Diwali, while celebrated over five days by several eastern religions means different things to different faiths.
To Hindus, the celebration centers around the defeat of Ravana by Rama, the eldest son of King Dasaratha. In this cosmic battle of good verses evil, Rama returns from exile and leads his army representing good and defeats Ravana’s army representing evil. There is also an association with Lakshmi who is the goddess of wealth and prosperity and the wife of Vishnu.
In Jainism, Diwali is regarded as the day Mahavirs died and achieved final nirvana. Mahavira is the twenty-fourth Tirhankara (ford-maker) of Jainism. According to the Jains, Mahavira was born in the 6th Century BCE to a wealthy family. He left home in his late twenties and led a severely austere life abandoning all worldly possessions and comforts. After 12 years of being an ascetic, he achieved Kevalal Jnana (omniscience) and spent the next 30 years preaching concerning the enlightenment he had received. The practice of lighting the lamps and celebrating Mahavira transition, began on the day of his death by 18 kings who had gathered to learn during his final teaching.
The Sikh faith celebrates Diwali as a the release of Guru Hargobind (1611-1612 CE) the sixth Guru from Gwalior Fort (Madhya Pradesh, India) and his arrival at the Golden Temple in Amritsar, Punjab, India. Diwali probably predates Guru Hargobind reaching back to Gurur Amar Das, the third Guru who built a well in Goindwal Sahib (Tarn Taran, Punjab, India) with 84 steps leading down to the water. Sikhs were invited to bathe in the sacred waters on the holidays of Baisakhi and Diwali. These spring and fall festivals became the most important celebrations in the Sikh faith.
To the Newar Buddhists of Nepal, Diwali has become a time to offer prayers to Lakshmi and Vishnu of the Hindu tradition. The freedom within the Mahayana Buddhist faith (one of two main branches of Buddhism) allow followers to worship other deities as long as it leads them to a rich and fulfilling life.
Diwali Day One: Dhanteras is when celebrants clean their houses and businesses preparing for the holiday. The cleaning represents renewal for the beginning of the coming year.
Diwali Day Two: Choto Diwali (Naraka Chaturdasi) is a day of prayers for those who have died to move their souls quickly through the afterlife and past hell to their final reward. Some Hindus believe it is a time for prayer and contemplation of the dead that they may quickly move into their rebirth.
Diwali Day Three: Lakshmi Puja celebrates the darkest day of the lunar month and is when the Jain and Sikh temples and homes shine with lights in contrast to the darkness. It is a time of family and friends coming together recognizing the importance of family and community. Rituals dedicated to Lakshmi welcome the goddess into homes to bring happiness and prosperity in the coming year.
Diwali Day Four: Govardhan Puha is the celebration of the bond between husband and wife. The background for the day comes from a game of dice played between the goddess Parvati and her husband Shiva. Shiva loses the game and surrenders his clothing to Parvati. In the game Shiva represents male destructive power and Parvati represents female procreative power. The game is a cosmic rendering of creation and dissolution. Husbands give gifts to their wives and parents invite children to their homes for festive meals and gifts.
Diwali Day Five: Bhaiya Dooj is the day of brother and sister bonding. To some Hindus the day represents Yama’s sister Yamuna welcoming him home. To other Hindus the day commemorates the god Krishna arriving at his sister Subhadra’s home after his defeat of Narakasura. The day is celebrated by the brother inviting his sister and her family to his home and the ritual feeding of the brother by his sister. It is also the day for celebrating work and trades where work places and machines are cleaned and prayers offered for these tools necessary to earn a living.
No matter the orientation or belief the five-day festival of Diwali is a celebration of life, family and connectivity throughout much of Asia and India. I hope you enjoyed the blog.