Most traditional festivals celebrated across the length and breadth of the diverse and colorful land of India has a deep rooted social, cultural and religious significance. The festival of Diwali ties the entire country in a delicate silken thread of lights, laughter and goodwill. This festival has numerous legends related to its origins but in the end, they all conclude and reinforce one's belief in that fact that no matter how powerful evil is, it shall always lose against the forces of good. From darkness to light, this is the motto behind the celebration of this luminescent festival. Diwali celebrations are dedicated to various deities whose legends are associated with this festival in one way or the other. Some of the most well known Diwali legends are mentioned in the following lines.
Goddess Laxmi's Legend
According to Hindu mythology, it was on this day of Amavasya that Goddess Laxmi emerged from the ocean, which was being churned by demons and deities in order to acquire the immortality elixir. Therefore, the day is dedicated to the worshipping of Goddess Laxmi to commemorate her birth. It is believed that on this day, the divine Goddess visits the Earth and blesses her devotees with wealth and prosperity. Lamps are lit in every house so that the goddess can easily find her way around. After the prayer rituals are over, homemade sweets are offered to the goddess as Naivedya. In southern India, cows are worshipped and offered various special delicacies as they are believed to be an incarnation of Goddess Laxmi.
Lord Rama's Legend
As per Ramayana, which is one of the most well-known epics of Hinduism, the first Diwali was celebrated to commemorate the return of Lord Rama, along with his wife Sita and brother Laxman, to Ayodhya after completing an exile of fourteen years. To welcome their beloved price back, the people of Ayodhya lit earthen lamps and firecrackers throughout the kingdom. Legend has it that Lord Rama was the seventh incarnation of Lord Vishnu and a great warrior, who killed the mighty demon king Ravana of Lanka. These celebrations took place on the night of the new moon of Ashwin. Since then, the same tradition as well as timings continues till this day to celebrate Diwali accordingly.
As per Hindu mythology, Diwali is celebrated to commemorate the death of a mighty demon named Narakasura at the hands of Lord Krishna, who is believed to be the eighth incarnation of Lord Vishnu. According to the legends, Narakasura, drunk in the arrogance of his own power, gave up the path of righteousness and embarked on the rampage and abducted numerous girls and enslaved them. Hearing their sorry plight, Lord Krishna fought a mighty battle with the demon and killed him. 16,000 women imprisoned by him were freed and to save their honor, Lord Krishna accepted them as his wives. To mark this pious occasion, Diwali is celebrated.
King Bali's Legend
There is another fantastical legend related to Diwali about King Bali, who was a kind but over-ambitious ruler. King Bali was not satisfied by simply ruling the Earth. Hence, he acquired immense power through Yagna to control heaven and the underworld. The Gods got worried of his growing power and influence and therefore, approached Lord Vishnu for help. Lord Vishnu, then, took the form of a dwarf priest and asked a boon of King Bali that he be granted land so that he could cover in three strides. As soon as Bali agreed to his request, Lord Vishnu increased his size manifolds and in his first two strides, he overtook the earth and heaven. For the third step, there was no place left; therefore, Bali offered his head to him and under the weight of the Lord's feet, he was submerged into the underworld. The second day of Diwali is celebrated in the memory of this day.
Another interesting legend recounted about 'Kartik Amavasyaa' is from the great Hindu epic 'Mahabharata'. Legend has it that the five Pandavas - Yudhishthhira, Bhima, Arjuna, Nakula and Sahdeva, were duped out of all their earthly belongings by the cunning Kauravas in a game of dice and then sentenced to an exile of thirteen years. The brothers faced many hardships during their exile and returned back to their kingdom on the day of 'Kartik Amavasyaa'. To mark their homecoming, their subjects lit earthen lamps to welcome their beloved kings.
King Vikramaditya's Legend
Some people believe that the origins of Diwali are not as old as they are made out to be. In fact, the day came to be celebrated during the reigns of one of the greatest Hindu kings, Vikramaditya. It is said that the first Diwali was celebrated to commemorate his coronation ceremony. His subjects lit the entire kingdom with earthen diyas to express their happiness on this occasion.