Diwali is the five-day festival of lights, celebrated by millions of Hindus, Sikhs and Jains across the world. The festival, which coincides with the Hindu New Year, celebrates new beginnings and the triumph of good over evil and light over darkness.
The actual day of Diwali is traditionally celebrated on the festival’s third day, The festival usually falls between the middle of October and the middle of November, although this is decided upon by the Hindu lunar calendar.
While each faith has its own reason to celebrate the festival, one of the most popular stories told is the legend of Lord Rama and his wife Sita returning to their kingdom in northern India from exile after defeating the demon king Ravana in the 15th century BC.
The traces and clues to the history of Diwali are embedded in different interesting and fascinating legends of Hindu mythology that are corroborated by various ancient religious scriptures, such as the Puranas. The festival of Diwali is celebrated for five days in India and each day holds its own importance.
The first day of Diwali festivities is known as Dhanteras or Dhantryaodashi, which is celebrated on the 13th day of the month of Ashwin. As per the legend, it is believed that on this day, Dhanvantari – the physician of the gods came out of the ocean with a pot of amrit, while it was being churned by the gods and the demons.
This is believed to be a momentous day for the mankind. It is also believed that Goddess Lakshmi also originated from the ocean on this day. Hence, the day is considered very auspicious for financial investments.
The mystical history behind the second day of Diwali festivities is also quite interesting. It is said that on this day, Lord Krishna along with his wife Satyabhama, vanquished a demon named Narakasura. This demon after attaining a boon from the gods had become so powerful that both heaven and earth had become defenseless against him.
He not only defeated Lord Indra but also stole the priceless earrings of Mother Goddess Aditi. His atrocities did not stop at this; he also abducted 16,000 daughters of saints and deities. To end his torturous reign, Lord Krishna killed him a day before Diwali and the day came to celebrated as Narak Chaturdashi.
The third day of the festivities, known as Deepavali, is the most important day of Diwali celebrations as it involves grand revelry. Hindu mythology traces historic origins of Deepavali back to the great epic Ramayana that narrates the life saga of Lord Rama, an incarnation of Lord Vishnu.
As per this epic, the first Deepavali was celebrated by the people of Ayodhya to commemorate the return of Lord Rama along with his wife Sita and brother Laxman from a 14-year long exile. The fourth day has its own mythological history and commemorates the act of Lord Krishna, in which he picked up a hillock named Govardhan situated near Mathura to protect the villagers from the insistent rain.
The last and final day of Diwali festivities is known as Bhai Dooj. It is believed that on this day, Lord Yama visited his sister the Yamuna and was so happy to spend time with her that he declared that whosoever brother shall visit his sister on this day will be blessed with health and wealth.
Thus, the day is dedicated to the pious relationship between a brother and sister. Apart from Hindu mythology, the history of Diwali is also closely related with histories of Sikh and Jain communities. The Sikhs celebrate the day as it was on this day that their sixth Guru, Guru Har Govind attained freedom from Mughal captivity, whereas the Jains celebrate Diwali as they believe that Lord Mahavira, the founder of Jainism, attained ‘Nirvana’ on this day.