The five day festival of Diwali is celebrated throughout India, a diverse land of rich cultural and traditional values. These traditions of Diwali differ from state to state, region to region and people to people. But the festivities are based on the same theme – victory of good over evil. Being the diverse country that India is, it comes as no surprise that the reason behind celebration of the Festival of Lights has many legends associated with it, each going a long way back in the scripts of Hindu mythology.
From the pages of the epic Ramayana arises the festival of lights – it is believed that Lord Rama saved his wife Sita from the clutches of King Raavana and defeated him in the battle that followed. After this victory of good over evil, Lord Rama returned to his kingdom when the people welcomed him with lights, sweets and fireworks. In certain districts in Himachal Pradesh, the festival is celebrated a month after the rest of the country. The reason behind it is believed that the news of Rama’s return reached them only a month after his return as the mountainous region was far away from the capital., known as Budhi Diwali meaning old Diwali. In the states of Goa, Maharashtra and Karnataka, legend goes that on a day of the weeklong celebration, Yamraj, the Lord of Death visited his sister on this special day and came down to Earth. This is marked as Diwali and is known as Bhai Tika.
The second of the Diwali celebrations is known as the Narak Chathurdasi. The folklore has it that Narakasura was another powerful demon ruling the land. His downside was that he was attracted to women and held 16000 women under him and forced them to live with him. In the course of this, to show that he was powerful he stole earrings of the mother of all Gods. Displeased by this the gods sought Lord Krishna for his help. So, history had it that he could be killed only by his mother. Well aware of this, Lord Krishna went to war with the demon with his wife, Satyabama beside him. Satyabama was a reincarnation of Narakasura’s mother, so when Krishna pretended to be hit, his wife took the opportunity and killed the demon with an arrow. His mother came to a decision that her son’s death would not be a day of darkness and sadness and declared the day to be celebrated as triumph of good over evil. After this battle, Lord Krishna bathed in oil to wash off the blood splashes on him. From this came the tradition of having an oil bath on the auspicious day. Another folklore has it that the day is to acknowledge the return of the Pandavas in the Mahabharata epic from their exile. They were warmly welcomed by the people of their kingdom. Legend also goes that on this day, Lord Vishnu defeated the great king Balipratipada and pleased by the generous heart of the king granted him a boon that he could return to Earth for one day to be with his people. It is also believed that on this day, Goddess Kali beheaded all the demons giving trouble to the gods. In her mission she lost control and came back to her senses when she stepped on Lord Shiva’s chest. Worship of Goddess Lakshmi during the festival is mandatory as there is a wide belief that Lakshmi, goddess of wealth was incarnated on this day during the churning of the ocean by the devas and asuras on either side. Another story associated with Diwali is the coronation of King Vikramaditya, which was celebrated by lighting earthen lamps called diyas. Although Diwali has various versions of legends behind it, it is celebrated with the same excitement and love and enthusiasm all over the country.