Diwali, the festival of lights is not only about return of Lord Rama to Ayodhya after his 14-year banishment, during which he killed demon king Ravana of Lanka, the festival of lights has a different story of origin in different parts of the country. Most common story about Diwali celebrations relates the festival to Lord Rama’s victorious return to Ayodhya. But, shastras may have a different take on it.
There are various traditions and beliefs that lay claim on the origin of the festival of light. Each region has a separate and engaging story to tell about why Diwali is celebrated there.
DIWALI IN KAMA SUTRA
According to historians, the earliest mention of Diwali is found in Vatsyayana’s Kama Sutra, which is considered to have been composed sometime between the third century BC and the second century AD.
Vatsyayana mentioned about Yaksha Ratri- the night of the Yakshas, which was celebrated by lighting lamps in rows on houses, walls and other places. Bonfires were lit amid joyful fervor and gaiety. Gambling was an important aspect of the festival. The festival was not christened as Diwali yet.
As per mythology, Yakshas are related to goddess of wealth, Lakshmi through Kuber, who was the lord of wealth in the shastras. Vatsyayana’s description of Diwali was most dominant during the ancient times.
KASHMIR GAVE THE NAME?
Kashmir has a different story linking Lakshmi with Diwali. Nilamata Purana- composed in Kashmir of ancient days between 500 AD and 800 AD- for the first time mentions goddess Lakshmi at the centre of Diwali celebrations. The very name of Diwali could be traced to Nilamata Purana.
The Kashmiri text mentions about a festival by the name of Deepamala, also known as Sukhasuptika. It was celebrated on the same night of the lunar calendar as Diwali is celebrated now.
According to Nilamata Purana, on the new moon night- Amavasya- in the month of Kartik, devotees should worship goddess Lakshmi placing earthen lamps at places visited and resided by them. After the prayer rituals, people should sit with their family and friends for dinner.
DIWALI AND GAMBLING
There is another shastra that talks about the lighting festival. The Aditya Purana also places Lakshmi at the centre of Diwali celebrations. But, it adds the game of gambling to it.
The book refers to a story of Lord Shiva, who lost a game of dice to Parvati the next morning after playing through the night.
Skand Purana also talks about Deep Pujan but refers to earthen lamps as symbols of the sun and the moon. Lakshmi is not mentioned at the centre of DIwali here.
GIFTS ON DIWALI
Harsha’s famous play, Nagananda- composed in seventh century AD- talks about Deepotsava, which literally means the festival of earthen lamps.
The play mentions about the practice of giving gifts to newly married couples. Interestingly, similar tradition is followed in Tamil Nadu, where Thalai Diwali is celebrated.
DIWALI AS BALIRAJYA IN KERALA
In Kerala, the festival of light used to be celebrated a night after Diwali to mark the return of a benevolent demon king Mahabali to the earth. It is now celebrated as a 10-day Onam festival.
According to Bhavishyottara Purana and Brahma Vaivarta Purana, king Mahabali was banished to depths by the Vamana incarnation of Lord Vishnu.
Medieval author Al-Biruni has given a detailed account of rituals, practices and tradition of Indian people.
In his Tarikh Al-Hind, he said that Lakshmi, the wife of Vasudeva, set Bali (Mahabali) free for a day in a year and allowed him to return to the earth. Al-Biruni described this festival as Balirajya.
THE KRISHNA CONNECTION
Yet another legend relates the festival to Lord Krishna, whose consort, Satyabhama killed Narakasura on Naraka Chaturdasi, which falls a day before Diwali. In western party of the country, this legend is credited for the origin of Diwali.
In some other versions of the legend, Krishna is credited with slaying demon Narakasura.
NEW YEAR ON DIWALI
For many communities, Diwali marks the beginning of a new year in the Vikram Samvat calendar, which is used for calculating the date and time of various social rituals and festivals.
It is believed that king Vikramaditya ascended the throne on Diwali. He launched a new calendar to celebrate his coronation, which became popular in various parts of the country. It is still in use for religious purposes.
DIWALI AND KALI PUJA
In Bengali tradition Kali Puja is celebrated on the night of Diwali. Kali is considered as one of the only two pre-Aryan deities- other being Lord Shiva.
According to a legend, Lord Shiva lay down on the path of goddess Kali, who went on a rampage slaughtering demons. After she stepped unknowingly on Shiva’s bare body, she calmed down. The festival is celebrated to control ego and other negative tendencies that hinder spiritual progress.
DIWALI IN JAINISM AND SIKHISM
Diwali holds immense significance for Jains and Sikhs as well. As per Jain tradition, Lord Mahavira attained Nirvana on Diwali. Devotees celebrate this occasion by lighting lamps.
In 600 AD, Guru Hargobind, the sixth guru of Sikhs was set free from imprisonment after fifteen years on Diwali. Sikh devotees celebrated the occasion by lighting earthen lamps in their homes.