Diwali or Deepavali is amongst the most celebrated Indian festivals. The word Deepavali originates from two Sanskrit words ‘Deepa‘ which means ‘light’ and ‘Avali‘ which means ‘a row’. This is why Deepavali is called ‘the festival of lights’.
It is celebrated on the 15 th day of the Hindu month of Kartik which is a new moon day (Amavasya). Deepavali is celebrated by lighting diyas (earthen lamps), drawing rangolis (multicolored designs drawn on the ground with colored rice flour), cleaning and decoration of homes, wearing new clothes, preparation of sweets in homes, lighting of fireworks, veneration of cows as incarnations of Goddess Lakshmi (Goddess of wealth) and Lakshmi Puja.
There are two main mythological stories that signify the importance of Deepavali. The first story is that Deepavali denotes the return of Lord Rama’s return from exile after his victorious conquest of the evil king Ravana. This story has greater significance in Northern India. In Southern India, Deepavali marks the victory of Lord Krishna over the mighty asura (demon) Narakasura. Narakasura had become a menace to the gods in heaven and had snatched the magnificent earrings of Aditi (the Mother Goddess) and imprisoned sixteen thousand daughters of the gods in his harem. In desperation, the gods led by Indra requested Lord Krishna to destroy the demon as he was wreaking havoc. Krishna readily agreed, fought a fierce battle and emerged victorious. It was after this that He accepted the sixteen thousand damsels as his wives at their request.
The meaning behind these mythological stories is that the villain of the piece represents the desire-ridden ego. In our lives, it is our egos and desires that create problems for us. In the story of Lord Krishna above, the sixteen thousand damsels represent our numerous desires. When they are controlled by our egos, they cause destruction and rob us of our joy. However, when we work selflessly, dedicating our actions to a higher goal, the desires remain in check, and most importantly, get sublimated. Each one of us has positive and negative tendencies. When we identify with the good in us, work towards something beyond our selfish interests the lower, negative tendencies fade away. Our desires get sublimated and through constant sadhana (spiritual practice) we overcome our ego and desires. The darkness of ego and desire are banished, replaced by the light of wisdom. Knowledge that we are not incomplete and limited as we think ourselves to be. But that we are that Divine Self that is free and independent of the entire world has to offer.
The scented bath before the break of dawn and the cleaning of homes during Deepavali signify the cleansing of the personality of desires and ego. The new clothes represent our newly acquired state of Realization or at a more basic level our new spiritual orientation and commitment to self-development. This change brings sweetness in our lives which are why sweets are made and distributed in the community. It represents the fact that once we turn spiritual and begin looking within, we experience a quiet sense of peace that we cannot experience while chasing objects of the world.
Thus Deepavali or Diwali has a tremendous spiritual significance in our lives. And like all our festivals, they are reminders for us to retain and cultivate that spiritual element in our lives. Because life is more than just a journey, it is a search for meaning.