When we were children, we sent and received greeting cards from relatives across India on various festivals. This is what the greeting cards for Deepawali said. And this again reflects the rich tapestry of Hindu mythology. Deepawali is celebrated across the length and breadth of India, and by the diaspora across the world. Deepawali is one of the most important festivals in the Hindu calendar, and is celebrated by people from different parts of India for different reasons.
In the northern part of India, Deepawali is the celebration of the return of Lord Rama to His home, with Goddess Sita, and His brother, Lakshman, after 14 years of being in the forest. He arrives at Ayodhya 20 days after having vanquished the asura king Ravana after a fierce battle. This is why Deepawali is celebrated 20 days after Dussehra. It was during this battle that he worshipped the Goddess Durga, which is celebrated as Durga Puja or Okaal Bodhun.
This is also the festival which celebrates the killing of the Narakasura by Lord Krishna, and His wife, Satyabhama. Narakasura, the son of Bhudevi, the sone of Goddess Earth, became evil associating with the asura Banasura. His mother, Bhudevi, asked of Lord Vishnu a boon that Her son live a long life. This was granted by The Lord, and Narakasura went on to live a long life. However, his evil tendencies made him do many evil deeds, conquered the entire world, and was cruel to women. He kidnapped 16000 women, and stole the earrings of the heavenly Mother Goddess, Aditi. All the Devas, led by Indra, approached Lord Vishnu for deliverance. When Lord Vishnu incarnated on earth as Lord Krishna, Aditi was His wife Satyabhama’s relative, and She approached Satyabhama for Krishna’s help to vanquish Narakasura. A fierce battle followed, in which Narakasura tried to kill The Lord with his trident, Lord Krishna beheaded him with his discus, the Sudarshan Chakra. Before dying, Narakasura requested The Lord for a boon that his death be celebrated, and this is celebrated as Naraka Chaturdashi.
Another legend is the killing of the asura Raktabija by The Goddess Kali. In Her battle with the demons Shumbha and Nishumbha, The Goddess Durga was battling with the demon Raktabija. The demon Raktabija had the boon that whenever a drop of his blood fell on the earth, a replica of his would emerge from the drop. Because of this, as Goddess Durga injured him, more and more Raktabijas were being created. The Goddess, from Her forehead, created Her Shakti or Power, in the form of The Goddess Kali. Goddess Kali, by stretching Her tongue across the earth, prevented Raktabija’s blood from dropping on the earth, so no new Raktabijas were created, and The Goddess Durga was able to slay Raktabija. For this, this is celebrated as Kali Puja in parts of India.
This is also celebrated as Lakshmi Puja, when The Goddess Lakshmi is worshipped, along with Lord Ganesha. Goddess Lakshmi is the Goddess of wealth and prosperity, and Lord Ganesha is the God of auspicious beginnings. This signifies the auspicious beginning of a prosperous phase of life.
Also celebrated is the festival of Dhanteras, which is also the day when a number of business communities across India start their financial year.
This is also celebrated, in some parts of north India as Govardhan Puja, marking the day when Lord Krishna defeated Indra by lifting the Govardhan mountain on his little finger, thereby rescuing the people of His village (signifying His devotees) from the wrath of Indra, which came in the form of torrential rain which threatened to drown everything. On this occasion a dish, which is a mixture of all vegetables is made and distributed.
Deepawali also has significance for Jains as on this day, the last Tirthankar of this era, Lord Mahavira attained enlightenment, Moksha. The Jain community celebrates this day remembering the salvation attained by Lord Mahavira.
With these wonderful stories from the legends and mythology of Hinduism, wishing you and your loved ones Happy Deepawali.