The Deal with Diwali
Author: Gnaana

Deepavali Meaning

The “Indian Christmas.”  The “Festival of Lights.”  The most important holiday celebrated in India, by members of the Indian diaspora and by other South Asians.  But what’s the meaning behind Diwali?

Well, like most things Indian, the answer to that question is anything but simple. It means different things in different regions and communities – to those from North India and South India, and to Sikhs and Jains – and the length of the celebration varies from 1 to 5 days. One could write a (very long) book about this topic. We’re here to de-mystify and simplify the spiel.

Deepavali (or Diwali for short) literally means “a row of lamps” (deepa means an “(oil) lamp” and vali means “row”).  The date is decided by the lunar calendar as so varies yearly, but generally falls in October or November.

The colloquial meaning (as manifested by various Diwali legends) varies, but the spiritual meaning is the same:  it is essentially a celebration of the inner light of earthly beings – the Atman – the pure, infinite and eternal Atman – which outshines and transcends the physical realm.  To know and realize Atman is to triumph over darkness, obstacles and ignorance.

Diwali is typically celebrated over the course of several days:

Day 1: Dhanteras: Celebrated mainly in North India as a  day of wealth – an auspicious day for shopping of metal utensils and gold (date in 2009:  October 15).
Day 2: Narak Chaturdasi:  In South India, this day is recognized as the Main Diwali Day – commemorating Lord Krishna’s defeat of the demon Narakasura (date in 2009:  October 16).
Day 3: Main Diwali Day:  This is day is celebrated as the actual Diwali Day around the world.  For North Indians, the is the day the people of Ayodhya welcomed back their beloved King Rama after his defeat of the demon king Ravana, as chronicled in the famous Ramayana epic.  Also, South Indians celebrate this day with a Lakshmi puja. (date in 2009:  October 17).
Day 4: Govardhan Puja: In may parts of North India, this day commemorates Lord Krishna’s defeat of Indra and lifting of Mt. Govardhan to save villagers from Indra’s wrathful flood.  In Karnataka and Tamil Nadu, it is celebrated as Bali-Pratipada – when Vamana (Vishnu’s 5th incarnation) defeated demon king Bali. In Gujarat and Nepal, this day is recognized as their New Year Day. (date in 2009:  October 18).
Day 5: Bhai Duj:  Celebrated mainly in North India as a day to celebrate the love between brothers and sisters.  (date in 2009:  October 19).

Bengalis celebrate this day as Kali Puja.

Jains recognize  Diwali as the day Lord Mahavira attained Moksha (Nirvana).

Sikhs celebrate this as Bandi Chhorh Diwas – the day the Muslim Emperor Jahangir released Guru Har Gobind Ji (and 52 other princes) from prison – an important event in the Sikh freedom struggle.

So there you have it – a concise-as-we-can-be cheat sheet!


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2 Responses to “The Deal with Diwali”

  1. meghana Says:

    Hello Aruna,

    Thanks for visiting my blog.I like the way you have explained the significance of each day of Diwali festival.

    You can read about Toe ring,sindoor,mangalsutra,Bindi on my website under the label Indian Tradition or June 09 Archive.

  2. The Other Diwali Story Says:

    […] Deepavali is 5 days long (read last year’s post on the meaning of Diwali here), so the resolution is to tell both stories.  They underlying symbolism is the same for both […]