In 2009, US President Barack Obama also attended Diwali in the White House.
- In Malayasia Diwali is celebrated as Hari Deepawali
- In Singapore, it is Deepawali
- In the USA, Diwali has been given official holiday status by the congress in 2007 and San Antonio in Texas was the first US city in 2009, to sponsor a fireworks display
- In the UK, it is a grand excuse for anyone loving fireworks, light and partying
- In Australia and New Zealand, Diwali is a festival of light as also all things Indian
So what is Diwali?
As a five-day event, Diwali or deepavali or Kali Puja or festival of lights is one of the most important festivals of India and not only for Indians but also for many people in other countries as well.
- For the Jains, Diwali is the day when their 24th and last tīrthaṅkara (prophet) attained Nirvana around 527 BC.
- For the Sikhs, Diwali celebrates Bandi Chhorh Diwas or day of freedom, when their sixth Guru, Guru Hargobind Ji was released from imprisonment by the Muslim emperor Jahangir in 1619.
- Buddhists also celebrate Diwali as the day the great Buddhist Emperor Ashoka converted to Buddhism around 265 BC.
- Hindus celebrate Diwali for many reasons.
The significance of Diwali can be interpreted through three themes in Hinduism:
- The victory of light over darkness/evil theme - Narakasura, a big baddie, goes on a rampage. He conquers almost everything on Earth (literally meaning a large chunk of the Indian sub-continent) as also the heavens. In one version eventually a woman, Krishna’s wife Satyabhama kills this personification of evil and the rule of evil gives place to the rule of light.
- The return of the rightful ruler theme - Rama one of the central figures of the Indian epic Ramayana returns home after 14 years of Vanbas or banishment. He is welcomed by diyas (ghee/oil lamps) lit in rows of 20. The Pandavas of the other Indian epic, the Mahabharata also return after 12 years of exile and 1 year of agyatavas on this day.
- Correct aspiration over formal practice in religion theme – Krishna (who represents the highest level in Hinduism and an incarnation of Vishnu) discovers farmers about to offer their annual offering to Indra, who is a sort of prime minister of heaven (also deity of thunder and rain). Krishna questions the farmers' fuss about this ritualistic offering and expectations of being able to influence natural phenomena. He teaches them that being farmers, their efforts should be better directed at farming. So they neglect Indra’s offering. This annoys Indra and being a touchy god, he promptly floods the villages. Krishna (as he emanates from a higher plane of being then Indra) lifts the gigantic Mount Govardhan and holds it to shield the people and their cattle from rain. Finally Indra gets the message and stops persecuting the villages. This story elucidates the foundation of the Karma philosophy so very central to Indian thought.
What is The Esoteric Significance of Diwali?
In Hinduism it is an active principle of functioning with full attention to phenomena without attachment to negative factors. The path to equanimity is very difficult in real life as we have to fight our "demons" inside us. This struggle on the way to equanimity is the real Jihad (and not killing people who don't agree with us).