of Diwali, or to put it correctly, Deepavali, is replete with legends. And these
legends are moored to the stories of Hindu religious scriptures, mostly the Purana(s).
Though the central theme of all legends point out to the classic truth of the
victory of the good over the evils, the mode of their presentation and the characters
differ. Likewise the religion itself, the origin of Deepavali is dated back to
a period when history was probably not used to be written. Still by some mystery
the traditions of this epical celebration continue to be transpired from one century
to another. And during this relentless course of journey it has continued to illuminate
the path of thousands to attain the ultimate good and complete ecstasy.
According to Ramayana, Diwali 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 Ravan, a demon king. The
people of Ayodhya illuminated the kingdom with earthen diyas (oil lamps) and fireworks
to celebrate the return of their king.
Hindu Epic of Ramayana is a huge Poetry, divided in different chapters. Below
is a small gist of the epic, just to give you the outline of the story, and the
view of deepavali that originated from it. This is, by far, the most widely believed
origin and history of diwali:
lived in ancient times a mighty rakshasa-a most fearsome asura-named Ravana who,
strengthened by a boon granted to him by the great god Brahma, unleashed a reign
of terror on the world.
bear his cruelty, the devas approached the great god Vishnu for help.
great Vishnu," they cried. "Ravana is terrorizing the world, plundering and looting
at will. Because Lord Brahma granted him power over all devas and asuras, we are
helpless against him. You must help put a stop to him."
eyes narrowed as he listened intently. "You say that devas and asuras are helpless
against him," he observed. "What about men and animals?"
was no mention of them in the boon," replied the devas. "But," they added scornfully,
"men are such weak crea
tures. They posses neither strength nor supernatural
powers. How can
they stand up to Ravana?"
stroking his chin thoughtfully. "We'll see about that.
Tell me, is there anyone on earth at this moment praying for a son?"
replied the devas. "King Dasaratha of Ayodhya is at this very minute performing
a huge sacrifice for an heir."
sill! Let his wish be granted," declared Vishnu, with a mysterious twinkle in
Dasaratha was a brave and honourable king and his people were happy
and prosperous. As was the custom in those days, he had three beautiful queens,
but, to his bitter disappointment, no heirs. He decided, therefore, to perform
a homa-a fire sacrifice to please the gods.
Building a great fire, Dasaratha
poured ghee and other offerings into it while a thousand priests chanted holy
mantras invoking the devas. The best of his cattle were sacrificed and gifts of
land, cattle, fine clothes, and gold were distributed to the deserving.
the end of the sacrifice, a radiant being emerged from the fire. He held out a
golden bowl and, addressing the king in a booming voice, said, "Great King, the
devas are pleased with your sacrifice and send you their blessings. Give this
payasam to your queens and they will bear you noble sons."
thereafter, to Dasaratha's delight, each of his queens became with child and,
in due course, delivered handsome sons. The eldest of the princes, named Rama,
was especially gifted with beauty, strength, and dignity.
Rama came of age, he won the hand of the beautiful Princess Sita of Mithila. Dasaratha,
who had become old and weary, decided that the time had come for him to retire
and to make Rama king. Everyone rejoiced, for Prince Rama was greatly loved.
that is, except for Kaikeyi, Dasaratha's youngest and favourite queen, who wished
her own son, Bharatha, to rule. Reminding Dasaratha of two wishes he had granted
her in the past, she demanded that Rama be banished to the forest for thirteen
years and that Bharatha be made king in his place.
hearing her demands, the old king collapsed in grief. But Prince Rama took the
news with dignity. "Dear Queen," he said, bowing solemnly. "I will honour my father's
Discarding his royal robes,
Rama donned the plain attire of a woodsman and left for the forest. The beautiful
Sita and his brother, Lakshmana, from whom Rama was inseparable, went with him.
the forest the three built a small hut to live in and settled into a simple life.
Rama and Lakshmana hunted by day, while Sita collected berries and cooked whatever
they brought home. They made friends with the many sages and woodsmen who also
lived in the forest and the years passed happily.
the wicked Ravana was growing more powerful day by day. He threatened both asuras
and devas, and even stole the winged chariot that belonged to Kubera, the Lord
of Riches! Moreover, under his leadership, all the other rakshasas also became
unruly and troublesome.
Sita's great beauty, Ravana dedded that he must have her for his bride. He commanded
his uncle, Maricha, to disguise himself as a beautiful spotted golden deer and
lure Rama and Lakshmana away from the hut. Then, disguised as a poor old man,
Ravana went to the hut begging for alms. When the kind-hearted Sit a brought out
a bowl of rice for him, he turned back into the tenheaded rakshasa and carried
her off in Kubera's winged chariot.
Ravana sped away with Sita to his kingdom of Lanka, Jatayu, the King of Birds,
tried to stop him. But Ravana merely laughed wickedly and chopped off his wings.
Rama and Lakshmana returned, they searched high and low for Sita. Finally they
came upon Jatayu, lying wounded on the ground.
Lakshmana," gasped J atayu hoarsely. "Ravana tricked you with the spotted golden
deer. He has carried Sita away to Lanka in a winged chariot. I could not save
The princes were devastated.
"We must rescue her!" cried Rama unhappily.
how?" asked Lakshmana. "Ravana is all-powerful and has a large army of gruesome
rakshasas. Also, because of Lord Brahma's boon, he is stronger than the devas
and asuras. How can we fight him?"
must, at least, try," said Rama. "Poor Sita will be so sad and frightened."
then, a vanara called Hanuman came by and wondered who the handsome princes were.
are you?" he asked. "And why are you so sad?"
Rama explained how Ravana had
tricked them and carried away Sita. "She must be rescued,
but alas, we have
no army. How can we fight the mighty Ravana?"
Calling all the monkeys of the
forest together, Hanuman replied, "Don't be discouraged, dear Prince. We will
help you. Our monkey army will gather stones and make a bridge across the sea
to Lanka." And so, Hanuman and his monkey army began building a bridge. All the
animals of the forest came out to help, even the little chipmunks. Rama stroked
them lovingly and to this day they proudly bear the marks of his fingers on their
Seven times Surya rose in the
east and sank in the west and on the eighth day, the bridge was complete. It was
the fifteenth day of Kartika and the night of the new moon. Surya was at his lowest
point on the horizon, and Chandra was but a sliver in the sky. Night loomed dark
and long. Followed by the monkey army, Rama and Lakshmana crossed the bridge into
Thousands and thousands of
rakshasas came out to meet them,
howling savagely and hurling spears. The monkeys
fought fiercely and
valiantly alongside Rama and Lakshmana.
At last Ravana
came out of his castle. Beating his chest and shaking his ten heads threateningly,
he gave a mighty roar. He was a scary sight!
you come to fight me, Rama?" he mocked with a wicked laugh. "Don't you know that
neither deva nor asura can overpower me? How dare you, a mere man and a pack of
monkeys challenge me?"
But Rama stood
his ground fearlessly. Stringing his bow, he let fly an arrow with a mighty twang!
It whizzed through the air like lightening and severed one of Ravana's heads.
However, no sooner did the head fall to the ground than another grew in its place!
Rama sent another arrow...
each time a head was severed, another grew back on.
mocking laughter grew louder and louder until it shook the
earth and rent the
"Ha, ha, ha! Is this all you
Then Hanuman stepped up and
whispered in Rama's ear, "The seat of his power lies in his belly. Aim your arrows
With lightening speed, Rama's
arrow sped through the air and found its mark before Ravana could lift his club.
roared the mighty Ravana. His scream rent the sky as he fell to the ground with
a thud. Ravana was defeated, for rakshasas, like asuras, lose their magic powers
once they fall to the ground. When they saw their leader fall, the rakshasa army
fled in panic. The monkey army cheered as they realized that the battle was over.
Flowers fell from the sky as devas gathered to rejoice. "The mighty Ravana was
defeated by a 'mere' man and an army of monkeys!" they chorused.
came out of the castle, her gentle face full of love. Greeting her joyfully, Rama
declared, "Our period of exile is over today. We will return home to Ayodhya."
the Lord of Riches, offered them his winged chariot to carry them back home. Hanuman
went with them.
The people of Ayodhya
were eagerly awaiting their rightful king's return. Even Rama's brother, Bharatha,
was overjoyed, for he, too, wanted Rama to be king and had merely been looking
after Ayodhya until his return. They lit rows and rows of lamps to brighten the
dark night and greet the royal couple. Rama's coronation was celebrated by a burst
of fireworks and a great feast. Fine clothes and sweets were distributed to everyone.
to this day, many Hindus celebrate the defeat of Ravana and the return of Rama
from exile by lighting lamps on this darkest night of the year! Twinkling oil
lamps or diyas light up every home and firework displays are common all across
the country. This celebration took place on the night of the new moon of Ashwin
(October-November). The tradition and the timing continued to be followed even