The story of Diwali

Today is Diwali, the biggest Hindu holiday around the world. It is also celebrated by Jains and Sikhs. It is the Festival of Lights and is celebrated with the lighting of lamps, as well as, of course, prayers and eating a lot of sweets.

Each faith has a different origin story for this holiday, but here it is for Hinduism, originating in an ancient Indian epic, the Ramayana.

In ancient times, the world had been overrun by evil. Ravan, the king of Lanka, had amassed great power and wealth and, consumed by his own hubris and narcissism, was using his vast global armies to terrorize the world, to persecute the good and establish a reign of evil. From his impenetrable citadel at Lanka, he reigned over an empire driven by hate, violence, and devotion to material pleasure.

The good people of the world cried out for a savior, and the hero Rama and the heroine Sita were born. Rama was the prince of Ayodhya and Sita the princess of Mithila. Rama was the idealized man and Sita the idealized woman (at least, by the standards of ancient India), both the very emblems of good, the exact opposite of Ravan. On the eve of his coronation, in order to keep a promise that his father had made to his stepmother, Rama gave up his claim to the throne and he and his wife Sita agreed to take a 14-year exile to the forest.

During their 13th year in the forest, Ravan kidnapped Sita, determined to make her his queen. Facing impossible odds and with no army of his own, Rama amassed an army from the creatures of the forest, the apes and bears, and together they took on the ruthless and unstoppable demon armies of Ravan. Rama was a mighty warrior in his own right and, more than that, his army was a literal force for good. After a bitterly fought war where they suffered many defeats, Rama killed Ravan in battle (depicted in the painting below, which hangs in my living room).

As Rama and Sita returned to their kingdom at the end of their exile to reclaim their throne, their path home was lit with lamps (as shown above), as people celebrated the victory of good over evil and the return of the reign of good in the world. The next day, the day after Diwali, was the New Year, and a new dawn of good for the world.

Ultimately, this is what Diwali is about: the hard-fought but inevitable victory of good over evil, the ultimate power of light over darkness.


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