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Diwali, the Festival of Lights

by Arundhati Baitmangalkar

In India, we celebrate Diwali, the festival of lights, once every year around October and November. This is one of the biggest festivals we celebrate and everyone looks forward to it, both young and old. The word Diwali means “row of lights.” People light up their homes, gardens, and offices, and there is a celebration with lots of food, new clothes and the remembrance of the triumph of good over evil. Below is a brief version of a story about why we celebrate Diwali, from the great Indian epic, Ramayana.

About 9 lakh years ago, Ayodhya was ruled by King Dasharatha. Dasharatha was a great king and a virtuous ruler. He had four sons, and Lord Rama was the eldest and most beloved of all. He was an ideal son, husband and ruler, so the king decided to hand over his throne to him and retire.

Contrary to her husband’s decision, Lord Rama’s stepmother, Kaikeyi, wanted her own son Bharata to be the king, and she forced Dasharatha to send Rama to the forest for fourteen years. Rama gladly accepted his stepmother’s wishes and left the palace and the kingdom with his wife, Sita, and faithful brother, Lakshmana. The grief-stricken Dasharatha soon died from the separation of his beloved son. When Bharata, who was on a visit to his maternal grandfather, returned to Ayodhya and learned about what had happened, he immediately set out to bring Rama back from the forest.379740_Diwali-Diya to India

Rama was glad to welcome his brother, but he refused to go back to the kingdom before the completion of fourteen years. Bharata sadly returned alone to Ayodhya. However, Bharata, being a devoted brother of Rama, refused to be the king in Rama’s absence and instead ruled Ayodhya on behalf of Lord Rama.

In the forest, the demon king, Ravana, kidnapped Sita and took her away to his kingdom in Lanka. Lord Rama began his search for Sita with the help of the monkey army headed by Hanumana and Sugriva. When Lord Rama and his monkey army reached Lanka, a great battle took place over a period of ten days. Finally, Rama killed Ravana by piercing his naval with a celestial arrow, won the war and brought Sita back.

31Lord Rama and Sita then returned to Ayodhya. The entire kingdom celebrated the return of the victorious and virtuous Rama, Sita and Lakshmana. The city was decorated with flowers and lamps, and Rama was crowned the king of Ayodhya. Rama ruled Ayodhya for many, many years, as a great, saintly king.

More than lakhs of years later, Rama is remembered and worshipped in India. His return to Ayodhya with Sita is celebrated as the festival of Diwali. On this festive occasion all people clean their homes and decorate them nicely. All the temples of Lord Rama are decorated beautifully, and the life and teachings of Lord Rama are discussed from Ramayana.  All over the country lamps are lit, and homes, shops, how it was done in Ayodhya thousands of years ago.

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