Celebrating is integral to our genetic makeup. We don’t necessarily need a reason to celebrate. And when we do have one, we go all out. More so, in a colourful and diverse society like India, celebrations take on a whole other meaning. Welcoming a new member into the family, winning a cricket match or even movies becoming blockbusters–we love to celebrate our collective joys and glories. It resonates with our culture and forms the ethos of our vibrant society.
A land of festivals, India celebrates harvest festivals, music festivals and national festivals. In a society that’s rooted in tradition and cultural diversity, religious festivals form a large part of celebrations in India. Irrespective of the religion they belong to, festivals bring people together and further strengthen the inherently vibrant social fabric. One such festival is Diwali. A harvest festival, Diwali is celebrated in the Hindu months of Ashvin and Karthika (October and November). Its celebration and rituals may vary across regions, however, the core message of Diwali remains the same–darkness to light, ignorance to knowledge, triumph over evil and hope over despair.
Festivals everywhere have their roots in legends and Diwali is no exception. We bring to you some of the legends associated with Diwali and hope that the message stays with you long after you have read them.
The prince returns
One of the most well-known legends is that of Rama, the eldest son of Dasaratha, the king of Ayodhya. The story goes that Rama, his wife Sita and brother Lakshmana were exiled from the kingdom for 14 years. Ravana, the king of Lanka saw Sita in a forest and mesmerised by her beauty asked her to marry him. When she refused, Ravana abducted her and held her captive. Rama with the help of Hanuman, Bali, Sugreev and an army of monkeys attacked Lanka and killed Ravana in an epic battle.
Rama, Sita and Lakshmana returned to their kingdom on a new moon night in the Hindu month of Ashvin. The people of Ayodhya celebrated the homecoming of their benevolent prince by lighting earthen lamps, bursting firecrackers and distributing sweets. Houses were cleaned and all the roads leading to Ayodhya were illuminated. Rama’s return marked good times ahead for the kingdom which had lost its prosperity without their beloved prince.
These legends paint a picture of different times and different struggles.
The magnanimous demon king
One significant legend associated with Diwali is that of Mahabali. He was a benevolent demon king who ruled over the three worlds–earth, netherworld and heaven to its entirety. An ardent devotee of Lord Vishnu, Mahabali was known for his generosity and was called the king of kings. When Mahabali began the Ashvamedha Yagna to maintain his reign over the three worlds, various gods became insecure and requested Lord Vishnu to get rid of him. Vishnu took the form of a Brahmin boy Vamana and visited his kingdom. There, he asked Mahabali to give him some land. The ever-generous king told him to take as much land as he wanted. Vamana said he only wished to keep what he could cover in three steps. The king, though perplexed, agreed. Vamana then grew into cosmic proportions and placed his first step on the earth. With his second step he covered heaven. Then he looked at Mahabali and asked him where to place his third step. By now, the king had realised that Vamana is Lord Vishnu and humbly asked him to place it on his head. With his third step, Vishnu pushed Mahabali into the netherworld. Pleased by the king’s gracious nature, Vishnu granted him a boon according to which Mahabali could visit the earth once every year during the Karthika month.
To this day, people remember Mahabali for his good deeds and celebrate Balipadyami, Balipratipada or Padwa.
A boon turned bane
Another legend narrates the story of Krishna’s victory over Narakasura. According to legend, the demon king Narakasura was the son of Bhumi Devi. He became an ardent devotee of Lord Brahma and performed severe penance to appease him. Impressed, Brahma appeared before him. Narakasura asked for a boon which ensured that death could only come to him at the hands of his mother. The boon was granted. Narakasura then created mayhem in Indra’s kingdom and abducted 16,000 celestial nymphs from heaven. With each passing day, Narakasura grew more powerful. Deities eventually sought Lord Vishnu’s help. But Vishnu was in a fix as the boon ensured that Narakasura could only be killed by his mother. Vishnu took the form of Krishna and married Satyabhama, who was the incarnation of Bhumi Devi. During a battle with the demon king, Krishna asked his wife to be his charioteer. After being injured from an arrow shot by Narakasura, Krishna asked Satyabhama to shoot an arrow at Narakasura and kill him. The dying Narakasura told Krishna that he had seen light in the form of Krishna and wanted people to celebrate this day as the victory of light over darkness. Every year, this day is celebrated as Naraka Chaturdashi, Kali Chaudas or Roop Chaturdashi.
These legends paint a picture of different times and different struggles. But their lessons are just as relevant today. We constantly battle the demons within, struggle with adversities and seek to illuminate the darkness that surrounds us.
Let this thought be a recurring motif this Diwali.