The famous south Asian festival of Diwali (Deepavali) is said to be celebrated because on this auspicious day, Lord Rama of Hindu Mythology returned from a 14 year long exile, during which he also won the battle against King Ravana of Lanka. Lord Rama’s subjects celebrated his return by lighting up earthen lamps. With time, as the religion spread across borders, culture and festival also reached remote pockets of South Asia.
Diwali is not a single day festival. It is a series of celebrations, which begins with Dhanteras and ends 4 days later with Bhai Dooj. In different parts of Indian subcontinent, Diwali is associated with different stories.
- As per Ramayana, Diwali is the day of return of Lord Rama from exile
- As per Mahabharta, Diwali is the day of return of Pandavas from exile
- Many believe that Goddess Lakshmi was born on the day of Dhanteras and on the night of Diwali, she married Lord Vishnu
- Some believe that on this day, Lord Vishnu came back to Lakshmi in Vaikuntha, hence the prosperity, happiness and good health is returned
- Nepal & East Indian region celebrates this festival as Kali Pooja or Mahanisha Pooja
- In Braj, this day is attributed to Lord Krishna’s lifting of Mount Govardhan
- In southern and western part of India, offerings are made to Lord Ganesha (along with Lakshmi) as he is worshipped before starting anything new. Diwali marks the beginning of New year as per Indian Calendar
- In Some parts, it is the day when Lord Krishna defeated Narakasur and hence started the festival of Nark Chaturdashi
- Legendary King Vikramaditya was coroneted on this day.
Besides Hinduism, other religions also celebrate Diwali in their own form. Here’s an account:
Jainism – Lord Mahavir’s Attainment anniversary
Bhagwan Vardhman (aka Mahavira), last of the 24 Tirthankars of Jainism attained Nirvana (or Moksha) on the Kartika Chaturdashi in Pavapuri (Bihar). Lord Mahavira is regarded as an important reformer of Jainism and his teachings comprise most of the modern Jain philosophy. According to Kalpsutra by Acharya Bhadrabahu, Lord Mahavira attained moksha on dawn of amavasya (new moon). He further states that many gods were present there, illuminating the pitch dark night. To symbolize the incident, where master’s light is kept alive even in darkness, 16 Gana kings, 9 Malla and 9 lichchhavi of kasi and kosai illuminated their doors.
गये से भवुज्जोये, दव्वुज्जोयं करिस्समो
means: Since the light of knowledge is gone, we will make light of ordinary matter
Another reference is found in Harivamsha Puran, written by Acharya Jinasena. This reference is also the oldest reference to the word “Diwali”. It mentions the word Deepalikaya, from which, the word ‘Deepawavali’ and later ‘Diwali’ is believed to be born. This puraan states:
ततस्तुः लोकः प्रतिवर्षमादरत् प्रसिद्धदीपलिकयात्र भारते |
समुद्यतः पूजयितुं जिनेश्वरं जिनेन्द्र-निर्वाण विभूति-भक्तिभाक् |२० |
means: The gods illuminated Pavanagari by lamps to mark the occasion. Since that time, the people of Bharat celebrate the famous festival of “Dipalika” to worship the Jinendra (i.e. Lord Mahavira) on the occasion of his nirvana.
It is also believed that Gautam Swami, the chief disciple of Lord Mahavira attained complete knowledge (Brahmgyaan/Kevalgyaan) on this day. This incident makes the occasion even more important.
Buddhism – Ashok Vijayadashmi
It is said, that on this day, Ashoka the great, the legendary Mauryan emperor from 1st century BCE converted to Buddhism. After numerous battles and bloodshed, he decided to give up everything and adopt the path of peace. He started following the teachings of Lord Buddha and thus became one of first rulers to widespread Buddhism across the subcontinent. He places edicts across the length and breadth of his kingdom, with inscriptions about Buddhism. His edicts are important as one such pillar gives India its national emblem and also the famous ‘Chakra’ in the national flag of India.
Another interesting event is associated with Bharat Ratna Dr. Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar, 1st Minister of Law & Justice in Independent India and a major contributor to the constitution of India. He is known for his exemplary work in the reformation of Dalits (Scheduled Casts) in India.He, at one point decided to convert to Sikhism. The idea was dropped after a long meeting with Sikh scholars and religious leaders as he found out that he will be getting a second grade status within Sikhism. He then started looking for a religion, which treats everyone as equally as the religious law teaches them to. On 14th October 1956, he finally converted to Buddhism in Nagpur along with 500,000 followers. This is exactly 30 days before Diwali, but many Ambedkarites associate the event with Diwali and remember Ambedkar on this day.
Sikhism – Data Bandi Chhor Divas
After the martyrdom of 5th Sikh master, Sri Guru Arjan Dev jee, time was tough for his followers. Most respected figure in Sikh community after the Guru himself was Baba Budhha Jee. Baba Buddha jee gave two swords to next Guru, Sri Guru Hargobind Sahib jee during the coronation and requested him to stand up against the Mughal Emperor Jahangir and his atrocities. Guru Hargobind Sahib jee, the 6th guru of Sikhs built the fort of Lohgarh in Amritsar and maintained a strong force of 700 horses, 500 Infantry, 300 horsemen and 60 gunners. While he preached peace and humility, he also encouraged his followers to be trained in martial arts and self defence. They even fought 4 defensive battles against local Mughal generals and won them all.
Mughal Emperor Jahangir was told that the Guru is strengthening his army and establishing a state within a state. He is preparing for the revenge of his father (which was not true). Jahangir sent his trusted nobles Wazir Khan and Guncha Beg to arrest the Guru. Wazir Khan was an admirer of Guru and so instead of arresting him, he requested Guru to come to Mughal court, as the emperor wants to have a dialogue with him. Guru agreed and accompanied him to royal court, only to be arrested and confined to the fort of Gwalior. Guru Hargobind was kept in the Baoli of Gwalior fort, along with other 52 kings from neighbouring kingdoms. As the legend goes, Jahangir fell ill soon after the arrest. Witch-Doctors suggested that Jahangir’s illness is because of the curse of Guru and the Mughal court should immediately release him. Noorjahan convinced Jahangir to release Guru and the official orders were sent to Gwalior Fort. 52 other imprisoned kings stood in front of Guru and said that they will allow Guru to leave the prison only if he takes everyone with him. If not, then Guru should kill all 52 kings and free them from this mortal life. The matter reached Jahangir and he said, ‘those who can hold on to Guru’s robe can walk away’. Everyone spent the night stitching pieces of their robes to Guru’s robe, making it long enough that all 52 Kings could comfortably hold it. Next day, which was also the Day of Diwali, Guru Hargobind Sahib jee stepped out of Fort with 52 kings holding his robes and celebrating their freedom. Since that day, Sikhs celebrate Diwali as Bandi Chhor Diwas.
Islam – The communal harmony
While the modern day Islamic preachers recommend that Muslims should not participate, or even congratulate non-Muslims during their pagan festivals, things were different a few centuries back, at least in Hindustan. Especially during the Mughal rule, the Hindu-Muslim harmony was at its peak. Akbar had Indian religious stories translated to Persian and made pictorial books of the narration. Dara Shikoh had major contribution to the unity and later Jahangir, Shahjahan, and even Aurangzeb kept distributing gifts and sweets on Diwali to their Hindu nobles. The later Mughals were even more generous. The first Ramlila committee of Delhi, named Shri Ram Lila Committee was established by last Mughal Emperor Bahadur Shah Zafar. They still perform in same traditional way, like they did 180 years ago for Emperor’s soldiers.
Not just Diwali, other Indian festivals were also celebrated by Muslims in the subcontinent. Baba Bulleh Shah, the famous 17th century sufi mystic wrote “Holi khelungi, keh bismillah. Nam Nabi ki ratn chadi, boond padi allah allah”.
Indian Subcontinent is a land of diversities, but they still bind with each other via common festivals and celebrations. It is amazing to see, how beautifully the culture has mixed over time. After the British invasion of India and their divide and rule policies, the cultural and religious conflict started. I and many like me always pray for the communal harmony and happiness to return.
[UPDATE - 01 November 2016]
The Diwali Bonus
This year, I got a forwarded message talking about the annual Diwali bonus. When I searched about it, I found multiple blogs mentioning the same thing. In most cases, even the language was same. I tried to find truth of that article but couldn’t find any authentic proof online. I will check it from the government archives whenever I get chance, but till then, I decided to put it here for public discussion.
NOTE: The below statement is unverified and is all over internet. I will appreciate if my readers can shed some light on this and help me find the authenticity of this claim:
Earlier, there was a concept of weekly salary payments. (I think this is where the Hafta Wasooli concept came from). This way, one would get 52 salaries a year. But British factories started the concept of monthly salaries (Probably because all the material was sent to England and finances were processed from there, which would take multiple weeks to get cleared). In monthly salary system, only 48 weeks were paid to employees and remaining 4 weeks (1 month) was deducted. During 1930-1940, multiple protests were staged against this. Therefore, from 30th June, 1940, the British factories in India agreed to give that additional 1 month salary and it was to be paid as Diwali Bonus. Later, people forgot the reason to start Diwali Bonus and it was reduced to distribution of a small percentage of salary or even just chocolates/gifts in some cases.
(If any of my readers find any additional information related to this claim, please share it in comments below)