Diwali Significance: More than a billion people globally celebrate Diwali, the Festival of Lights! Apart from India, Diwali is also celebrated in Singapore, Malaysia, Guyana, Mauritius, and Nepal.
In 2007, the U.S. Senate adopted a resolution (Senate Resolution 299) “recognizing the religious and historical significance of the festival of Diwali”. 
Former US President Barack Obama famously celebrated Diwali at the White House in the year 2009. He said, “For Hindus, Jains, Sikhs, and Buddhists, lighting the lamp – the Diya – is a chance to remember, even in the midst of darkness, that light will ultimately prevail. Knowledge will defeat ignorance, and compassion will triumph over despair. Diwali is also a reminder that we must each do our part to achieve that victory, by dedicating ourselves in service to others. If we affirm our commitments to one another and strive to lift each other up, then together, we will continue moving closer to that brighter future we all seek.”
That message rings true especially during a time when the world is on lockdown and things seem bleak and dark. Exciting social Diwali traditions, such as visiting relatives and friends, bursting firecrackers in the neighborhood, shopping, and partying are not recommended. But does that mean that we cannot celebrate? Not at all. In fact, it is a golden opportunity to experience the true spirit of Diwali – a quiet, everlasting divine joy, peace, and love within the soul that passes all understanding.
JKYog and the Radha Krishna Temple of Dallas are celebrating the Diwali Mahotsav with Swami Mukundananda from November 12-15 – a global virtual event, honoring the timeless Vedic traditions associated with this 5 Day festival with ample opportunities to participate and offer sevas from the comfort of home.
Highlights include special Poojas in the divine presence of Swami Mukundananda himself - Ram Pooja, Sunderkand Paath, Lakshmi Pooja, Hanuman Chalisa recitation (1008 times), Govardhan and Annakoot pooja etc.
The Radha Krishna Temple of Dallas is a nucleus of the Dallas Desi Community preserving ancient Indian cultural and spiritual traditions with several community offerings, especially during the festive season.
Watch this special Diwali message from Swamiji about the true significance of celebrating Diwali.
“Gayi Lakhi Deepavali Balihaar”
There is a beautiful pastime of Shree Radha Krishna, describing how they celebrate Deepavali with their sakhas and sakhis in Vrindavan. Jagadguru Shri Kripaluji Maharaj has revealed this blissful Leela, in his nectarine composition Gayi Lakhi Deepavali Balihar. Shree Krishna and Radha Rani leave small earthen lamps in the river Yamuna from opposite sides, along with their friends. A competition arises to see whose lamp goes the farthest! Both groups’ lamps meet in the middle creating a beautiful glittering sight! This wonderful guided meditation by Swami Mukundananda will transport you to the scene.
If you want to celebrate Diwali but not sure how, read on about different traditions across India.
The day before Diwali is celebrated as Dhanteras. Businessmen start their new year of business on this day with the blessings of Goddess Lakshmi and Dhanvantari Bhagavan. There is an interesting story behind it.
Amrit is a divine potion that bestows immortality. The devatas(Celestial gods) and the asuras(demons) once engaged in huge battle, resulting the loss of the devatas at the hands of Bali, the demon king. Once again the devas sought Lord Vishnu’s help. He arranged for them to obtain Amrit or divine nectar bestowing immortality. However, to obtain this Amrit required churning of the ocean of milk. With Vasuki the snake as the churning rope, Mount Mandara as the churning rod and Lord Vishnu in the “Kurma Avatar” or tortoise as the base, the devas and the asuras churned the ocean of milk. Many things emerged from the ocean.
Goddess Lakshmi was one of them. She was married to Lord Vishnu. Kamadhenu the divine cow, Kalpavriksha the wish fulfilling tree, Airavat the elephant (given to Indra), the Apsaras (nymphs of heaven), Kaustubh Mani (the divine gem on Lord Vishnu’s chest) all emerged from the ocean. Due to the stress of churning, Vasuki emanated fiery poison from his mouth. Lord Shiva consumed this poison. Terrified, Mother Parvati held his neck to prevent the poison from entering Lord Shiva’s stomach where all of creation resided. Shiva’s neck became blue, giving Him the name Neelkanth.
Finally, Dhanvantari Bhagavan, an incarnation of Lord Vishnu and the divine physician, emerged with the pot of nectar or Amrit. Thus, on Dhanteras day both Goddess Lakshmi and Dhanvantari Bhagavan are worshipped for prosperity and good health.
In Dwapar Yuga, the demon Narakasur (a son of Mother Earth) had terrified living beings – plundering, pillaging, tormenting women, and murdering people for many years. Narakasura had a boon from Brahma that he could only be killed by his mother. His mother had also obtained a boon from Lord Vishnu that her son would die only when she wished for it.
Drunk with power, Narakusara dominated the three realms with fear. He kidnapped 16000 women and threw Indra out of Swargaloka or heaven. He also stole Aditi’s earrings. Aditi was the mother of the gods.
Indra and the celestial gods appealed to Lord Vishnu for help. Lord Vishnu promised them that he would incarnate as Lord Krishna to kill Narakasura.
Krishna and his wife Satyabhama together attacked Narakasura. Several times Krishna tried to kill Narakasura but Narakasura survived. Narakasura attacked Shree Krishna with a divine power or Shakti, and Shree Krishna appeared to fall unconscious.
Seeing this, heartbroken and enraged Mother Satyabhama (earth personified), said,” This son of mine has sinned so much, I will kill him myself!”. Saying this she shot and killed him with her arrows, fulfilling the boons that Narakasur would die at his mother’s hands when she wished.
Krishna married the 16000 women who had been imprisoned in Narakasur’ s palace and returned Aditi’s earrings back to her. This day is commemorated as Naraka Chaturdashi.
In South India, Naraka Chaturdashi is celebrated one day before Diwali. The following day is celebrated as Diwali. People wake up early in the morning and take an oil bath to purify themselves physically, mentally, and spiritually.
The word Deepavali signifies a row of lighted lamps.
For 14 years the residents of Ayodhya were tormented in separation from Ram. One moment he was going to be coronated the king of Ayodhya and the next he was exiled for 14 years. As if that was not enough Mother Sita was kidnapped by the demon king Ravan. With the help of Lakshman, Hanuman, and the army of the Vaanars, Lord Ram defeated Ravan on Dussehra and returned home to Ayodhya on Amavasya or the New Moon. The residents of Ayodhya were beside themselves with joy. They lit rows and rows of earthen lamps to welcome the Lord of their hearts back into their city and their hearts. On the dark night of Amavasya, the humble earthen lamps lit up the whole city beautifully. We too can celebrate in the same way – purging demonic thoughts of depression, hopelessness, greed, and hate from our hearts and welcoming back love for God.
While most parts of India celebrate Deepavali honoring Shree Krishan and Shree Ram, in eastern parts of India this day is celebrated as Kali Puja. Goddess Mahakali took 10 incarnations to destroy demons on earth. Each of these incarnations is known as a Mahavidya. The last Mahavidya is Goddess Kamalatmika and Her worship days falls on Deepavali day. She is a form of mother Parvati – the benevolent Divine Mother.
Another story goes that Mother Kali was so disillusioned with the evil of humanity that she went about destroying everything in blind rage, wearing a garland around her head of the demons she killed. So furious was she that the devatas feared she would obliterate creation. The devatas pleaded to Lord Shiva who lay in front of Kali as a corpse. Having lost control of her anger, Kali stepped on Shiva. Realizing it was her husband, she bit her tongue in guilt and calmed down. Her tongue began bleeding. Thus, on Amavasya, this form of Kali with her red tongue sticking out is worshipped.
King Mahabali, the grandson of Prahalad, was a just ruler, benevolent in charity, and a devotee of Lord Vishnu. He was much loved by his subjects. However, Bali had a desire to conquer the three worlds. The devas approached Lord Vishnu for help. Lord Vishnu took the form of Vamana Bhagavan – a dwarf Brahmin with an exquisite, blissful countenance – to ask Bali for alms during a sacrifice. He asked for just three steps of land. However, when Bali proceeded to fulfill the request, Vamana Bhagavan assumed a huge form. With his first two steps, he covered all three worlds. He asked Bali, “Where should I place the third step?” The humble king Bali offered his own head and Vamana Bhagavan pushed him to the nether realms(Patal Lok). Bali was granted the boon that Lord Vishnu would be His doorkeeper in Patal Lok. He was also granted the boon that once a year he would be allowed to come back to earth. This day is celebrated as Bali Pratipada in parts of South India with much fanfare. The great devotee of the Lord, Mahabali is honored.
The fourth day of Diwali is celebrated as Govardhan Pooja. The story goes that the residents of Braj would worship Indra every year after Diwali for rains to ensure a successful harvest. The young Shree Krishna along with his sakhas or friends instead convinced them to worship Govardhan mountain since it sustained the livelihood of the Brajwasis. This infuriated Indra who in a fit of rage caused torrential rains of the kind seen only at the “Great Dissolution” or Mahapralaya, to pour over the land of Braj. Shree Krishna then lifted the Govardhan mountain on his little finger and the terrified Brajwasis gathered under the mountain for seven days and nights. Finally, Indra’s ego was quelled, and recognizing Shree Krishna as the Supreme Lord, he humbly begged for forgiveness. Since then Govardhan Pooja is celebrated after Diwali - Govardhan mountain is worshipped as the form of the Supreme Lord Himself. Through this Leela, Lord Krishna established that instead of worshipping the demigods, we should worship the Supreme Lord Himself. He also demonstrated that He protects the devotees surrendered to Him.
Afterward, the residents of Braj worshipped the holy mountain of Govardhan by offering 56 different types of cooked foods and sweets and took the prasad as a blessing of God. This established the Annakut tradition (Annakut literally means mountain of food!) that is followed to this day – marking the offering of the first harvest as a mark of gratitude to God. Annakut Utsav signifies the beginning of the new year in the spirit that everything we have is a blessing of God and nothing belongs to us. In some parts of India, this is also celebrated as Vishwakarma pooja – workmen offer their tools in worship to Vishwakarma, the divine architect.
In India and Nepal, the fifth day of Diwali is celebrated as Bhai dooj. Sisters pray to Yamraj (the God of Death) for the long life, health, and prosperity of their brothers. On this day, Yamraj met with his sister river Yamuna who welcomed him joyfully with Arti, tika(mark on the head), and a feast in his honor. Pleased Yamraj granted the boon that brothers who are welcomed by their sisters in this way will be protected by the forces of evil. Lord Krishna was also welcomed by his sister Subhadra after killing the demon Narakasura. In Bengal, this is celebrated as Bhai Phonta, with a grand feast organized for the brothers.
The Sikhs celebrate this day as Bandi Chorr Divas – the day Guru Hargobind Singh ji was released from prison by Emperor Jahangir along with 52 other Hindu kings. Diwali also marks the Nirvaan Divas or the final liberation day of the illustrious Mahaveer, the 24th and last Tirthankara of the Jains. Diwali is celebrated with austerity, simplicity, and environmental consciousness, avoiding the bursting of crackers, symbolizing non-violence, the greatest principle of the Jains. Buddhists observe this day as Ashoka Vijayadashami or the day Emperor Ashoka became a Buddhist.
You do not have to be a Hindu to celebrate Diwali. Diwali is a celebration of the divinity and capacity for selfless love and sacrifice within all of us – one that we can all attain if we choose. Diwali unites those celebrating it in the sentiment of overcoming the darkness of intolerance, envy, hate, anger, greed, lust with the light of love, compassion, and peace.
In its 2019 Diwali Message, the Vatican (Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue) issued a message which among other things said,” As believers grounded in our own religious convictions and with shared concern for the welfare of the human family, may we join hands with those of different religious traditions and all people of good will, and strive to do all we can – with a sense of shared responsibility – to build a more fraternal and peaceful society! Wishing all of you a joyful celebration of Deepavali!”
Everyone comes together at this most auspicious time of the year honoring divine qualities and the victory of good over evil. Diwali is thus a festival with universal appeal.
At the end of the day for devotees of the Lord, Deepavali, is about overcoming the darkness of material energy Maya and developing selfless love for God too serve Him; to express gratitude for his numerous blessings, His names, forms, and pastimes that He has so mercifully bestowed upon us, to help us in the journey towards eventually attaining Nishkam Bhakti.