Starting today, and for the next five days, people of the Hindu religion will be celebrating Diwali. This is the biggest annual celebration in south Asia. The festival is about a triumph of good over evil, lightness over dark, and my personal favourite; knowledge over ignorance.
The mythology behind Diwali is two stories of the defeat of demons. First up is Narakasura, the terrible king of Pragjyotishpur. (which, fortunately for my tongue, is now the region called Assam) So Narakasura has the nerve to kidnap 16,100 daughters, and not just any daughters… daughters of the gods. On top of that, I suppose while he was in the neighbourhood, he stole the earrings of Aditi, the mother to the gods. Total jerk move.
Lord Krishna stepped in, slayed the demon in battle, rescued the girls, and recovered the earrings. Yay! Upon returning in the early morning he bathed in scented oils, which remains a part of the Diwali tradition. (the early morning oil bath part… not the slaying demons bit)
The second demon was Ravana, with ten heads and ten arms. He kidnapped the wife of Rama. Rama slayed the demon in battle, rescued his wife, and returned to be crowned king of Ayodhya. Yay! As Rama and his wife returned in the dark of night, people would put lamps outside their doors to light their way, thus beginning the festival of lights tradition. Putting up a lot of lights, plus fireworks, is a major aspect of any Diwali celebration.
Buying and exchanging gifts is also a big part of the 5 days, to the point that people are concerned the commercial aspect is overshadowing the spiritual side of the festival. (sound familiar?) It’s also a time to clean and redecorate homes, and to be wearing new clothes. Oh… and eating yummy treats. (except for day two when many people fast)
One of the not-so-great aspects of Diwali is gambling. It goes back to a dice game that the goddess Parvati played with her husband. She said that on this night, any gambler should do well. On top of that, there’s also something about the threat of being re-born as a donkey if you do not gamble during Diwali. As a result, gambling is very popular for this week.
Bonus Fact: the Sikhs also celebrate Diwali but for entirely different reasons. It is a sacred day for them since 1577 when the foundation stone for the Golden Temple was laid.
- Source: http://www.bbc.co.uk/religion/religions/hinduism/holydays/diwali.shtml
- The more complicated story of Narakasura: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Narakasura
- Source: http://diwali.ygoy.com/diwali-for-sikhs/