Deepawali, or Diwali, is one of the most celebrated holidays in Hinduism. Deep means "light" and avail means "row of lights." Known as the "festival of lights," Diwali signifies the victory of good over evil, and of light over darkness.
Celebrated this year on Thursday, the Hindu holiday has many recognized origins, one of the most common being the return of Lord Rama with his wife, Sita, and his brother, Lakshmana, from a 14-year exile in the forest, as highlighted in the ancient Hindu epic, "The Ramayana." During his exile, Lord Rama defeated the demon king, Ravana, who had tried to capture his wife. When Lord Rama returned with Sita after defeating Ravana, the kingdom of Ayodhya rejoiced. People lit the kingdom with diyas, or oil lamps, and burst fire crackers in celebration of the victory of goodness over malevolence.
On Diwali, many people also worship Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth and abundance. The night of Diwali is honored as the day that Laskhmi selected Vishnu as her husband and married him. Devotees seek the blessings of Lakshmi to bless them with material, mental and spiritual wealth.
Some also celebrate Diwali to commemorate Lord Krishan's victory over the demon Narakaasura, who had kidnapped and threatened the gopis of Vrindivan. It is said that when Narakaasura was destroyed, he begged for mercy. Upon his appeal, it was deemed that the day of his death would be rejoiced and celebrated.
In Bengal, Diwali is dedicated to honoring Mother Kali, the dark goddess of empowerment and valor. Many also worship Lord Ganesha, commonly known as the remover of obstacles, as they pray for wisdom, guidance and a clear path to achieving their goals and desires. In Jainism, Diwali signifies the day on which Lord Mahavira attained nirvana or eternal bliss.
In spite of the different origins associated with the holiday, Diwali for all marks a reason to celebrate the triumph of good over evil, of truth over untruth. To welcome the goddess Lakshmi into their homes, people often decorate their entrances with rangoli, an Indian folk art often made from rice flour and vermillion powder, consisting of intricate design. Observers across the globe rejoice by eating sweets, bursting firecrackers, praying and spending time with loved ones.
Diwali is one of my personal favorite holidays. I celebrate by lighting diyas at home, honoring the light in my life that has guided me to where I am, and praying to Lord Ganesha and Lakshmi for physical, mental and spiritual wealth and knowledge. I often visit the temple to attend Laskhmi pooja, a prayerful ceremony offered to the goddess of prosperity. I burst firecrackers to celebrate the victory of light over darkness and reflect on the abundance in my own life, praying for continued guidance ahead.
May you all celebrate the light in your own lives and hearts, and enjoy a prosperous year ahead.