Diwali, a joyful festival of lights, is celebrated with great enthusiasm by Hindus, Sikhs and Jains all over the world. The uniqueness of this five day festival is its harmony of Vedic philosophies; Each day is dedicated to a special thought or ideal drawn from different legends and traditions of the Vedic era.
There are many reasons people celebrate Diwali and this famous story of Prince Rama and Sita is one of them:
Rama was exiled from his home for 14 years by his father, King Dashratha, who ruled over the kingdom of Ayodhya. Rama's stepmother Queen Kaikeyi had wanted her sons to become King, not King Dashratha's eldest sons Rama or Lakshmana so she forced the King to send the two into exile. They obeyed and along with Rama's wife Sita, they went to live in the forest.
One day, after some time in the forrest, the demon Ravana kidnapped Sita and Rama, his brother Lakshmana and the monkey king, Hanuman, moved to save her. After a fierce battle between Rama, Lakshmana and Hanuman with Ravana's army, the demon was defeated, and after fourteen long years, they then returned home with Sita. Oil lamps were lit to guide them on their way home and to rejoice their victory.
Celebrations of this victory vary from region to region, culture to culture. This day-by-day snapshot comes from Gujarati tradition, the state in India my family originates:
Day 1: DHANTERAS
This first day is in honor of Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth. To welcome her, devotees clean their houses, decorate them with lights and flowers, and prepare sweet treats as offerings. It is believed that the happier Lakshmi is with the visit, the more she blesses the family with health and wealth. As good health is a form of wealth, this day is an occasion to worship Lord Dhanvantari (an incarnation of Vishnu) who is the deity of health, the spirit of knowledge, and the originating source of Ayurveda.
*Lakshmi Puja honors five deities: Ganesha (who is worshiped at the beginning of every auspicious act); goddesses in three forms--Maha-Lakshmi the goddess of wealth & prosperity, Maha-Saraswati the goddess of knowledge & learning, and Maha-Kali the goddess of time & death; and Kuber the treasurer of the gods.
Day 2: KALI CHAUDAS
This day is devoted to the worship of Maha-Kali, an incarnation of Shakti (primordial cosmic energy). In celebration of Kali killing the wicked demon Raktavija, Kali Chaudas signifies the expulsion of darkness and evil spirit residing within us. . Also referred to as Narak-Chaturdashi, it is a day to abolish laziness, evil, fear, and doubt.
Day 3: DIWALI
Celebrated in all parts of India, Diwali is the last day of the Hindu year and the most auspicious of the five day celebration. In celebration of Lakshmi, who bestows wealth and prosperity, people wear their best clothes and go to temples to give thanks and visit neighbors and relatives to give blessings and best wishes. Houses are decorated with diyas (candles) and rangoli (Indian art form) and everywhere lights represent the triumphs of good over evil and light over darkness.
Day 4: BESTU VARAS
This day is the Gujarati new year according to the Indian calendar, which is based on lunar cycles. (Most other Hindus celebrate the New Year in the spring – Baisakhi.) All over the world Gujaratis use this day to mark the beginning of a new fiscal year. People greet each other by uttering Saal Mubaarak and special home-made snacks are offered to guests & neighbors.
Day 5: BHAI BIJ
On this day a sister show thanks for her brother and a brother shows love for his sister. The brother aspect represents Krishna, who did the noble deed of killing the demon Narakasura. The sister asks for his wellbeing as, like Krishna, he is her protector (often both symbolically and literally). In return for the blessings, the brother swears to always protect his sister, and be there for her in good and bad times.
Again, the ways in which Diwali is celebrated, and even the variation in dates, reflect the vast diversity of the subcontinent itself. What's consistent and what can be adopted and celebrated regardless of religious beliefs or ethnicity is the celebration of good over evil — the triumph of knowledge over ignorance. If this resonates for you, take a moment over the next few days to light a candle in acknowledgment of your own growth and inner illumination.