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Deepavali - The Festival Of Lights Explained

Deepavali in a Nutshell

Divya Anand | October 28, 2016

Indian Festivals  

Deepavali, also known as Diwali, is one of the most important festivals celebrated by Hindus all over the world with great pomp. In Sanskrit, “Deepa” means lamp and “aavali” means an array, hence “Deepavali” refers to the festival of lights; wherein small earthenware lamps filled with oil and a wick are lighted and displayed in beautiful arrays in houses, temples, buildings and streets to mark the celebration.

Significance of lighting the lamps

When a lamp is lit, it brightens up the place and removes darkness instantly. In Hindu culture, the lighting of a lamp signifies one’s illumination of knowledge, referring to the process of self- introspection and self-improvement that is needed to gain emotional and mental clarity in different aspects of life. Gaining knowledge banishes the darkness of ignorance (negative thoughts and narrow-mindedness) in us and makes us steadfast in upholding the right values and moral conduct. Hence Deepavali is a celebration of knowledge over ignorance, right over wrong and the spiritual realisation of our divine nature over our basal animalistic tendencies.

The radiance from one lamp is spread to the other lamps; similarly, knowledge has to be transferred from one person to another. The flame of the lamp is always directed upwards; no matter whichever direction the lamp is turned. This upward movement of the flame symbolises the path to wisdom and divinity.

Also, with one lamp we can light numerous other lamps and yet the light of the first lamp will not diminish or lose its lustre. By becoming manifold, it only enhances the beauty of the place. Likewise, when love and happiness are shared, it spreads the spirit of festivity in various ways, adding to the positive impact on the society as a whole.

Light and warmth (from the sun) is an important source of energy needed for the sustenance of all forms of life. Light shines equally on everything in nature; without any trace of differentiation. Thus we are all illumined by the same source and belong to the same principle of consciousness underlining life; irrespective of one’s external differences. This sense of ‘unity in diversity”, connecting all of us deep within, is an important reiteration that this festival subtly echoes during the celebration. Hence, on Deepavali we distribute food, clothes, money and other essentials to the less fortunate, to mark the spirit of giving and spreading compassion. Family bonds are renewed, any misgivings between each other is forgiven and forgotten. Sweets and goodies are exchanged as an expression of love and bonding.

Mythological stories and symbolism behind Deepavali

Deepavali is celebrated to signify Lord Krishna’s victory over the evil demon Narakasura. Narakasura was arrogant and ruled a reign of terror. He had abducted and imprisoned 16,000 beautiful women and forced them to live with him and caused them deep mental agony. After killing Narakasura, Lord Krishna liberated the women and asked them to return back to their respective homes and lead a peaceful life. But they fell at the Lord’s feet and pleaded that it would be impossible for them to live in their homes with dignity after being prisoners of Narakasura. They begged that Lord Krishna was their only refuge and prayed that He should take care of them. The Lord agreed to take up the responsibility of protecting them and this is the origin of the story of Lord Krishna having 16,000 wives.

After Narakasura’s demise, all those who suffered under him were overjoyed. Having led a life of darkness till then, they celebrated the occasion by lighting lamps and bursting firecrackers signifying the triumph of good over evil and the dawn of happiness and prosperity.

Deepavali is also celebrated as the day on which Lord Rama’s coronation ceremony took place. Lord Rama had left to the forest on an exile for fourteen years and the people of Ayodhya were eagerly awaiting his arrival. Having vanquished the evil king Ravana of Lanka, Lord Rama victoriously returned to Ayodhya for his coronation. The kingdom was filled with happiness upon his arrival and Lord Rama’s divine effulgence once again spread across Ayodhya. People celebrated this joyous occasion of reuniting with their loving King Rama; by lighting lamps everywhere.

The South Indian tradition of celebrating Deepavali

On Deepavali, it is a custom for the South Indians to have oil bath early in the morning known as ‘Ganga snaanam’ as it is believed that water on that day is as sacred as the water from river Ganga for purification of both the body and the soul (removal of sins). After this holy bath people wear new clothes. The house and surroundings are cleaned and decorated with lovely kolams and lamps.

These rituals emphasize the importance of both internal as well as external cleanliness. The oil and water during the bath helps in keeping our body clean. Likewise, it is only love that keeps our heart and mind clean. On this day, the deeper aspects of life that makes it worth living and meaningful are reflected upon. Conscious effort is made to practice positive values and principles that build our strength and integrity. New resolutions are made to help us mold into better individuals. Fire crackers are burst to mark the transgression from old to new beginnings and for the removal of any negative influences.

Visiting temples or any place of worship is considered auspicious. Since Goddess Lakshmi is associated with material wealth and fortune, special prayers are performed at the temples and also at homes and business premises to receive blessings for good health, happiness and prosperity.

It is also a tradition to seek blessings of parents and the elders in the family as a mark of reverence for their love and support rendered to us in our journey of life. Sweets and savouries are exchanged between family and friends. Cultural events are organized for people to bond and be happy.

The North Indian tradition of celebrating Deepavali

The North Indians celebrate Deepavali as a five-day long festival. It starts with the “Danteras” two days before the actual day of Deepavali, where people purchase gold, silver or copper utensils as it is considered to be auspicious. Merchants, traders and retailers close business accounts of their previous year and look forward to new ventures. Houses and business premises are cleaned, renovated and decorated with rangolis and lamps.

The second day is celebrated as “Naraka Chaturdasi” marking Lord Krishna’s victory over Narakasura. Women decorate their hands with henna and also prepare variety of sweets for distribution. In some places, “Ram Lila” is enacted in celebration of Lord Rama’s victory over Ravana and his return to Ayodhya.

The third day is the main festive day where all family members gather for an elaborate worship of Goddess Lakshmi to seek blessings for prosperity. New clothes are worn, sugary sweets are exchanged, lamps are lit and set adrift on rivers and streams. After the prayer, firecrackers are burst and people bond by visiting each other.

The fourth day is celebrated as “Padwa” to highlight the mutual love and affection between spouses. The husband takes this opportunity to present his wife with meaningful gifts and newly married daughters and son in laws are invited home by the parents for a special feast.

The fifth day of Deepavali is celebrated as “Bhai Dooj” to signify the loving relationship between brothers and sisters. Women and young girls perform prayers for the well-being of their brothers and have a bonding session through the sharing of food, gifts and reminiscence of the wonderful moments spent with each other.

All these rituals reinforce the message of sharing, giving and spreading love.


In the Hindu culture, there is a prayer:

Asatoma sadh gamaya (lead us from untruth to truth),

Tamasoma jyothir gamaya (lead us from darkness to light),

Mrithyorma amritham gamaya (lead us from death to immortality)”.


This is the real spirit of Deepavali that we aspire for and pray to be blessed with.

Happy Deepavali!

Divya Anand
Newbie (205 PTS)

Divya Anand

Very much interested in Indian culture since young, Divya Anand likes educating interested individuals about Indian culture and scriptures. Other articles by this author



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