THE MANY LEGENDS OF DIWALI
The five-day-long festival of Diwali is celebrated with great pomp and vigour across India. The festival usually falls during the Hindu month of Kartika, between mid-October and mid-November. While the season is the perfect excuse to relish yummy delicacies, dress-up in new clothes, and light up our homes, it also serves as a reminder of the victory of light over darkness as per our mythology.
The return of Lord Rama, the seventh incarnation of Lord Vishnu, to the kingdom of Ayodhya after completing 14 years of exile is one of the most important legends associated with Diwali, especially in the northern states of India.
As per the legend, it was on the day of Kartik Amavasya that the people of Ayodhya eagerly awaited the arrival of their banished king. It had been 14 years since Rama, along with his wife Sita and brother Lakshmana, had been sent to exile by the former queen and Rama’s step-mother, Kaikeyi, who did so in a bid to crown her own son, Bharata, as king. Rama’s exile had not been uneventful; during their last year away from Ayodhya, Sita had been abducted by Ravana, the demon king of Lanka. After a series of fierce battles, Rama killed Ravana on what is celebrated today as Dussehra. Rama then installed Ravana’s younger brother, Vibhishana, on the throne of Lanka, and started his journey to his own kingdom. 20 days after Dussehra, Rama, Sita and Lakshmana were finally home. The people of Ayodhya lit thousands of lamps along the streets and outside their houses to welcome their king. Today, we celebrate Diwali in honour of this momentous occasion and, just like the citizens of Ayodhya did, we also light thousands of lanterns and diyas across the country in honour of Rama’s return.
THE DEATH OF NARAKASURA
In many southern states of India, Diwali is celebrated as the day Narakasura died at the hands of Krishna, the eighth incarnation of Lord Vishnu. Narakasura was the son of the earth goddess, Bhoomi Devi, but he grew up to be a cruel and arrogant king who terrorized people. In a bid to show off his martial skills, he attacked Indra’s capital, Amaravati, kidnapping 16,100 maidens. During the conquest of the city, Narakasura disrespectfully snatched the golden earrings of Indra’s mother, Aditi, as well, driving Indra out of his own kingdom.
Indra was insulted by this act but was also helpless against the mighty Narakasura. He went to Dwarka to seek Krishna’s help. Krishna obliged and took his wife, Satyabhama, along with him to battle Narakasura. After a long battle, Krishna managed to fatally injure Narakasura with his celestial discus.
However, in his last moments, Narakasura realized his folly and prayed to Krishna and Satyabhama that his death be celebrated in the future with colourful lights. Krishna granted his wish, and the day came to be celebrated as Naraka Chaturdasi.
OTHER INTERESTING LEGENDS
The day of Diwali also marks the day:
- The Pandavas returned to Hastinapura along with Draupadi after completing thirteen years of exile, according to the Mahabharata.
- Vardhaman Mahavira attained enlightenment, according to Jain scriptures.
- Guru Hargobind was released from the imprisonment of the Mughal emperor, Jahangir
- The foundation stone of the Golden Temple was laid at Amritsar, in 1577.