Warm Dīpāvali greetings from us here at Vedic Cosmos! The most widely celebrated of Indian festivals, Dīpāvali has deep cultural and spiritual undertones to it. The name Dīpāvali itself means an array of lamps (dīpānām āvaliḥ,) and signifies cheer, wisdom and the triumph of good over evil.
Dīpāvali is associated with Lord Rāma’s return to Ayodhyā after having decimated the rākṣasa-army in Laṅkā, in the northern states of India. In the southern states of India, especially Tamil Nadu, Dīpāvali is called Naraka-caturdaśī, and is associated with the Kṛṣṇāvatāra.
Narakāsura was the son of Bhūmidevī, Mother earth. He was the personification of malice. He imprisoned sixteen-thousand princes and princesses, holding them captive in his dungeon for no apparent reason. He laid siege upon the celestial city of Amarāvatī. He looted Indra of his royal insignia, the parasol, and subjected him to the ignominy of looting his mother’s priced earrings. Indra appealed to Lord Kṛṣṇa, and the Lord arrived at Narakāsura’s city, Prāgjyotiṣapura, amount the redoubtable Garuḍa, with His queen Satyabhāmā by His side. The city was fortified by five moats that the Lord devastated in a jiffy. Past the moats was stationed Mura, a formidable rakṣasa, who charged Kṛṣṇa like the feisty sun of cataclysmic proportions. After decimating him, Bhagavān vanquished the seven sons of Mura, who stood between Him and the hapless princesses who prayed ardently to be rescued. Finally, Narakāsura jumped in the fray and battled Kṛṣṇa. He charged Garuḍa ferociously, and smashed his mace into Garuḍa’s plumes. The avian chariot of Kṛṣṇa stood unfazed, as if assaulted with a wreath of tender blooms. The assault, however, invited the wrath of the Lord. He could stand it no longer, for His dear devotee had been put in harm’s way. He released his Sudarśana-cakra. The brilliant disc, almost imperceptible owing to the its speed, beheaded the rākṣasa and felled him.
Bhūmidevī pleaded with the Lord that her son be redeemed. The compassionate Lord promised her that her son would find redemption in bringing joy to the world by his death, as he had brought misery to it while alive. He promised her that the day her son gave up his body would be celebrated with great pomp and joy. Thus was born, Narakacaturdaśī or Dīpāvali. The word caturdaśī means the fourteenth day of a fortnight. Dīpāvali is celebrated on the fourteenth day of the dark fortnight, and hence the moniker.