calendar icon Sun, October 27, 2019

Festivals in India are a vibrant representation of the culture and ancient traditions of the country. The most prominent celebration is that of Diwali, which is popularly called the festival of lights, celebrated in the month of October or November. Like most festivals in the country, its story is rooted in myths, legends and religion. It is said that Lord Rama returned to Ayodhya on this day after a 14-year-long exile. The people in his kingdom were so happy that they lit diyas (earthen lamps) in their houses to welcome him. Today, thousands of people decorate their homes with candles and diyas and burst crackers to mark the occasion. 
Why is it celebrated?
The stories behind why Diwali is celebrated are impressive and gripping and find roots in epics Ramayana and the Mahabharata. While the former offers an account of how Lord Rama returned to his kingdom after slaying Ravana, the latter narrates that Diwali is celebrated to welcome the five Pandavas, who returned from their long exile in the forest. It is said that they were welcomed with lights and crackers. A Himachali legend attributes the Mahabharata war to have begun on Diwali, giving the festival of lights a distinctively sombre undertone. But then again, according to a Jain belief, the last Tirthankara – Lord Mahavira – attained nirvana on Diwali day. 
West Bengal, where Goddess Kali is worshipped on Diwali, has an interesting anecdote about the festival. It is said that once she had defeated all the demons, the goddess lost control and began destroying everything that came her way. It was only when Lord Shiva lay down in her path and she stepped on him that the goddess came to her senses. 
The demon Narakasura was defeated by Lord Krishna on Diwali day, according to stories prevalent in the south of India. Another absorbing story is about King Bali who ruled the entire earth but wanted to rule heaven as well. Disguised as a dwarf priest, Lord Vishnu went to King Bali’s court and asked him for as much land as he could cover in three strides. But the lord became so big that he covered the entire earth and heaven in two strides. For the remaining third stride, Bali offered his head. Lord Vishnu put his foot on Bali’s head and pushed him in the deep darkness under the ground. Because Bali had kept his word, Lord Vishnu allowed him to be able to come to the surface of the earth once a year and light it up with diyas. 
How is it celebrated?
Goddess Lakshmi, who rules wealth and prosperity, is venerated on Diwali. The festival is also hailed by many as her birth anniversary as she emerged during the churning of the ocean by the demons and deities on the new moon day - the day Diwali is celebrated. People clean up their houses and light diyas so that Goddess Lakshmi can find her way to their homes and bless them. Firecrackers burst on the festival are said to ward off evil spirits. 
Preparations begin days in advance of Diwali. Family and friends get together and exchange gifts and greetings. People make delicious sweets and dishes, and decorate their homes with flowers and rangolis (a colourful pattern made on the floor). 
Diwali is celebrated on different dates across the country. The Budhi Diwali (old Diwali) of Ani and Nirmand in Kullu district, Shillai in Siramaur district and Chopal in Shimla district in Himachal Pradesh come a good 30 days after the rest of the country celebrates it. This is believed to be because by the time the news of Lord Rama’s return reached the mountain regions of north India, a month had passed. The reasons and seasons may vary, but the fact remains that Diwali symbolises new beginnings for all, creating new stories of positivity and joy every single year.