According to Ramayana, Deepavali commemorates the return of Ram, an incarnation of Lord Vishnu and the eldest son of King Dasharath of Ayodhya, from his 14-year exile with Sita and Lakshman after killing the Ravan, a demon king. The people of Ayodhya illuminated the kingdom with earthen diyas (oil lamps) and fireworks to celebration of the return of their king.
In rural areas, Deepavali signifies Harvest Festival. Deepavali which occurs at the end of a cropping season has along with the above custom, a few others that reinforce the hypothesis of its having originated as a harvest. Every harvest normally spelt prosperity. The celebration was first started in India by farmers after they reaped their harvests. They celebrated with joy and offered praises to God for granting them a good crop.
During the reign of Emperor Prithu, there was a worldwide famine. He ordered that all available cultivatable lands be ploughed.When the rains came, the land became very fertile and grains were planted. The harvest provided food not only to feed all of India, but for all civilisation. This harvest was close to Deepavali time and was a good reason to celebrate Deepavali with great joy and merriment by a wider community.
When Lord Krishna destroyed Narakasur on the day before Deepavali, the news of it travelled very rapidly throughout the land. It gave people who were already in a joyful mood, another reason for celebrating Deepavali with greater pride and elaboration.
In the Adi Parva of the Mahabarat, the Pandavas returned from the forest during Deepavali time. Once more, the celebrations extended beyond the boundaries of India to wherever Hindus lived.
In Sikh perspective, Deepavali is celebrated as the return of the sixth Guru, Guru Hargobind Sahib Ji from the captivity of the city, Gwalior. History states two commonly known reasons for his imprisonment. One is that the Muslim Raja approached Guru Hargobind Sahib Ji upon his entering Gwalior and told the Guru to denounce his Sikh religion and to join the Muslim faith. With the intention of utilizing the Guru’s great strength and fearlessness needed in battles.
Being outraged by this request, the Guru rejected his proposition. In retaliation he captured the Guru and held him against his will. But eventually the Guru managed to free himself of this unjust imprisonment and returned to his beloved town of Amritsar. To commemorate his undying love for Sikhi, the townspeople lit the way to, Harmandir Sahib (referred to as the Golden Temple), in his honour.
In Punjab, the day following Deepavali is known as tikka when sisters make a paste with saffron and rice and place an auspicious mark on their brother’s foreheads as a symbolic gesture to ward off all harm.
In North India on the day of the Deepavali the children emerge, scrubbed clean to get into their festive attire, and light up little oil lamps, candles and agarbathis the wherewithal for setting alight crackers and sparklers.
Likewise, on the second day of the month of Kartik, the people of Maharashtra exchange gifts. In Maharashtra, it is the thirteenth day of Ashwin, the trayodasi, that is observed as a festival commemorating a young prince whom Yama, the God of Death, had claimed four days after his marriage. Filled, however, with compassion for the luckless youth, the legend goes, Yama promised that those who observed the day would be spared untimely death—and so the lamps that are lit to mark the festival are placed facing south, unlike on other festive days, because south is the direction mythologically assigned to Yama.
Among the Jain festivals, Deepavali is one of the most important one. For on this occasion we celebrate the Nirvana of Lord Mahavira who established the dharma as we follow it. Lord Mahavira was born as Vardhamana on Chaitra Shukla 13 in the Nata clan at Khattiya-kundapura, near Vaishali. He obtained Kevala Gyana on Vishakha Shukla 10 at the Jambhraka village on the banks of Rijukula river at the age of 42. He initiated his shaashan (Jaina-shashana) on Shravana KrashNa at his first assembly at Rajgrah. After having preached the dharma for 30 years, he attained Nirvana at Pava, at the age of 71 years and 6 and half months.
For the Bengalis, it is the time to worship Goddess Kali , yet another form of Durga, the divine embodiment of supreme energy. KALI is the Goddess who takes away darkness. She cuts down all impurities, consumes all iniquities, purifies Her devotees with the sincerity of Her Love.
Deepavali is supposed to be a corruption of the word Deepavali, the literal meaning of which in Sanskrit is ‘a row of lamps.’ Filling little clay lamps with oil and wick and lighting them in rows all over the house is a tradition that is popular in most regions of the country. In the north, most communities observe the custom of lighting lamps. However, in the south, the custom of lighting baked earthen lamps is not so much part of this festival as it is of the Karthikai celebrations a fortnight later. The lights signify a welcome to prosperity in the form of Lakshmi, and the fireworks are supposed to scare away evil spirits.
For the grown-ups, there is also a custom of indulging in gambling during Deepavali. It is all in fun, though, in a spirit of light-hearted revelry, and merrymaking. The children can be seen bursting fire crackers and lighting candles or earthen lamps. This is a time of generously exchanging sweets with neighbors and friends. Puffed rice and sugar candy are the favorite fares.
Deepavali is a time for shopping, whether for gifts or for adding durable items to one’s own household. The market soars—everything from saffron to silver and spices to silks. Yet, symbolic purchases are to be made as part of tradition during Deepavali.
Whatever may be the fables and legends behind the celebrations of Deepavali, all people exchange sweets, wear new clothes and buy jewellery at this festive time. Card parties are held in many homes. Deepavali has become commercialised as the biggest annual consumer spree because every family shops for sweets, gifts and fireworks. However, in all this frenzy of shopping and eating, the steady, burning lamp is a constant symbol of an illuminated mind.