Diwali is the harbinger of holidays and fun times. But pause a while. Why is Diwali celebrated?

Who doesn’t love Diwali? The yummy sweets, new clothes, fire crackers, special programmes on TV…what’s not to enjoy! But do you know the real significance of the festival — mythological, religious and historical? Though celebrated by many religions and in many states, the essence is the same — celebrating the victory of good over evil.

Another common factor across the country: lighting lamps and bursting firecrackers; and exchanging greetings and sweets among friends and family.

Here’s a brief look at how and why Diwali is celebrated by different religions…

Hinduism

For the Hindus, it’s a five-day festival that begins on the 13th lunar day of Krishna paksha of the Hindu calendar month Ashwin.

Day 1: Dhanteras: The day when Goddess Lakshmi is worshiped and customary purchase of gold is a part of the tradition. It is also believed that Lord Dhanvantri came out of the ocean with the gift of Ayurveda for us humans.

Day 2: Narak Chaturdasi: The eve of Diwali and the day when Lord Krishna destroyed the evil demon king Narakasura.

Day 3: Diwali: When families seek the blessings of Goddess Lakshmi to bestow them with wealth and prosperity.

Day 4: A day when Goverdhan Pooja is observed as first performed by the people of Vraja under the instructions of Lord Krishna.

Day 5: BhaiDooj/Bhratri Dooj: A day for sibling love when the sisters pray for their brothers’ long and happy lives by performing the Tika ceremony. The brothers in return give their sisters gifts.

According to the Hindu culture, Diwali is celebrated to mark…

  • The return of Lord Ram to Ayodhya after defeating Ravana
  • The incarnation of Goddess Lakshmi
  • Killing of the demon king
  • Narakasura by Lord Krishna
  • The return of the Pandavas from exile

Buddhism

For Buddhists, especially Newar Buddhists, Diwali is celebrated as the day when Emperor Ashoka converted to Buddhism, hence the day is observed as Ashok Vijayadashami. On this day the monasteries and temples are decorated and Buddha is worshipped.

Jainism

Jains celebrate Diwali to commemorates the anniversary of Mahavir's attainment of moksha/ nirvana in 527 B.C.E. by lighting lamps and distributing sweets.

On this day Jain businessmen perform puja for currency and their account books. They close their accounts for the year and the businesses remain closed for eight days following this. Jains also observe fasts and jaap (counting of rosary) through night and early morning of the following day which is the Jain New Year. People also visit Jain temples and perform charity.

The New Year is followed by four more days of rituals and traditions including a process of Lord Mahavir’s idol.

Sikhism:

The Sikhs have observed Diwali for many years as a day of pilgrimage to seek the blessings from their guru at Goindwal. The day attained an historical and cultural significance because eon this day the sixth guru - Guru Hargobind, was released from prison and he also ensured the release of the 52 princes who were jailed along with him.

The Sikhs celebrated his return by lighting up the Golden temple with hundreds of lamps, a tradition which is followed till today. Besides firework displays, the “Diwali” days also sees a Nagar keertan (a street procession) and an Akhand paath (a continuous reading of Guru Granth Sahib).

On Diwali, the Sikhs also honour the construction of the holy city of Amritsar in 1577, the Golden Temple and the martyrdom of Bhai Mani Singh in 1738.

Did you know?

Fireworks on Diwali were used to repel insects that increase in number during the onset of winter.

In 1999, Pope John Paul II, his forehead marked with a tilak, performed a special Eucharist in a church in India at an altar decorated with Diwali lamps. He included references to the festival in his sermon.

In 2007, the U.S. Senate adopted a resolution (Senate Resolution 299) “recognizing the religious and historical significance of the festival of Diwali”. The resolution recognises Diwali as a festival celebrated by Hindus, Jains and Sikhs.

Diwali is also celebrated in Nepal, Mauritius, Guyana and Malaysia. In Nepal, it is observed as Tihar and is celebrated for five days. In Malaysia, Diwali is celebrated as ‘Hari Diwali’ and is a national public holiday.

Be safe…

Dr. Deepak Subramanian, Consultant Surgeon, Fortis Malar, Chennai cautions you on the dos and don’ts during Diwali:

Ensure you light the fireworks in an open space; not in a closed or crowded area.

Maintain a safe distance between the cracker and yourself while lighting it.

Do not bend down too much.

Do not light the cracker while holding it in your hand.

Always have a bucket of water or sand in case of any fire accident. And in case you do catch fire drop and roll.

Do not wear loose clothes.

In case of minor burns, wash the affected area in normal running water and apply an antiseptic ointment.

Do not breathe the smoke of firecrackers as they are harmful, especially if you have a history of respiratory problems.