Why do we celebrate Diwali or Dipawali / Deepawali? What is the significance and what should be learnt from it? Is it limited to lighting ‘Diyas’ and burning crackers? Is there something more to it? What all happened on this day? How did it originate? There are endless questions in our mind whenever we think about anything. Diwali is a great festival so questions are bound to arise. Though no mortal can possibly understand the entire essence of the Lord’s creation, leave apart explain it, but yes, within our limitations we can try and comprehend what it tries to teach us.
Diwali comes from the word Dipavali which has two words ‘dipa’ means light and ‘avali’ means carrier. Therefore Dipa or Diya signifies ‘coming to light’. “Tamaso Ma, Jyotir Gamaya” means ‘Do not remain in Darkness, Come to Light’, meaning ‘come to spiritual awareness or awakening’.
Diwali is celebrated by Hindus, Sikhs, Jains, Buddhists, Vaishnavs and other sub-sects for their own reasons. Many of us don’t know all the reasons that go with this festival of lights. Probably I don’t know all of them too but some of them are:
1. The most popular and well known reason is the return of Lord Ramachandra from His exile for 14 years. People in ‘Ayodhya’ celebrated by lighting ‘Diyas’ in their homes and the entire city.
2. The day also signifies the appearance of Laxmi Devi from the ocean of milk. The Goddess of wealth and thus of shine. This is the reason the Goddess Lakshmi is specially worshipped on this day.
3. Another reason is the appearance of Lord Dhanvantari, who gave Ayurveda to the world. The gift of health and thus enlightenment.
4. Lord Krishna’s defeated the demon Narkasura and freed / released the 16,100 princesses from his clutches. A day of happiness.
5. Return of Bali Maharaj to his kingdom for one day from the Patal loka (lower planetary system) where he was sent by Krishna’s Incarnation of Vamana Deva. A day to rejoice for his kingdom.
6. Observance of Kartika in Vrindavan for whole month for Lord Krsna’s pastimes of Damodar Lila.
7. Duryodhan was killed on this day so all the Brij-vaasis had also celebrated Diwali and the return of Pandavas after their exile for one year. Again the celebration included the lighting of ‘Diyas’
8. Kuvera (the treasurer of the universe) was appointed at his post one of the universal managers appointed by the Lord.
9. Yamaraj also took up His duties as the God of Death.
10. One of the greatest Indian Kings; King Vikramaditya was ordained on this day therefore the Vedic Calendar starts from then. That is why the Indian calendar is called ‘Vikram Samvat’ and the New Year starts from the next day of Diwali.
11. Surabhi Cow had appeared from churning of the Milk Ocean (Kshirsagar) so the cows are worshipped and honoured
12. Lord Krishna lifting the Govardhan Hill for seven days to protect the residents from Indra’s devastating rain.
13. Appearance of Lord Parashu Rama during this Season.
14. Pandavas also return from their one year exile from the forest on this day.
15. Kali Pooja – when Goddess Kali remembered Her true self as Lord Shiva lay in Her way.
16. For Sikhs, this day symbolises the return of their sixth Guru – Guru Har Gobind Ji (1595-1644). People illuminated lamps in the way to Shri Harmandhir Sahib (Golden Temple) to honour and welcome their beloved Guru.
17. For Jains, the day commemorates the passing into ‘Nirvana’ of their latest enlightened master (and 24th Tirthankar) Bhagwaan Vardhaman Mahaveer.
18. Buddhists especially the ones from Nepal celebrate Diwali to remember Indian Emperor Ashoka, who adopted Buddhism on this day.
So, we see that this festival has the uniqueness of being associated with a number of events. The above list may not be complete and I may be missing some more important events that happened but that is not the point because that is not what we are talking about. What is important is that, all we think about is ‘Light’ whenever we think about ‘Diwali’. It is thus called the festival of lights.
What does this mystical light signify? The events associated with Diwali as discussed above are not just earthly achievements. They are spiritual in nature. Thus this light signifies spirituality. This inner light can also be called “Atman” (the true self – beyond form and personality). Literally the word ‘Atma’ also means ‘the opposite of darkness’, or light.
The proper significance of Diwali then should be; the awareness of the inner light in us. The existence of the ‘Atma’; the spiritual power which is pure, infinite and an eternal & integral part of any human being. This power is free from birth and death. (A person dies, the ‘Atma’ does not die). Diwali is the celebration of this inner light in us, which has the power to outshine all inner and outer darkness like obstacles, ignorance and awakens a person to his or her true spiritual nature.
If a person realises that he/she is a part of an unchanging, infinite, universal, pure and transcendental truth, a sense of compassion and love can be achieved from the awareness that everything is connected through this “Atma” which belongs to the “Paramatma”. This awareness brings a feeling of joy, peace and happiness. No other event can match the degree of happiness that this awareness can give.
On the Diwali day, we bring more ‘light’ into our homes and thus more spirituality in our lives. We become giving, loving and feel devoted. In short, we become more spiritual. This feeling needs to stay. Diwali should not be celebrated as just a festival and then forgotten till the next year. It should be celebrated as a reminder of our true self and the way of life which we need to continue even after that, year after year.
May Guruji bless all on this auspicious day and may everyone achieve their spiritual goals. Happy Diwali for this day and for a lifetime to come…