Diwali, or Dipawali, is India’s biggest and most significant festival of the year. The festival gets its name from the row (avali) of clay lamps (deepa) that Indians light outside their houses to express the inner light that shields from spiritual darkness. This festival is as important to Hindus as the Christmas holiday is to Christians.
Over the ages, Diwali has become a national festival that is also enjoyed by non-Hindu communities. In Jainism, Diwali signifies the nirvana or spiritual awakening of Lord Mahavira on October 15, 527 BC. In Sikhism, it honors the day that Guru Hargobind Ji, the Sixth Sikh Guru, was freed from imprisonment. Also, Buddhists in India celebrate Diwali as well.
The Diwali festival is likely a coalition of harvest festivals in ancient India. It is mentioned in Sanskrit texts such as the Padma Purana, the Skanda Purana. Both of which were completed in the second half of the 1st millennium CE. The diyas (lamps) are mentioned in Skanda Kishore Purana as symbolizing parts of the sun, representing it as the universal donor of light and energy to all life.
King Harsha refers to Deepavali, in the 7th century Sanskrit play Nagananda, as Dīpapratipadotsava, where lamps were inflamed and newly engaged brides and grooms received gifts. Rajasekhara referred to Deepavali as Dipamalika in his 9th century Kavyamimamsa, where he mentions the tradition of homes being washed and oil lamps decorated homes, streets, and markets in the night.
Diwali was also described by numerous travelers from outside India. In his 11th century diary on India, the Persian traveler and historian Al Biruni wrote of Deepavali being celebrated by Hindus on the day of the New Moon in the month of Kartika. The Venetian merchant and traveler Niccolò de’ Conti visited India in the early 15th century and wrote in his diary, “on another of these festivals they fix up within their temples, and on the outside of the roofs, an innumerable number of oil lamps… which are kept burning day and night” and that the families would gather, “clothe themselves in new garments”, sing, dance, and feast. The 16th-century Portuguese traveler Domingo Paes wrote of his visit to the Vijayanagara Empire, where Dipavali was celebrated in October with householders illuminating their homes, and their temples, with lamps.
Islamic historians of the Delhi Sultanate and the Mughal Empire era also mentioned Diwali and other Hindu festivals. A few, notably the Mughal emperor Akbar, welcomed and participated in the festivities, whereas others banned such festivals as Diwali and Holi, as Aurangzeb did in 1665.
Myths and Story
In northern India, they observe the tale of King Rama’s return to Ayodhya after he defeated Ravana by lighting rows of clay lamps. Southern India celebrates it as the day that Lord Krishna defeated the demon Narakasura. In western India, the festival marks the day that Lord Vishnu, the Preserver sent the demon King Bali to rule the nether world.