Diwali is the most popular and most spectacular festival in India. It marks the victory of good over evil, and the lifting of spiritual darkness. There are different legends associated with the celebration of Diwali. Here we present some of more popular versions.
Return of Rama
Diwali celebrates the return of Lord Rama with his wife Sita and brother Lakshmana to Ayodhya after a 14 year exile, during which he defeated the demon king Ravana. Since Lord Rama traveled from southern India to his kingdom in northern India, he passed through the south first. This is the reason the festival is celebrated a day earlier in South India. Symbolically, Diwali also marks the homecoming of goodwill and faith after an absence.
Krishna Slaying Narakasura
Another well-known Diwali legend is the killing of the demon Narakasura by Lord Krishna and his wife Satyabhama. Narakasura, by virtue of an earlier boon, could only be killed by his mother Bhoodevi. So Lord Krishna, by feigning injury, incited his wife Satyabhama (an incarnation of Bhoodevi) to kill Narakasura. Before dying, Narakasura requested that his demise be celebrated by people around the world.
Lakshmi Puja and Harvest Festival
In many parts of India, Diwali marks the end of the harvest season. Farmers pray to Lakshmi, the goddess of prosperity, in gratitude for the season past and for favor in the forthcoming season. Diwali is also considered to be the day when Goddess Lakshmi emerged from the Ocean of Milk when it was churned during the Lord’s Kurma Avatar.
According to the Skanda Purāna, the goddess Shakti observed 21 days of austerities to obtain half of the body of Lord Shiva. Diwali marks the final day of this austerity, when Lord Shiva accepted Shakti into his left half and appeared as Ardhanārishvara (Lord who is half-woman).
Bali’s Annual Visit to the Earth
The demon-king Bali was banished to the nether world after he was made to offer up superiority over the three worlds to Lord Vishnu who was in the form of the dwarf brahmin Vāmana. But pleased with the king’s humility, the Lord allowed him to return to the earth once a year. Diwali is a celebration of that annual return.