firecrackers, cleaning and decorating their homes, distributing sweet delicacies and gathering with friends and family.
In Hindu homes around the world, people gather to offer prayers to Sita and Rama, Radha and Krishna, Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth, Ganesh, the god of auspiciousness. For many in the Hindu community, Diwali is also the beginning of a new year.
The five day celebrations begin with –
Dhanteras. Being an agricultural community this is the harvest time of crops such as jowar, bajra, rice, maize, cotton, groundnut, jute etc. A time of prosperity after harvest, it is a time for thanking God and celebrating. On this day we buy metal and this can be in the form of gold, silver or kitchen ware. Lord Kuber, the God of wealth is worshipped and prayed to for prosperity throughout the year.
The day after Dhanteras is Choti Diwali also known as Narak Chaturdashi. A day celebrated for the killing of the demon Narakasura by Krishna/ Devi and also the annihilation of King Bali by lord Vishnu in his Dwarf incarnation.
Diwali follows Choti Diwali. Homes are decorated with candles,earthen diyas and fairy lights to welcome Goddess Laxmi to our homes.
The day after Diwali is celebrated as Govardhan. This has a very interesting story of how Lord Indra’s inflated ego was humbled. Lord Krishna lifted the mountain named Govardhan. He saved his entire clan by giving them shelter from the incessant rain ordered by Lord Indra.On this day symbolically the mountain is made out of cow dung and decorated. A wall of the cow dung is built all around like a fort. On this day, the symbolic Govardhan is worshipped and circumambulated by the whole family. On this day it is said 108 different types of dishes are cooked.
The last day is Bhai Dooj where sisters anoint the foreheads of their brother and pray for their wellbeing. As legend has it on this day Lord Krishna visited his sister Subhadra after slaying the demon Narakasura. She welcomed him by applying the protective tilak on his forehead.
In the Sikh tradition, Diwali commemorates the release of Guru Hargobind, the sixth Sikh Guru, who was imprisoned by the Mughal emperor Jahangir. When Guru Hargobind arrived in Amritsar, his devotees lit thousands of oil lamps to celebrate his return. For Sikhs, this day is known as Bandi Chhor Divas (day of release from prison). Sikhs celebrate Diwali by lighting oil lamps and reading from the Guru Granth Sahib, the Sikh holy text.
In the Jain tradition, Diwali marks the attainment of enlightenment by Lord Mahavira, the 24th Tirthankara of Jainism who laid down the central tenets of the Jain religion as it is practiced today. Jains celebrate Diwali by lighting lamps, distributing sweets, fasting and practicing acts of charity.