Sucheta Bandyopadhyay gives a mythological and historical insight into Diwali celebration.
India celebrates Diwali, the festival of light, on every Kartik Amavasya. It’s hard to figure out the source of the festival. None can say, which part of this vast country had first witnessed the birth of this festival of light. The answer must have been lost within the course of time. Now many celebrate Diwali for the illusion of illumination, without considering other aspects of it.
According to oral tradition Lord Ramachandra along with Sita and Laxmana had returned to Ayodhya after killing Ravana, completing his 14 years in exile on this particular day. It is said that the people of Ayodhya had decorated the whole city with light to celebrate Rama’s homecoming. Hence, Diwali is a festival that marks the victory of the good over evil power.
In a large part of India Laxmi, the goddess of wealth, is worshipped on Diwali. Preparations start early for that. People gather in shops to purchase according to their budget to bring Laxmi to their home as a symbol of wealth and prosperity. This is known as Dhanteras or Dhanatrayodashi. It’s basically the thirteenth day of the dark fortnight before Diwali. It is said that this was the day when huge wealth came out after the churning of the ocean in the Puranic time. Laxmi Devi herself had symbolically come up from the ocean then. Last but not the least came out Dhanwantari with a pitcher of nectar which was later dedicated to him, praying for good-health, prosperity and deathlessness of kin. Hence, we can easily describe Dhanteras as an anniversary of churning of the ocean.
Vikramabda begins for a large chunk of Indian population from the day after the Kartik Amavasya or Pratipad. Hence, Diwali means celebrating New Year ’s Eve to many. Ganesha is worshipped on the beginning of Vikramabda. Now many of us worship both Laxmi and Ganesha together on Diwali to test prosperity and success simultaneously.
West Bengal, too, worships goddess Laxmi on this occasion, welcoming wealth and prosperity and driving out Alaxmi or lack of luck and failure. But in Bengal, highly inspired by the Shakta philosophy or believers of shaktism or power, goddess Kali is generally worshipped on that particular day.
On the other hand the Jains believe that their preacher Mahavira Jaina had achieved salvation on the Katik Amavasya. The Sikhs describe the day as a milestone in their long struggle against the then Mughal rulers of India. Sikh guru Hargobind Singh was released from jail on this particular day and a new hope of freedom was ignited in the mind of the whole community with that. Hence, the Sikhs celebrate Diwali as Bandi Chhor Divas.
Now let’s turn focus to mythological significance of Diwali. The Indian mythology says, one day the skin colour of Parvati turned from fair to brown suddenly. She was looking enigmatic as ever with her new skin colour too. In fact, her husband Lord Mahadeva liked it a lot. He started calling her Kali out of love. Parvati did not like that new name. Shiva tried to convince her but she was so annoyed with her husband’s behaviour that she decided to go to forest to perform an austere penance till she becomes fair again. Shiva was unhappy with that and he disappeared with intense disappointment. With Shiva the Sun, Moon and fire, the three residence of his third eye, also vanished from the world. A permanent darkness came down over the whole universe. The Gods had realised that the creation would not sustain if this darkness prevails for long. They went to Narayana and sought help from him. Narayana advised them to put up uncountable lamps so that the darkness would disappear. Now, the question was that Lord Shiva had disappeared with the Agni or fire itself. So how those lamps would be flamed! Then Narayana came in rescue again and told other Gods to ignite lamps with the flame of wisdom and conscience. The Gods created a new Agni by igniting their good sense and wisdom and flamed countless lamps with that. Lord Shiva was busy in penance then. He, too, got awake with the light of wisdom.
The fire of wisdom had enlightened the Manushyaloka (world of man), Daityaloka (world of giants) and Nagaloka (world of snakes) but the Pretaloka or the world of the deads was still in darkness. The Gods asked Narayana for remedy again and he described that the livings would flame lamps for the Pretaloka, in memory of their dead ancestors, throughout the Kartik month. We still follow that instruction and flame light in this particular month for our dead predecessors.
The writer is a researcher. Comments personal