Diwali or Deepavali, the festival of lights, easily the most popular of Indian festivals, is celebrated tomorrow this year. While the main festival is on Saturday, the ceremonies run for five days to commemorate various events in Indian mythology. Here are some of the stories behind the celebration of Diwali.
As told in the great epic, Ramayana, the Prince Rama having been exiled from his kingdom returns home after winning a battle with the demon king Ravana. During his years of exile, Rama, his brother Laxmana and wife Sita lived as ascetics in the forest. Wanting to take revenge upon Rama, Ravana kidnaps Sita and takes her to his faraway kingdom of Lanka. Rama and Laxmana head to Lanka accompanied by the monkey god Hanuman who had found the whereabouts of Sita. After a long battle, Rama claims victory after killing Ravana and returns to Ayodhya with Sita and Laxmana. The citizens of Ayodhya welcome their rightful King with diyas (small clay lamps) lit to show him the way home.
Many celebrate the birth of Laxmi, the goddess of wealth during Diwali. The story goes that Devas (minor gods) convinced the Asuras (bad deities) to work with them to churn the ocean to bring up the pot of the nectar of immortality. The beautiful goddess was brought forth to earth from the depths of the ocean holding the pot of nectar. She helped ensure that only the Devas were able to partake of the nectar thus restoring a previous imbalance in power between the Devas and the Asuras.
Diwali is not just celebrated by Hindus. In Jainism, Diwali is celebrated as the day the sage Mahavira attained enlightenment in 527 BC. Diwali is important in Sikhism as it commemorates the return of Guru Hargobind from rescuing 52 Hindu kings after defeating the Mughal Emperor Jahangir who imprisoned them.
The stories surrounding Diwali abound but the common thread of good over evil prevails. Since light symbolizes the triumph of good over evil, Indians light many diyas around the house. In India and other countries, people exchange sweets and light fireworks.
Here in Seattle, USA, how are we celebrating Diwali? No fireworks here but the diyas are lit at home and I will be celebrating with friends.
But I want to share one of my favorite festivals with others. I’ll be cooking up a big batch of curry from one of the Veena’s Market kits and giving away samples at the Savour store in Ballard (2242 NW Market Street). If you live in the area, stop by between 3 and 6pm and I’ll be there till I’m out of curry! If you need more reason to stop by, there will also be wine tasting going on at the same time.