Enthusiastically celebrated by people of all nationalities, races and religions, Diwali, the festival of lights creates a magical world of joy and festivity. It celebrates the triumphant victory of good over evil – and the glory of light over darkness, a beam of hope over despair. The word Diwali or Deepavali (in its full form), means ‘a row of lamps’.
Diwali marks a new beginning, a renewal of commitment to family values, and represents all the good virtues we seek such as love, reflection, forgiveness and knowledge.
Hindu Festival of Diwali
Hindus observe Diwali over a period of five days. The first day of Diwali, called Dhanvantari Trayodasi sees the Hindu families offering prayers to the Goddess of wealth (Lakshmi) to remember
wealth is considered a benediction from God.
The second day, called Narak Chaturdasi is associated with the defeat of the demon king Narakasura by Lord Krishna, who freed 16,000 captive women. This day reminds us not to abuse our power and to channel our strength for the greater benefit of mankind.
The third day is actually Diwali. According to the Ramayana, the people of Ayodhya illuminated the kingdom with earthen lamps (diyas) to celebrate the return of their king, Lord Rama after he defeated the demon king Ravana who captured his wife Sita.
The fourth day is the Govardhana Puja (Hindu New Year), and is a time for reconciliation and forgiveness. On this day, Hindus offer thanksgiving to cows and worship Lord Krishna with offerings of food arranged in the form of Govardhana, a hill in Vrindavana.
The fifth day of Diwali is called Bhaiya Duj and is dedicated to the relationship between a brother and a sister. It is a day when every brother takes time to visit the home of his sister and her family.
Sikh Festival of Diwali
For Sikhs, Diwali is particularly important because it celebrates the release from prison of the sixth guru, Guru Hargobind, and 52 other princes with him, in 1619.
The Sikh tradition holds that the Emperor Jahangir had imprisoned Guru Hargobind and 52 princes. The Emperor was asked to release Guru Hargobind which he agreed to do. However, Guru Hargobind
asked that the princes be released also. The Emperor agreed, but said only those who could hold onto his cloak tail would be allowed to leave the prison. This was in order to limit the number of
prisoners who could leave.
However, Guru Hargobind had a cloak made with 52 pieces of string and so each prince was able to hold onto one string and leave prison.
Jain Festival of Diwali
The Jains celebrate Diwali as a festival of light, a symbolic representation of the knowledge that was given by Lord Mahavira for the peace and welfare of all living beings. It marks the anniversary of the attainment of moksha by Mahavira in 527 BCE and achievement of omniscience by his chief disciple Gautam Indrabhuti.