The name Diwali is thought to come from the Sanskrit word ‘Dipavali’ meaning row of light. This religious festival is often referred to as the ‘festival of light’ and is celebrated at the end of October. This five day long festival is celebrated throughout India by people of all religions and it signifies the triumph of good over evil. Although it is usually considered a Hindu festival it also has religious significance for Sikh’s and Jain’s.
In Hinduism, Diwali marks two events in the epic Sanskrit stories of Ramayana. The most popular is the return of Lord Rama and Sita to kingdom of Ayodhya after 14 years of exile in the forest. Lord Rama had been banished to the forest and was joined by his wife Sita and younger brother Lakhshman. Ravan, the demon lord of Lanka (Sri Lanka) kidnapped Sita from the forest. This began a battle as Rama and Lakshman tried to rescue Sita. Ravan was eventually defeated and when Rama, Sita and Lakhshman were reunited they returned to their kingdom of Ayodhya. On their return the people of Ayodhya celebrated by lighting up their homes with small oil lamps made of clay called Diya’s. The other story celebrates the slaying of the demon king Narakasura by Lord Krishna.
For Sikh’s Diwali marks three events in their history. The first was the release of the sixth Guru – Guru Hargobind Ji from Mogul emperor Jahangir’s imprisonment. During his release he also helped free 52 other Kings, who had also been imprisoned for being a threat to Jahangir’s reign. This is the reason Sikhs also refer to Diwali as ‘Bandi Chhorh Divas’, ‘the day of release of detainees’. It is also the time when the martyrdom of Bhai Mani Singh Ji is commemorated. He was executed by order of the Mogul governor of Punjab Zakariya Khan, after Bhai Mani Singh Ji discovered and disrupted a plot by Zakariya Khan to kill thousands of innocent Sikhs during the celebration of Bandi Chhorh Divas. Finally it marks the time of Sikh uprising against the Mogul Empire in 18th century India.
Diwali also has a very special significance in Jainism, Lord Mahavira, the last of the Jain spiritual leaders, attained enlightenment on this day at Pavapuri (holy site in East India) on October 15th 527 BC. Mahavira is responsible for establishing the Dharma (religion) followed by Jains even today. According to tradition, the chief disciple of Mahavira, Ganadhara Gautam Swami also attained complete knowledge on this day.
During the celebrations of Diwali houses a cleaned thoroughly and decorated with Rangoli and bright lights. All of this is in the hope that Goddess Lakshmi (the goddess of wealth) will pay a visit on this auspicious day and bring good fortune for the year to come. People will gather in homes of friends and relatives to exchange gifts and eat a splendid array of exquisite Indian cuisine, before watching a fireworks display.