Diwali or Deepvali Havan is an ancient vedic fire ritual, dedicated to the "festival of lights" - a five-day Hindu festival.
For Hindus, Diwali is one of the most important festivals of the year and is celebrated in families by performing traditional activities together in their homes. For Jains, Diwali marks the attainment of moksha or nirvana by Mahavira in 527 BC. Arya Samajists, celebrate this day as Death Anniversary of Swami Dayanand Saraswati. They also celebrate this day as Shardiya Nav-Shasyeshti.
The name "Diwali" or "Divali" is a contraction of "Deepavali" [dubious – discuss] (Sanskrit: दीपावली Dīpāvalī), which translates into "row of lamps". Diwali involves the lighting of small clay lamps (dīpa in Sanskrit: दीप) filled with oil to signify the triumph of good over evil.
These lamps are kept on during the night and one's house is cleaned, both done in order to make the goddess Lakshmi feel welcome. Firecrackers are burst because it is believed that it drives away evil spirits. During Diwali, all the celebrants wear new clothes and share sweets and snacks with family members and friends.
Hindus have several significant events associated with Diwali:
The return of Rama after 14 years of Vanvas (exile). To welcome his return, diyas (ghee lamps) are lit in total of 14.
The killing of Narakasura: Celebrated as Naraka Chaturdashi, one day before Diwali, it commemorates the killing of the evil demon Narakasura, who wreaked havoc. In different versions, either Krishna or Krishna's wife Satyabhama killed Narakasura during the Dwapara yuga.
While Diwali is popularly known as the "festival of lights", the most significant spiritual meaning behind it is "the awareness of the inner light". Central to Hindu mythology is the belief that there is something beyond the physical body and mind which is pure, infinite, and eternal, called the Atman.
The celebration of Diwali as the "victory of good over evil", refers to the light of higher knowledge dispelling all ignorance, the ignorance that masks one's true nature, not as the body, but as the unchanging, infinite, immanent and transcendent reality.
With this awakening comes compassion and the awareness of the oneness of all things (higher knowledge). This brings anand (joy or peace). Just as we celebrate the birth of our physical being, Diwali is the celebration of this Inner Light.
While the story behind Diwali and the manner of celebration varies from region to region (festive fireworks, worship, lights, sharing of sweets), the essence is the same – to rejoice in the Inner Light (Atman) or the underlying Reality of all things (Brahman).
From our friend Gitanjali:
Diwali reveals its link with the nine days and nights of the worship of the Mahashakti Durga, that climaxes as Vijayadashami. Nine days and nights of beseeching the Mahashakti resident in our hearts to fight and overcome our base tendencies that keep us fettered to our frailties. After the intense sadhana, on the tenth day we could be fit enough to feel the beginnings of transformation. Vijayadashami is the celebration of the power of sadhana to transform us.
As the demons within us get subdued, life begins to become easier for us. The turbidity of anger gives way to the clarity of peace, and the bitterness of hurt and hate to the sweetness of compassion and forgiveness. It is not that the world has changed magically. Rather, by our effortful sadhana, we have allowed the Shakti within us to overcome our demons. Yes, we have a choice! At every moment, even in the most trifling of matters, we can choose either to allow the demons to be at play, or to rein them in. The aroused Shakti, pervading our whole being, alters our manner of seeing life’s situations. We may recall the Buddha’s emphasis on the right vision. The world is as our perception makes it out to be. Informed, illuminated, and enlightened perception is accompanied by a confident power to tackle the situation. Self-pity, fear, despair, pessimism, and the like have no place. We begin to see crisis, not as an assault on us, but rather as the reaction of the conscious, intelligent cosmic forces to the manner in which we have conducted ourselves. When calm prevails, that too is taken for what it is, a small part of a vast process, which will also pass. Now neither the body nor the mind state is affected by life’s storms. This is the same vision of sukham and dukham that Krishna exhorts Arjuna to cultivate. Krishna and Arjuna symbolise our good sense and our frailties respectively. As we progress towards accomplishment of sama drishti, life’s turbidity reduces, clarity, light, and peace become the character of one’s life.