Diwali, also known as Deepavali, means rows of lights. It is a festival of lights! It is a four to five day festival celebrated in India and Nepal, and usually coincides with the monsoons ending. Celebrants light millions of small clay lamps throughout their home and in the streets, and give offerings to Krishna, Vishnu, or Rama. They wear new clothes, and draw elaborate rangolis, drawings made out of sand, outside their homes.
Lighting of the lamps symbolizes the dispelling of darkness and ignorance, good triumphing over evil, and illuminating the joy in our lives. Firecrackers are lit to sound off to the gods that we are enjoying life’s abundance. It is also rumored that the smoke of the firecrackers has a more mundane use – it kills the bugs and insects that are abundant after the monsoons.
People gamble at this time because it was said that the Goddess Parvati gambled with her husband, Lord Shiva. She decreed that anyone who gambled at this time would have a prosperous new year.
Each region in India and Nepal dedicates days to a variety of gods, goddesses, and even the sacred cow. Much of the lore revolves around stories of good triumphing over evil, insight dispelling ignorance, and love and wisdom prevailing.
In one story that is central to Diwali, Lord Vishnu battles King Bali. King Bali sought great power, and performed immense sacrifices and ceremonies to obtain this power. Lord Vishnu grew concerned that the power would corrupt Bali. Lord Vishnu confronts Bali, and shows him how ignorant it is to reach for such power. Bali is banished to the underworld, with only one day of freedom each year. On the longest night, Bali rises from depths to light the millions of lamps to dispel the darkness and ignorance.
The final day, Yama Dvitiya, honors the bond between brother and sister. On this night, sisters invite their brothers to dinner in remembrance of another epic story about Yama, the lord of death, and his twin sister, Yami. It is believed that Yama and Yami were the first people on earth, and there was only daylight. The night sky and stars were hidden. The brother and sister deeply loved each other, and enjoyed an eternally blissful life until Yama dies. Yami is so heartbroken that no one, not even the gods, can console her. Because the day is eternal, so is Yami’s grief for her brother. To help end her grieving, the gods created night. With the dawning of each day her grief lessened, and she was able to honor the life of her brother.
Enjoy this time as a period of starting fresh, look for where ignorance lies blindly in your life, and illuminate the joys around you.