Diwali: Faiths, Festival and Cultural Extravaganza

By Jasbir Singh 

 

Diwali, also known as Deepavali, is a widely celebrated festival in India and by people of Indian origin around the world. While Diwali has its roots in Hinduism, it is also observed by Jains, Sikhs, and some Buddhists. In the context of Jainism, Diwali holds special significance and is celebrated for different reasons compared to its celebration in Hinduism.

Diwali and Jainism 

In Jainism, Diwali is primarily celebrated to commemorate significant events in the life of Lord Mahavira, the 24th Tirthankara – spiritual teacher and enlightened being, of Jainism.

Here is why Diwali is important in Jainism:

Nirvana of Lord Mahavira: Diwali marks the anniversary of Lord Mahavira’s attainment of Nirvana (spiritual liberation) on the day of Kartika Krishna Chaturdashi. It is believed that Lord Mahavira attained Moksha (liberation from the cycle of birth and death) on this day at Pavapuri, which is in present-day Bihar, India. Jains celebrate this event by lighting lamps and offering prayers to Lord Mahavira.

Anniversary of King Vikramaditya’s Conversion: Diwali also commemorates the conversion of King Vikramaditya, a famous ruler of Ujjain, to Jainism. According to Jain tradition, this event occurred on Diwali day. Jains celebrate this by performing rituals, reading religious scriptures, and visiting Jain temples.

The Return of Lord Mahavira: It is believed that after Lord Mahavira’s period of meditation and fasting, he returned to the earthly realm on Diwali day. This return is celebrated with great enthusiasm in Jain communities.

Jain Diwali celebrations often include rituals such as lighting lamps (deepas), offering prayers, visiting Jain temples, reading religious texts, and performing acts of charity. Jains also engage in various spiritual activities and penance during this time to reflect on the teachings of Lord Mahavira and to seek spiritual growth.

The oldest reference to Deepavali in Jain texts is a related word – “dipalikaya” mentioned in Harivamasa Purana composed by Acharya Jinasena. It says: 

 

ततस्तुः लोकः प्रतिवर्षमादरत् प्रसिद्धददीपलिकयात्र भारते। 

समुद्धतः पूजयितुं जिनेश्ररं जिनेन्द्र-निर्वाण विभूति-भक्तिभाक्।। 

 

The gods illuminated Pavanagari with lamps to mark the occasion, and since then the people of “Bharat” celebrate the festival of “Dipalika” to worship the Jinendra – Lord Mahavira on the occasion of his nirvana”. 

Diwali and Buddhism    

The festival of Diwali has importance in the Buddhist tradition also. It is believed that Gautam Buddha visited his birth place Kapilvastu on this day first time attaining wisdom. The common people in the city lighted candles and expressed joy on his visit akin to returning of Rama to Ayodhya. Lord Buddha, in address, gave them the sermon of “Appo deepo bhav” – “Become light of your own life”.

Here’s how Diwali is observed in the context of Buddhism:

Ashoka’s Conversion: One of the most prominent connections between Diwali and Buddhism is the legend of Emperor Ashoka. It is said that Emperor Ashoka, who ruled the Mauryan Empire in ancient India, converted to Buddhism and chose to embrace the teachings of the Buddha during the festival of Diwali. This conversion is often cited as a significant historical event that led to the spread of Buddhism in India and beyond.

Anniversary of Ashoka’s Edicts: Some Buddhists celebrate Diwali as the day when Emperor Ashoka, after embracing Buddhism, inscribed his famous edicts on pillars and rocks. These edicts spread the principles of non-violence, compassion, and religious tolerance. For this reason, Diwali is considered a time to reflect on these important Buddhist teachings.

Tihar Festival in Nepal: In Nepal, which has a significant Buddhist population, a festival called “Tihar” is celebrated. Tihar is similar to Diwali and is observed by both Hindus and Buddhists. During Tihar, various animals and natural elements are worshiped, and it is seen as a time to honor the bonds between humans and animals. Buddhists in Nepal may participate in Tihar celebrations alongside Hindus.

Diwali and Sikhism 

Dal-Roti ghar ki, Diwali Amritsar ki 

Nothing can beat home cooked food, and Diwali of Amritsar. 

Here’s how Diwali is celebrated in Sikhism:

 

Bandi Chhor Divas: For Sikhs, Diwali is particularly important because it coincides with the celebration of Bandi Chhor Divas. Bandi Chhor Divas, which means “Prisoner Release Day,” marks the release of Guru Hargobind Sahib Ji, the sixth Sikh Guru, from imprisonment in the Gwalior Fort in 1619. This event is significant as Guru Hargobind Sahib Ji secured the release of 52 Rajput kings who were also imprisoned alongside him.

 

Golden Temple Illumination: The holiest site in Sikhism, the Golden Temple (Harmandir Sahib) in Amritsar, Punjab, is beautifully illuminated on Diwali. Thousands of oil lamps, candles, and electric lights are lit to mark the occasion, creating a stunning and serene atmosphere.

Gurdwara Celebrations: Sikhs visit Gurdwaras (Sikh places of worship) on Diwali to participate in special kirtan (hymn singing) and ardas (prayer) ceremonies. The Guru Granth Sahib (Sikh holy scripture) is also given special attention, and the teachings of Sikh Gurus are emphasized.

While the way Sikhs celebrate Diwali is distinct from Hindu traditions, it is a significant and joyous festival in the Sikh calendar. It carries the message of freedom, light, and service that are central to Sikhism’s teachings.

Happy Diwali to all.

Jasbir Singh is the National General Secretary of the Forum for Awareness of National Security (FANS). He is also chairperson of the advisory committee of the Guru Gobind Singh Chair for National Integration & Sikh Studies in Rajasthan University, Jaipur. Earlier, he was Chairperson of Rajasthan Minorities Commission.

Images courtesy of Review of Religion, Pinterest, X/ @Nitin Meshram, Basics of Sikhi and Provided

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