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The Epitome of Indian Festivals- History of Diwali!!

After the celebrations of Dussehra and Navratri, everyone starts planning for the Festival of Lights. From welcoming the entourage of Ramayana to honouring Goddess Lakshmi, every culture appreciates the festival’s celebrations, energy, and reverence. It’s the start of Winter, and the zeal amongst people is starting to present itself.

Diwali’s history has several stories to tell. However, one topic remains common- the victory of good over evil. Since almost every state celebrates it, let’s look at the different legends based around it!!

  • It’s the story of King Bali and Lord Vishnu. Even though Bali was a generous ruler, he was highly ambitious and ruled the three worlds- the Earth, the world above the skies, and the underworld. This fact displeased the Gods. So, to keep a check on Bali’s power, Vishnu transformed into a dwarf dressed as a priest. He challenged Bali that if he could cover his three worlds in three steps, Bali would give everything to the dwarf. Bali laughed off the challenge but accepted it. The dwarf transformed into Lord Vishnu and covered the entire cosmos in three steps. This resulted in banishing Bali to the underworld. While celebrating Diwali, some remember King Bali.
  • According to folklore, Narkasura was a demon covered with filth and dirt; who used to kidnap young women and force them to live with him. After hearing their cries for help, Vishnu transformed into Krishna, his eighth incarnation. After fighting a five-headed monster, Krishna beat Narkasura. After the loss, Narkasura hoped his death may bring joy to others. For Hindus, this story is a reminder that good can still come out of something evil.
  • A village, Gokula, worshipped Lord Indra since his rains helped them grow excellent harvest. But, Krishna convinced the people of this village to worship the mountain Govardhan because of its fertile soil. This fact did not bode well with Lord Indra and resulted in thunderstorms and torrential rains in the village. In the end, Lord Krishna saved the villagers after lifting a mountain with his finger and protecting everyone under its shelter.
  • However, the main story of Diwali is the story of Lord Ram. After imposing an exile for 14 years by King Dashratha, Lord Ram, Sita, and his brother Lakshman faced Ravana, a great pundit but with an evil mind. After defeating Ravana in a battle, the three returned to Ayodhya. This victory signifies the victory of good over evil, and because of this, people light rows of clay lamps to commemorate this message.

Diwali celebrations vary in different cultures. For example, in the Sikh culture, people celebrate the return of Guru Hargobind Ji (the sixth guru) from captivity. To commemorate his love for Sikhism, devotees light the route to the Golden Temple in his honour. Whereas, in Jainism, people celebrate the achievements of Lord Mahavira, who established this culture. The Bengali culture worships Goddess Kali, the embodiment of supreme energy. Goddess Kali takes away all darkness, cuts down all impurities, and purifies devotees with her love.

Diwali is a five-day festival with each day having its significance. Let’s look at them, shall we!?

  • The first day of Diwali is Dhanteras, where ‘Dhan’ means money and ‘teras’ means 13th, marking the 13th day of the Hindu month Kartik and the beginning of Diwali. Many clean their homes and business premises and decorate them with several elements. Diyas, rangoli, lamps, unique strings of lighting patterns culminate to give it a vibrant feel. In the evening, families devote their time for prayers to Lord Ganesha and Goddess Lakshmi. This day also marks a shopping day to purchase new items for yourself and your family.
  • Narak Chaturdashi, also known as Chhoti Diwali, marks the second day, where ‘Narak’ means hell, while ‘Chhoti’ means small and ‘Chaturdashi means the 14th day. The story of Krishna defeating Narakasura relates to this day. The day’s rituals signify to liberate any souls from Narak (hell) and remind its spiritual importance. While some perform Hanuman Puja, people also celebrate the return of Lord Ram to Ayodhya. During this day, people purchase different sorts of Mithais and visit their friends and relatives for celebrations.
  • The third day belongs to Lakshmi Puja or Kali Puja, wherein the festival reaches its peak festivities. It’s the evening that lights up (literally). Everyone wears brand new clothes and gathers for Lakshmi Pujan. Devotees use the lamps from the puja to light more earthen lamps, which are lit in houses, while some set the lamps adrift in lakes or rivers. Some signify it as a way to avoid any evil spirits. After Lakshmi Puja, everyone lights up their Patakhe (fireworks) to celebrate, along with sharing Mithais with friends and family. On this day, even shops and small businesses either keep their shops closed or close soon so that employees can enjoy some family time.
  • Annakut, also known as Balipratipada (Padwa) or Goverdhan Puja, constitutes the fourth day. Some remember this day for Vishnu defeating the demon, Bali, while some relate it with the story of Parvati and Shiva playing a game of dice on a board of 12 squares and 30 pieces. After Goddess Parvati wins, she asks Lord Shiva to surrender his garments and adornments. Ritualistically, this day celebrates the bond between a husband and wife. ‘Annakut’ means ‘mountain of food’ since some communities prepare over 100 dishes with several ingredients offered to Lord Krishna before distribution.
  • The last day belongs to the siblings. Also called Bhau Beej, Bhai Duj means ‘brother’s day’ and celebrates the brother-sister bond. Somewhat similar to Bhai Duj, some relate this day with the legend of Yama and Yamuna, as Yama travels to Yamuna’s house and is greeted with a tilaka on his forehead. The tale of Krishna visiting Subhadra after defeating Narkasura also relates to this day. Here, the brother visits the sister, and the sister feeds Mithais to her brother with her own hands before receiving a gift.

While the celebrations go on, the festive feast also attracts several people. During Diwali, the main food items are the ‘Faral’, which consists of Chakli, Chiwda, Sev, Shankarpale, and laddus. Although they are available year-round, they gain the maximum demand during this festival. Some other Mithais and snacks to explore during the festival include-

  • Chirote,
  • Barfi,
  • Karanjis,
  • Lapsi (a candied fruit in Nepal),
  • Kaju Katli,
  • Anarsa,
  • Choddo Shaak (14 different types of leafy vegetables, found in West Bengal)
  • Murukku,
  • Different types of Halwas, and many more!!

All this has got me excited for the festive season of Diwali. So, I am going to quickly plan everything for the celebrations and celebrate it in the best possible way with my friends and family. Wishing everyone a happy and safe Diwali!!