From darkness into light, from ignorance to knowledge, from unhappiness into bliss, this, indeed, is the true and deep message that the festival of Diwali brings every year with its joyous celebrations. The festival of Diwali is the most celebrated and much awaited festival that inspires people to believe in the power of good. Diwali is heralded as one of the most significant festivals of Hindus and is celebrated across India and throughout the world. Hindus in the North mainly celebrate this festival to commemorate the legend of Lord Rama's return to the Kingdom of Ayodhya after an exile of 14 years while in the South, it is celebrated to mark the vanquishment of a demon named Narakasura at the hands of Lord Krishna. However, the festival of lights holds great significance in other religions as well, which include Sikhism and Jainism, though for different reasons. This article explores the deep rooted significance of Diwali in context of various faiths and belief systems.
Spiritual Significance in Hinduism
The festival of lights, Diwali is the harbinger to hope and inspires one and all to take initiative and light a candle rather than to curse the darkness. Diwali is not just about outer illumination, but it promotes the awareness of the inner light that is the core of every human being. The spirituality is the true essence of Hinduism and it prophesizes that a person is not just a body or a mind but something beyond it - a pure, powerful and eternal source of energy, called the Atman. Diwali is the celebration of the realization of this inner light, which has the power to show one the path of righteousness even at the darkest of the times. The awakening to one's true self “Atman” introduces one to immense peace, universal compassion, love, and awareness of oneness of all things (higher knowledge). This is a state of true happiness that Diwali commemorates, the stories and legends about this festival may change from region to region but this underlying essence remains the same.
Significance in Jainism
Diwali is a very special occasion for the people of Jain community as Christmas is for Christians or Buddha Purnima is for Buddhists. As per Jain history and scriptures, Lord Mahavira, the last of the Jain Tirthankaras, attained Nirvana or Moksha on the day of Diwali at Pavapuri on October 15, 527 BC. Lord Mahavira was the founder of Jainism and the community follows and lives by his preaching till today. It is believed that besides the divine Lord himself, his most devoted disciple, Ganadhara Gautam Swami also attained enlightenment (Kevalgyana) on this day. This makes Diwali one of the most significant festivals for Jains.
According to Jain history, to mark the occasion and symbolize the inner light attained by the Lord, the tradition of lighting lamps on this day was started by 6 Gana-kings, 9 Malla and 9 Lichchhavi, of Kasi and Kosal. Like everything else, Jain celebrations of Diwali are far from extravagance and this makes it standout. The ascetic Jain community celebrates Diwali for three days during the month of Kartik. The Shvetambaras keep fast, meditate and read aloud the final teachings of Lord Mahavira, compiled in Uttaradhyayan Sutra. Besides this, many Jains make a pilgrimage to Pavapuri in Bihar where Mahavira attained Nirvana.
Significance in Sikhism
In Sikhism, after Baisakhi, the day on which Khalsa was formally established by the tenth Guru Gobind Singh in 1699, Diwali is considered a very important day, as many significant events of the Sikh history are associated with it. Sikhs celebrate Diwali in a big way and the day is also referred to as “Bandi Chhorh Diwas”, which stands for “the day of release of detainees”. On this day in 1619, the sixth guru, Guru Hargobind Ji, along with 52 other princes, was released from the Gwalior Fort, where all of them were imprisoned on the orders of Mughal Emperor Jahangir. The Sikh community rejoiced on the occasion by lighting up the Golden Temple. The tradition continues till date.
Another significant event that highlights the importance of Diwali for the Sikhs is the martyrdom of Bhai Mani Singh ji. On this day, he sacrificed his life to protect the Sikh community from genocide at the hands of Mughals in 1737 by cancelling the Diwali celebrations at Golden Temple. He was declared guilty of evading the religious tax of jizya and executed. His death motivated the Sikhs to struggle for freedom from the Mughal oppression, which they eventually succeeded in by establishing the Khalsa rule in North of Delhi.
This article sheds light on the multidimensional significance of Diwali as per various religions and belief systems.