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The meanings of Diwali, its symbols and rituals, and the reasons for celebration are innumerable. Diwali celebrates Lord Rama's glorious and long-awaited return to his Kingdom of Ayodhya after his fourteen long years of exile in the forests. It commemorates Lord Krishna's victory over the demon Narakaasura who had kidnapped and terrorized the gopis of Vrindavan. When the evil Naraka was finally killed by Bhagwan Krishna and Satyabhaama, he begged pitifully for mercy; thus, upon his entreaties, it was declared that this day of his death would be celebrated with great joy and festivity. It is also celebrated as the day Bhagwan Vishnu married Maha Lakshmi.
Diwali is also associated with the story of the fall of Bali - a demon king who was conquered by Lord Vishnu. Lord Vishnu appeared to the demon king Bali in the form of a dwarf and requested only three steps of land. The evil and egotistic Bali granted the drawf's meager request of only three feet. Suddenly, Lord Vishnu took on His grand size and placed one foot on the Earth, another on the Heavens and His third on the head of the evil Bali.
In general, Diwali signifies the triumph of good over evil, of righteousness over treachery, of truth over falsehood, and of light over darkness.
Additionally, Diwali is the holy time in which we offer our prayers to Maha Lakshmi and we worship Her with piety and devotion. Maha Lakshmi is the goddess of wealth and prosperity, bestowing these abundantly upon her devotees.
Diwali is a holiday of joy; it is the time when we gather with loved ones, celebrating our family, our friends and the prosperity God has bestowed upon us.
However it is also a holiday that is widely misunderstood and misrepresented, especially in the West. I have heard that in the West Diwali is referred to as "The Indians' Christmas" and that it is celebrated with frivolity and decadence. Let us talk about what Diwali really means, about why we celebrate it and about why we worship Goddess Lakshmi on this day.
Celebration of Light
There are three main aspects of this holiday called Diwali. The first is the celebration of light. We line our homes and streets with lanterns; we explode fireworks; children play with sparklers.
However, Diwali is not a festival of light in order that we may burn candles, fireworks and sparklers. Sure, these are wonderful ways of expressing our gaiety. But, they are not the only or true meaning of "light." Diwali is a festival of the light which dispels the darkness of our ignorance; it is a festival of the light which shows us the way on our journey through life. The purpose is not to glorify the light of the candle, or the light of the firecracker. The purpose is to glorify the light of God. It is He who bestows the real light, the everlasting light upon the darkness of this mundane world. A candle burns out. A firework is a momentary visual experience. But, the candle of a still mind and the fireworks of a heart filled with bhakti are divine and eternal; these are what we should be celebrating.