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Diwali: The Festival of Lights

by Akhil Kalepu

Oct 17, 2015

© Dmitry Rukhlenko | Dreamstime

History

Dating back to ancient times, Diwali is one of the oldest, biggest and brightest holidays of India, signifying knowledge and light’s victory over ignorance and darkness.

 

It is believed the festival (also called Deepavali) originated as a festival held after the summer harvest season, during the Hindu month of Kartika. The event has been mentioned in scriptures written more than 2,000 years ago, though today its spiritual importance varies region to region. Even Sikhs and Jains celebrate the holiday to mark significant events in their own communities.

 

Ganesh scripting the Mahabharata, Shaktinagara Gopalakrishna Temple, Mangalore, India © Mahantesh C Morabad | Dreamstime 38509529

Ganesh scripting the Mahabharata, Shaktinagara Gopalakrishna Temple, Mangalore © Mahantesh C Morabad | Dreamstime

 

For some Hindus, Diwali is a festival honoring the return of Rama, who after 14 years of exile, rescued his wife from the demon Ravana, as told in the ancient epic, Ramayana. For others, it marks the return of the Pandavas who, after being unjustly banished to the forest, began the Kurukshetra War against the Kauravas, the story of which is depicted in Mahabharata.

 

One of the more common Diwali festivals is the worship of Lakshmi, goddess of wealth and prosperity, who on the first day of Diwali festivities was born out of samudra manthan, the churning of the cosmic ocean of milk. The night of Diwali marks Lakshmi’s commitment to Vishnu, while devotees make offerings to Ganesha, the remover of obstacles; Saraswati, goddess of art and knowledge; and Kubera, symbol of financial wisdom.

 

Diwali in Chandigarh, India © Harpreet Singh | Flickr

Diwali in Chandigarh © Harpreet Singh | Flickr

 

For Sikhs, Deepavali marks the Bandi Chhor Divas. The festival is celebrated by lighting up the Golden Temple in Amritsar, honoring the return of the 17th-century Guru Har Gobind and his fellow Hindu princes after being imprisoned at Fort Gwalior. Jains, on the other hand, honor Mahavira, who attained Nirvana Oct. 15, 527 BCE.

 

This year’s Diwali will take place Nov. 11, with festivities all over the world. With about 3 million Hindus living in America, there are sure to be celebrations taking place near you too.

 

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