Diwali, like most other festivals in India, is believed to have originated in ancient India to commemorate a significant event. Often, there is more than one story of origin for such ancient traditions. Nonetheless the stories are all very fascinating and give us good moral lessons.
The most popular story of the origin of Diwali dates back to the time of Ramayana. Lord Rama was the son of Dasharath, king of Ayodhya. Those days it was a common custom to have more than one wife and king Dasharath had three wives. Very pleased with one of his wives, named Kaikeyi, the king offered to grant her a wish. The clever Kaikeyi took this opportunity to ask for her own son to be made the heir to the throne, which justly belonged to eldest son of the family, Lord Rama. In her greed to see her son become the king of Ayodhya, she thought it was wise to send Lord Rama far away from the kingdom and hence asked King Dasharath to send him into exile. Bound by his promise, king Dasharath had to grant Kaikeyi’s wish and order Lord Rama to go to Dandakaranya forest for fourteen years. Being an obedient son, he obliged. His devoted wife Sita and brother Laxman accompanied him through his 14 long years in the forest.
The three faced many challenges in the forest, including attacks of demons. On one occasion, Suparnakha, sister of Ravana, the ten-headed demon, approached Lord Rama with lust. Enraged by her approach, Lord Rama severed her ears and nose to teach a lesson.
When Ravana came to know about the incident, he sent his men into the forest to kill Lord Rama. However, defeated by Lord Rama, his men returns to Ravana and tells him about the defeat. They also tell Ravana about Laxman and the beautiful Sita. Mesmerized by the description of Sita’s beauty, Ravana plans to kidnap her and bring her back to his kingdom to make her his queen. He makes an elaborate plan to first isolate Sita from Lord Rama and Laxman and then kidnap Sita when no one will be around to defend her. To this end, he creates a golden deer to draw Lord Rama’s attention. When Lord Rama goes away following the deer and does not return for a long time, a worried Laxman goes out in search of him. Ravana, disguised as a simple man, approaches Sita in the forest for alms. When Sita steps out of her hut to give him some food, he tries to forcefully capture her to take her to his kingdom. When a bird named Jatayu tries to stop Ravana, he attacks him and escapes with Sita.
When Lord Rama and Laxman returns to the hut, injured Jatayu narrates the entire incident to them. A furious Lord Rama then seeks alliance with Sugriva, Nila, and Hanuman, the chiefs of the monkeys, to create a strong force to defeat Ravana in battle. They did defeat him in a glorious battle. Lord Rama killed Ravana and rescued his wife Sita. The fourteen long years of exile had come to an end during the same time and they all returned to Ayodhya. Kaikeyi’s son Bharata, who was the king in Lord Rama’s absence, unlike his greedy mother, was elated to see his brother and requested him to take over the throne. Lord Rama accepted the offer and became the king of Ayodhya.
It was the day of Lord Rama’s safe return to Ayodhya that is still celebrated in the form of Diwali and signifies the victory of good over evil. It was a dark night of Amavashya when the three returned to Ayodhya. Hence, the very jubilant people of Ayodhya lit up the roads and their houses with oil lamps and burnt fire crackers to lit up the night and celebrate the return of their rightful king.
To this day, Diwali is celebrated with the same level of enthusiasm, on a dark Amavashya night, lit up with lamps and firecrackers.