The history of Diwali

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Diwali, also known as Deepavali, is a significant festival in Hinduism, Jainism, Sikhism, and Buddhism, celebrated for various reasons across different regions and communities. The term "Diwali" originates from the Sanskrit word "deepawali," which means "row of lights," symbolizing the spiritual victory of light over darkness, good over evil, and knowledge over ignorance12. The festival's history is complex and multifaceted, with various legends and traditions associated with it. One of the most common narratives links Diwali to the Hindu epic Ramayana. According to this tradition, Diwali marks the day when Lord Rama, along with his wife Sita, brother Lakshmana, and devotee Hanuman, returned to Ayodhya after a 14-year exile and a victorious battle against the demon king Ravana. To celebrate their return, the people of Ayodhya illuminated the city with rows of lamps, a tradition that continues to this day14. In Western India, the festival is associated with the legend of King Bali, a powerful demon who was banished to the underworld by Lord Vishnu. In South India, Diwali, known as Deepavali or Naraka Chaturdashi, commemorates the triumph of Lord Krishna over the demon King Narakasura2. For Jains, Diwali marks the day when Lord Mahavira, the last Tirthankara, achieved Nirvana or spiritual awakening. Sikhs commemorate the release of their 6th Guru, Guru Hargobind, from prison during this festival. Buddhists mark the occasion as the day when Emperor Ashoka converted to Buddhism. Even some Muslims in South Asia have been celebrating Diwali since the era of the Mughal ruler Akbar the Great25. The festival typically lasts five days, with each day having its own rituals and significance. The first day is Dhanteras, when it is considered auspicious to buy jewelry. The second day is Narak Chaturdasi, when homes are lit with 14 diyas to ward off evil. The third day is the main day of Diwali, celebrated with family gatherings and the lighting of 21 diyas. The fourth day is Govardhan Pooja, commemorating Lord Krishna's act of lifting Govardhan Hill to protect the people of Vrindavan from heavy rain. The festival concludes with Bhai Dooj on the fifth day3. Diwali is also a time of new beginnings and prosperity, with many starting new ventures or businesses during this period. It is traditionally a time for households to make significant purchases, particularly as the festival is dedicated to Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth and prosperity. The festival also involves cleaning and decorating homes, preparing special meals, exchanging gifts, and performing charity4. Despite the diverse interpretations and traditions, the central theme of Diwali remains the celebration of light over darkness and good over evil. It is a time for communities to come together, celebrate their cultural heritage, and promote positivity and clarity24.
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