Everyone in India knows that Diwali, or Deepavali, as it is called in the South, is a festival of lights. But did you know that the reasons for celebration are different in different regions of India?
In the north, it marks the return of Lord Ram to Ayhodha after 14 years in exile. During that time he had killed many demons, including Ravana, the king of Lanka. The people of Ayodhya welcomed him with fireworks and lighted lamps, and that practice continues today.
In South India, it commemorates Lord Krishna’s victory over the demon Narakasura, who had imprisoned thousands of people. Krishna freed the people, and they celebrated by buying new clothes and bursting crackers.
Lakshmi, the Goddess of Wealth, is also worshiped on this day. When the Devas churned the Ocean of Milk to get the nectar of life, Lakshmi emerged from the Ocean. She married Lord Vishnu on the darkest night of the month, and thousands of lamps were lit to brighten the marriage venue. The Goddess is believed to visit earth on Deepavali day, and enter the cleanest and brightest homes, bringing prosperity to them.
In Western India, the defeat of the demon king Bali by Lord Vishnu is remembered. Bali was a good king, but very aggressive towards the Devas, and Lord Vishnu banished him to the Underworld. The day is also celebrated as the anniversary of the return of the Pandava Princes from exile.
Deepavali is important to people of other faiths too. The Jains celebrate it as the day when Mahavira, a great saint, got enlightenment. And the Sikhs observe it as the anniversary of the day when Guru Hargobind, one of their leaders, was freed from imprisonment.
The common factor is the victory of good over evil, symbolized by light driving off darkness.