Also known as the “Festival of Lights” and “Dipavali,” Diwali is one of the most widely celebrated holidays in Hinduism, and it’s even observed by some other major world religions.
This year, the main day of Diwali falls on Friday, November 5, 2021. This is the third and most important day of Diwali, known as Lakshmi Puja. The entire five day celebration lasts from November 3-7.
What is Diwali?
Diwali celebrates the triumphant return of Lord Ramachandra and His wife, Sita, from their fourteen years of exile. After slaying the wicked Ravana, Rama returned to His childhood home of Ayodhya and resumed the throne of his father, King Dasharatha. In their excitement to see Rama after so many years of separation, the people of Ayodhya prepared for His coming by cleaning and decorating their homes, and by lighting festive lamps to light up the entire city.
Thus the holiday of Diwali primarily remembers and celebrates this historic event, and in a general sense it is a day for remembering the eternal triumph of good over evil.
Other Historic Events
Krishna Kills Narakasura
In Dvapara Yuga, Lord Sri Krishna killed the evil demon Narakasura on the day of Diwali, thus rescuing 16,000 princesses who had been captured by Naraka. Knowing that these ladies would not be able to find husbands upon their release, due to the strict social customs of the time, Krishna accepted all of them as His wives. He subsequently had a palace built for each one of His 16,000 brides and He expanded into 16,000 identical forms of Himself so as to give complete loving care and attention to each one. This pastime is narrated in the Srimad Bhagavatam.
The Birth of the Goddess Lakshmi
Diwali is also celebrated as the birth anniversary of the Goddess Lakshmi, who appeared from the ocean of milk when it was churned by the demons and demigods. This event took place during Satya Yuga.
The Release of Sikh guru Hargobind
In Sikhism, practitioners celebrate Diwali as the anniversary of the release from prison of the Sikh teacher Hargobind, who was hailed as the sixth in the line of the Nanaks, or Sikh saints. Having been imprisoned by the Mughal Emperor Jahangir, when Hargobind finally managed to gain freedom, he also successfully negotiated the release of 52 Sikh kings. Since that time, Hargobind has been revered as “Bandi Chor,” or “the liberator.”
The Five Days of Diwali
People around the world celebrate Diwali over the course of five days.
Day One: On this day, Hindus worship the god of wealth, Kuvera, who is treasurer for the demigods. They also clean their home on this day and go out shopping for the festival days to come, all while remembering the preparations done by the people of Ayodhya as they anticipated the return of King Rama.
Day Two: After cleaning their homes and purchasing necessary items on the first day, the second day is spent decorating homes and villages with beautiful lamp arrangements and colorful sand mandalas called rangoli. Many Krishna devotees celebrate Krishna’s killing of Narakasura on this day.
Day Three: This is the main day of the Diwali festival, as it marks the actual return of Lord Rama to Ayodhya. In addition to having grand feasts and nighttime fireworks, people worship Goddess Laskhmi, praying to Her for good fortune in life and ultimately for love and devotion to the Supreme Lord Narayana, who is an incarnation of Krishna.
Day Four: According to Hindu calendars that follow the Amanta system, with months beginning and ending on the new moon, this is the first day of the new year. However, those who follow the traditional Vedic Purnimanta system do not celebrate the new year until two weeks later on the day after the full moon. On this fourth day of the festival, friends and family members exchange gifts and enjoy time together.
Day Five: Many years ago, Yamaraja, the god of the death, blessed his sister Yamuna that if any brother and sister take a bath in her waters on this day, then they would be released from all sinful reactions. Today, brothers visit their sisters on this fifth day of Diwali and together their families enjoy a meal and spend time discussing the glories of the Lord and chanting His names.