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Diwali is a festival that has more than one story behind its origin. No wonder it holds such a unique significance to Indians around the world. The legends and fables that make up this luminous festival were sourced from old Hindu scriptures called the Puranas. Of course, the versions tend to vary from region to region but the essence of each remains the same – the celebration of victory over evil. Its numerous legends only tell us that victory did and will always belong to the good. We give you five of the best known stories that give us a reason to enjoy the festival of lights year after year.
The Victory of Lord Rama
This is the most accepted and popular story behind the celebrations. Hindu mythology tells us about the virtuous Lord Rama, the son of Dasharath (the king of Ayodhya). Rama was heir to the throne but this was something that his step-mother didn't approve of. Under her influence, the king sent away his beloved son to the forest in exile. Rama was accompanied by his beautiful wife Sita and loyal brother Laxman. It was during this period of exile, the last year to be precise, that Sita was taken captive by the demon king of Lanka, Ravana. With the help of the monkey god Hanuman and his army, Rama went to Lanka, fought a war against the evil Ravana and returned home victorious to his family and kingdom Ayodhya after 14 years. This return of Rama brought joyous celebrations to the town of Ayodhya and people welcomed him back with lights, lamps and by bursting firecrackers. Diwali is celebrated in the memory of that famous victory.
Lord Krishna and Narakasur
Hindu mythology is full of stories about the gods slaying the demons or, in other words, the triumph of good over bad. Another famous legend revolves around the story of Lord Krishna and his defeat of the demon Narakasur. Narakasur kidnapped beautiful women and forced them to live with him.
A curse was put on Narakasur predicting his death by his own mother. Lord Krishna enabled his wife Satyabhama to reincarnate into Narakasur's mother and she was made to drive the chariot to battle with Narakasur. Opportunity struck and Satyabhama killed Narakasur with Krishna's bow and arrow. Narakasur's mother declared that the death of her son should not be a day of gloom but that of joy. This event led to a celebration that we call Diwali.
Lord Krishna and the mountain
The third popular legend also relates to Lord Krishna. According to it, Krishna dissuaded the people of his village Gokul from worshipping the king of gods, Indra. Hearing this, Indra was very angry and he sought revenge by sending thunder and rain to drown the people. The villagers were scared but they reposed their faith in Krishna to protect them. And guess how he did it? He simply held up a mountain with a finger and the people took shelter under it until the storm passed away. As a symbol of showing their gratitude, Diwali is celebrated, say some.
King Bali and the dwarf
Another myth deals with King Bali, whose mighty powers started to become a threat to the other gods. In order to curb his powers, Lord Vishnu (one of the three main gods in the Hindu triumvirate including Brahma and Shiva) appeared in the form of a little boy and asked King Bali for land he could cover in three steps. For all his faults, Bali was known to be generous. And he didn't hesitate to grant the 'little boy' his wish.
Lord Vishnu took one step to cover the entire heaven, one to cover the earth and when he asked Bali where to place his third step, the king, having understood who he was dealing with, offered his head. With that, Vishnu pushed Bali into the underworld with his foot. Vishnu's compassion, however, allows Bali to visit earth once a year to light lamps to drive away darkness and spread love. And that, old-timers say, is Diwali.
Goddess Lakshmi emerges
Legend says Goddess Lakshmi emerged in an ocean of milk as demons and deities were churning the ocean to obtain the 'drink of immortality; the festival is celebrated to commemorate that. Known as the goddess of wealth, it is believed that Lakshmi brings wealth, good fortune and prosperity into the homes of her devotees.