Stories Behind Diwali
1. Ramayana Story
Lord Rama is the main focus of the Ramayana, with the Hindu god leaving his kingdom to live in exile for 14 years. While in exile, his wife Sita was kidnapped by the demon king, Ravana (who was the king of Lanka – or Sri Lanka as it’s now known). Rama, who travelled with his brother Laxman, fought for Sita and rescued her from Ravana’s clutches after defeating him.
The story tells how Ravana’s sister Shoorpnakha – who was very proud of her beauty – was attracted by Laxman after passing by a forest hut where he, Lord Rama and Sita were living. She asked Laxman to marry her but he refused her proposal and cut her nose by his sword to teach her a lesson for her arrogance. Shoorpnakha subsequently went to Ravana and told him the whole incident and asked him to exact revenge on them. Ravana sent demons to spy on them, however the spies informed that there was a very beautiful lady called Sita – whose beauty caught Ravana’s eye. He wanted to marry her, and one day sent a demon which changed into a beautiful golden deer who passed by their hut catching Sita’s sight.
Sita asked Rama and Laxman to catch that golden deer for her, but it turned out to be a ploy to distract the brothers, and subsequently, the demon captured Sita. Sita used her intelligence to leave a trail of jewellery so that the brothers could find her – and aided by Lord Rama’s trusted ally Lord Hanuman – they built a bridge famously known as Ram Setu (Adam’s Bridge) to cross the island to find Sita. When the bridge was completed, they fought a battle with King Ravan and his allies, Kumbhkaran and Vibhishana. The trio were killed in the clash and Lord Rama freed Sita from the prison of Demon Ravana.
Diwali marks the day that Rama triumphantly returns to the kingdom of Ayodhya with his wife – with the story saying that the villagers welcomed their triumphant return home with thousands of glowing oil lamps on a moonless night. This is why candles, lamps and other forms of light are so widely used to mark the festival.
2. The Rebirth of Lakshmi
Lakshmi, the goddess of fortune, is the most prominent goddess associated with Diwali, and thus her story is one that has particular significance to the festival.
As the story goes, through a display of arrogance, the god Indra once provoked Lakshmi to leave the divine world and enter the milky ocean. Without the guidance and blessings of Lakshmi, the world then turned into a dark place, and the gods were desperate to bring her back. After churning the milky ocean for 1,000 years, Lakshmi was finally reborn, rising to the surface on a beautiful lotus flower, and once again bringing to the world her blessings of good fortune.
On Diwali, people light up the night to guide Lakshmi into their home and bring good fortune and prosperity for the year to come
3. Lord Krishna's Victory
In the certain parts, the story of Lord Krishna’s victory over the powerful demon king Narakasura also holds particular significance to Diwali.
This legend holds that Narakasura was blessed by Brahma with the power that he could only die by the hand of his mother, whom Narakasura believed would never kill him due to her deep love for him. His mother, however, was born again as Krishna’s wife Satyabhama, who, upon seeing Narakasura wound her husband Krishna in battle, delivered the fatal blow. In dying, Narakasura requested that no one mourn his death, and instead celebrate with life and color, as we see take place every year during the Diwali festival.
4. The Return of the Pandavas
In the Mahabharata, the Pandavas were the five sons of King Pandu. At one point, the Pandavas were ordered into exile for 12 years after losing a game of dice. The Pandava brothers were genuinely loved by the people, and their return from exile was marked as a joyous occasion worthy of celebration by the illumination of lamps throughout the city streets. This return was said to occur during the festival of Diwali and thus is observed as in line with the annual tradition.
5. Kali Destroys the Demons
Kali, the goddess of destruction, is celebrated in West Bengal as the major deity associated with Diwali. According to Hindu mythology, Kali was born to liberate heaven and earth from the cruel oppression of the demons. However, after slaying all the demons, Kali lost control and continued her path of destruction until the intervention of Lord Shiva reigned her in. Her day of repentance is celebrated on Diwali, paying tribute to the awesome power of Kali and her embodiment of the ultimate victory of good over evil.