The Festival of Lights by Paawan Sharma

Diwali, which falls on the New Moon of the month of Karttika (late October – early November) is the biggest and most festive occasion in the Hindu calendar. It is celebrated across the world as homes light up with glowing candles and skies are filled with flashy fireworks. It’s a great time for families and loved ones to get together and celebrate before the advent of winter.

The significance of Diwali can be found in the mythological tales of the Puranas. The relevant story here is given below.

The Churning of the Ocean
The sage Durvasa had been to visit Lord Vishnu and Sri Lakshmi and, on his visit, had received a fragrant garland. On the journey back, he happened to chance across Indra – king of the devas – riding upon his elephant. As a gesture of blessing, the sage offered Indra the garland which had belonged to Lakshmi.

Indra was unaware of the significance of the wreath and, quite egoistically, placed it upon the head of his elephant who, irritated by the smell, dashed it to the ground. This angered Durvasa, a man widely known for his bad temper, and he proceeded to place a curse upon the gods: they would be deserted by Lakshmi and, as a result, lose all their opulence and prosperity.

At the advice of Brahma, the gods bereft of all their power and influence, approached Lord Vishnu. He directed them to churn the mythical Kshira-sagara, the ocean of milk, doing which would win them amritam, the nectar of immortality. They were to use the bulky mountain Mandara as the churning stick and the gigantic serpent king Vasuki as the rope. However, devoid of strength as they were, the gods were also told to seek a truce with the demons and work with them for this colossal task.

Vishnu warned the gods to not be lulled by anything from the ocean and seek only the nectar. He also assured them that he would guard the nectar from the demons, since they would wreak destruction in the world if they became immortal.

The churning got underway. There were obstacles in the process, but these were overcome with the help of Vishnu and Siva. The ocean produced many weird and wonderful things (the Moon, a wish-granting tree, a poison that could destroy the universe, just to name a few) but the two most significant were certainly the amritam that the gods sought and the Goddess Lakshmi, who reappeared in the world after she had abandoned the devas on account of their arrogance.

The return of the Goddess Lakshmi
The story is rife with symbolism throughout, but the appearance of Lakshmi and her return to the world is the event that marks the day of Diwali. The gods were overjoyed and reverentially welcomed the Goddess.

Lakshmi is an aspect of Shakti: she is the power through which all of us act. In her absence, the gods lost all their power and wealth and even their immortality! She was won back after a hard labour which required monumental efforts as well as the grace of God.

Lakshmi specifically represents that part of the Goddess which is creative, industrious and dynamic. She has dominion over all efforts which will lead to drastic change but are born of noble intentions and high ideals.

Starting a new business, buying a new home, undertaking a new project – all these things are enabled by the blessings of Lakshmi. It is for this reason that she is worshipped as the giver of wealth, prosperity and riches. It is no surprise, therefore, that for many people in India, the day after Diwali marks the beginning of a new year.

The word Diwali is a contraction of the Sanskrit deepa-avali (a row of lamps), as we customarily light our homes up with candles on this moonless night to welcome the Goddess Lakshmi. Without her grace, the year would not bring success or good fortune.

Imperial College Hindu Soc would like to wish everyone a very joyful Diwali and hopes that the coming year brings you great prosperity and success!