The famous 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. But there is more to Diwali than Lord Rama. NRI Achievers digs a bit deeper to bring you this feature…

In India, the originating point of this festival, Diwali is not a single day event. Instead, it is a series of celebrations, beginning with Dhanteras and ending 4 days later with Bhai Dooj. In different parts of Indian subcontinent, Diwali is associated with different stories.

Besides Hinduism, other religions also celebrate Diwali in their own form. Here is an account:

JAINISM: LORD MAHAVIR’S ATTAINMENT ANNIVERSARY Bhagwan Vardhman (aka Mahavira), last of the 24 Tirthankars of Jainism attained Nir vana on the Kartika Chaturdashi in Pavapuri (Bihar). Lord Mahavira is regarded as an important reformer of Jainism and his teachings comprise most of modern Jain philosophy. According to Kalpsutra by Acharya Bhadrabahu, Lord Mahavira attained moksha on the dawn of amavasya. He further states that many gods were present there, illuminating the pitch dark night. To symbolize the incident, where the master’s light is kept alive even in darkness, 16 Gana kings, 9 Malla and 9 lichchhavi of kasi and kosai illuminated their doors. Means “Since the light of knowledge is gone, we will make light of ordinary matter” Another reference is found in Harivamsha Puraan, 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

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 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 spread Buddhism across the subcontinent. He places edicts across the length and breadth of his kingdom, with inscrip ions 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 in India. He had 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 5,00,000 followers. This is exactly 30 days before Diwali, but many Ambedkarites associate the event with Diwali and remember Ambedkar on this day.

After the martyrdom of 5th Sikh master, Sri Guru Arjan Dev jee, time was tough for his followers. The most respected figure in the 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 his 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 reinforcing his army and establishing a state within a state. He was said to be 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 the 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 52 other 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 the Guru and official orders were sent to Gwalior Fort. The 52 other imprisoned kings stood in front of the Guru and said that they will allow Guru to leave the prison only if he takes everyone with him. If not, then the Guru should kill all the 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. That said and done, Diwali is celebrated in numerous other parts of the world as well, particularly in countries with significant India Diaspora presence … of Hindu, Jain and Sikh origin. These include Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Myanmar, Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia, Australia, New Zealand, Fiji, Mauritius, Kenya, Tanzania, South Africa, Guyana, Suriname, Trinidad & Tobago, the Netherlands, Canada, the United Kingdom, the United Arab Emirates, and the United States. With an increasing understanding of Indian culture and global migration of Indian-origin people,The number of countries where Diwali/Deepavali is celebrated has been gradually increasing. While in some countries it is celebrated mainly by Indian expatriates, in others it is becoming part of the general local culture as well.

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