Diwali, the festival of lights, is celebrated with great fervor around the world for a number of reasons not only by Hindus but also by the people of different faiths. For instance, in the northern and the western regions of India, Diwali is held in honor of the return of Lord Ram to his kingdom ‘Ayodhya’ after defeating the demon king Ravana. People burst crackers, light diyas, decorate their houses, distribute sweets and hold special prayers to Goddess Lakshmi and Lord Ganesh.
However, as I mentioned above, people in different parts of the country mark this day for their own reasons. Here’s a look at how and why they celebrate Diwali.
For Jains, Diwali has a special significance as the day commemorates the anniversary of Lord Mahavir‘s attainment of moksha, or freedom from the cycle of reincarnation, in 527 B.C.E. Lord Mahavir was the 24th and last Thirtankar of Jainism and revitalized the religion as it is today. Jains believe that the earth and the heavens were illuminated with lamps to mark the occasion of Lord Mahavir’s enlightenment.
On Diwali, Jains like Hindus light camps to symbolize keeping the light of Lord Mahavir’s knowledge alive and distribute sweets in celebration of his contributions. Besides, Diwali is also observed by fasting, singing hymns and chanting mantras to honor Lord Mahavir. The next day after Diwali is marked by the Jain New Year.
Sikhs celebrate Diwali by bursting firecrackers, displaying candles in front of the doors and on windows, and decorating their homes and building with lights. The festival holds a special significance for them as on this day in 1619 Guru Hargobind, along with 52 kings, was released by Emperor Jahangir. After his release, Sikhs lit the Golden Temple, and the tradition has continued into modern days. Moreover, it was on Diwali in 1577 the foundation stone of The Golden Temple was laid.
For Buddhists, Diwali marks a day when, around 265 BC, Emperor Ashoka renounced his throne and adopted the path of peace. He decided to convert to Buddhism after going through a lot of bloodshed and killings. Buddhists observe this day as ‘Ashok Vijaydashmi’ by chanting mantras to remember Lord Buddha and, also, Emperor Ashoka.
Moreover, like Hindus, Diwali stands as a symbol of the triumph of good over evil as Emperor Ashoka gave up his violent ways and chose the path of peace and nonviolence on this day.
Diwali is celebrated for different reasons in other parts of India as well:
For Kannadigas, the first and third days of Diwali hold special significance as ‘Ashwija Krishna Chaturdashi’ is celebrated to mark the denouement of a demon named Narakasura. It is believed that after having killed Narakasura, Lord Krishna took oil bath to rid himself from the blood of the demon. People observe this day by taking oil bath on Naraka Chaturdashi.
On the other hand, the third day of Diwali is known as Bali Padyami when women sketch colorful rangoli at the doorsteps of their homes and build miniature forts of cow dung.
People in Odisha celebrate Diwali to pay respect to their ancestors, seers and gods. The following hymn is an important part of their rituals.
Badabadua ho andhaara e asa Aluaa e Jaao Baaisi pahacha e Gadagadau thaao (Oh our ancestors, seers and gods you came on the dark night of Mahalaya, and now it is time for you to depart for heaven, so we are showing light, may you attain peace in abode of Jagannatha!)
Besides, Tarpan is offered to Goddess Lakshmi and Kali puja is performed in various towns.
- West Bengal and Assam
Pooja to Goddess Kali, lights, and fireworks mark the day in West Bengal whereas the Mithila region of Bihar and Assam perform Lakshmi and Ganesh pooja along with offerings to Goddess Kali.
- Andhra Pradesh
A musical narration of the story of Lord Hari or Harikatha is organized in many places in the state. It is believed that Lord Krishna’s consort Satyabhama killed demon Narakasura. Therefore, special clay idols of Satyabhama are kept and offered prayers. Rest of the celebrations are similar to other southern states with people flaunting new clothes and jewelry.