Diwali and Dharma

Rahul Dogra
The scent of fragrant flowers adorning homes, melodious chanting of Vedic hymns, and the dazzling aartis performed with love – these traditional signs welcome the beloved festival of lights, Diwali. An expression of inner radiance and virtue, Diwali epitomizes the eternal struggle between sattva and tamas, righteousness and wrongdoing. Spanning over Kartik Krishna Chaturdashi to Kartik Amavasya, this 5-day extravaganza is enthusiastically celebrated by Hindus worldwide as a reminder of dharma’s triumph over adharma as depicted through diverse legends from our sacred scriptures.
The Ramayana highlights how Diwali commemorates Lord Ram’s homecoming after establishing Dharma by defeating the evil Ravana. As the rightful king of Ayodhya, Ram represented Dharma and justice. After spending years in exile, Ram’s return with his beloved Devi Sita and brother Lakshman reinforced the triumph of Dharma over Adharma. The people of Ayodhya celebrated by lighting lamps, signifying: “Tamaso ma jyotirgamaya – lead us from the darkness of ignorance to the light of wisdom and truth. ” This Upanishadic prayer underscores Diwali’s message to awaken inner light through ethics and awareness.
Among the various legends associated with Diwali, one profoundly significant story relates to Maa Lakshmi, the divine goddess of wealth, prosperity and fortune. As chronicled in the ancient scripture Padma Purana, on Kartik Amavasya day, during the great churning of the ocean called Samudra Manthan, Goddess Lakshmi emerged from the Kshir Sagar holding a lotus flower in her hand. All the gods and Asuras present were mesmerized by her unearthly beauty and charm. Pleased with their prayer and devotion, Maa Lakshmi chose to be with Lord Vishnu, the supreme preserver.
Since that auspicious moment, Kartik Amavasya came to symbolize the arrival of Maa Lakshmi to earth, blessing her devotees with health, wealth and good fortune. Following the tradition, houses are cleaned, Maa Lakshmi is offered prayers and lamps are lit to welcome the goddess, seeking her continued blessings. It is said that in the glow of the diyas and spirit of festivities, Maa Lakshmi herself comes to dwell in homes that are clean and illuminate with light, joy and positivity. This magical folklore woven into the celebrations of Diwali is a reminder for all to awaken the inner light of wisdom and spread the radiance of compassion.
Another celebrated event during Diwali festivities is Goverdhan Puja, which honors the eternal bond between Lord Krishna and mother earth. As narrated in the Bhagavat Purana, the residents of Vrindavan were accustomed to performing an annual ritual of worshipping Lord Indra, the God of rain and thunder. One year, Lord Krishna discouraged the people from the ritual and suggested worshipping the hillock named Goverdhan instead, as it provided grass and vegetation for the cattle. The farmers followed Krishna’s advice, angering Indra. As a result, Indra unleashed massive rains to flood Vrindavan. However, little Krishna effortlessly held up Govardhan hill on his finger for seven days to give shelter to the locals. Since then, on Kartik Shukla Pratipada, Hindus worship the Govardhan hillock and Lord Krishna to commemorate his miraculous deed and protection of devotees. It reaffirms the supreme power of faith over even the lords of heaven.
The Mahabharata also traces Diwali’s origins to the return of the Pandavas after 12 years of Vanvas and 1 year of agyatavas. During their exile, the Pandavas faced many hardships but upheld noble values of truth, righteousness and non-violence. On Kartik Amavasya, the people received the Pandavas back in Hastinapur with lamps after Duryodhana’s disgrace, portraying Dharma’s might over immorality and dishonesty.
Another important event linked with Diwali is the killing of demon Narakasura by Lord Krishna. As per Skanda Purana, Narakasura troubled both gods and humans by stealing all luxury items and imprisoning 16,000 princesses. To abolish Narakasura’s harmful, unrighteous activities and rescue helpless people, Lord Krishna fought a fierce battle exhibiting his valor and triumph of virtue. The jubilation in defeating such an evil force strengthened the essence of protecting righteousness in society.
The Shrimad Bhagavata Purana also refers to King Bali, though an Asura, establishing lawful rule over three worlds. However, his growing prowess worried devas. Lord Vishnu, taking Vamana avatara, requested charity within boundaries of Dharma, not for selfish agendas. The generous but law-abiding King Bali surrendered his authority, exhibiting humility and righteousness above power and rule. Bali’s magnanimity reflects seeing one’s true immortal nature beyond ego-bound mortal limitations. Hence Diwali commemorates upholding virtue and principles of moral leadership above everything else. The Bhagavad Gita sees Diwali’s radiance as the Supreme Light of Lord Krishna pervading all sources of illumination. Similarly, the Ishavasya Upanishad states that the inner effulgence in every being stems from the supreme absolute Brahman. On Diwali, Hindus attempt to light the lamp of spiritual knowledge and consciousness by getting rid of inner darkness of ignorance, desire and vice. They resolve to follow righteous conduct outlined in the scriptures and cherish virtue in daily living.
Our scriptures depict Diwali’s diverse origins and celebrations across faiths. For Jains, it marks Bhagwan Mahavira’s nirvana or complete enlightenment as the 24th Tirthankara. Scriptures refer to this day as Dipalikaya, where both earth and heavens were lit with lamps in joy. Even today, Jains fast and meditate on Diwali night to worship Bhagwan Mahavira.
Sikhs celebrate Diwali as Bandi Chorh Diwas, commemorating the release of the Sixth Guru, Guru Hargobind Sahib Ji, and 52 Hindu Kings from wrongful imprisonment by Mughal Emperor Jahangir. Holy Sikh shrines are illuminated in celebration, just as people in ancient times lit lamps to signify freedom from oppression.
Communal bonding strengthens universal brotherhood affirmed in Rigveda -“Ekam sath viprah bahudha vadanti” – Truth is One but sages express It in various ways. Diwali embodies our shared essence beyond superficial differences.
Overall, Diwali legends emphasize principles of Dharma – justice, truth, non-violence, morality, charity and virtue. The radiant festival infuses optimism, reminding us that societal progresses lie in individuals strengthening compassion, sacrifice for greater good and adherence to timeless spiritual-ethical values. May the lights of Diwali help reveal the light of Dharma within, inspiring each soul towards righteous action for welfare of all.