Diwäli is probably the most important festival in India. The festival falls on the last day of the month of Äso (Ashvini), the end of the year in the Indian calendar (in October or November). Diwäli is the festival of lights celebrated by Hindus as well as Jains. Hindus celebrate Diwäli to rejoice the return of Rama to Ayodhya after destroying the forces of evil by defeating King Ravan of Shri Lanka. They worship Lakshmi (Goddess of wealth and prosperity). For Jains Diwäli marks the anniversary of the attainment of liberation by Lord Mahavir at the end of his life in 527 BC. Diwäli is second only to Paryusana.
Traditional Celebration: Most celebrate Diwäli in a traditional Indian fashion. Generally, people enjoy themselves eating delicious food, wearing new clothes, lighting fireworks, etc., On the Diwäli day, there are lights everywhere throughout India. On this day, a businessman would complete his accounting for the year and conduct a simple ceremony of worship in the presence of the account books. The New Year begins the next day and is the occasion for joyful gatherings and wishing each other a Happy New Year. Elderly people give gifts (mostly cash) to youths and children.
Realistic Celebration: Festival days like the Diwäli naturally increase the urge for Sansär (material world), if it is celebrated in a traditional way. Actually the religious festivals are for increasing the interest for Dharma by reading religious book, reciting the virtues of the great people, carrying out some austerities like fasting, exercising restrain in eating, humility, Swädhyäy, meditation, etc., and reciting holy hymns.
Background: In the early morning of the previous day, Lord Mahavir commenced his last sermon (final discourse known as Uttaradhyäyan) which lasted until the night of Diwäli. At the midnight, he left his earthly body and attained liberation. There were eighteen kings of northern India present in his audience. They decided that the light of their master's knowledge should be kept alive symbolically by the lighting of lamps. Hence it is called Deepävali, from Deep meaning a lamp, or Diwäli. But the light of the Lord Mahavir’s knowledge cannot be kept alive by just lighting up the lamps. That is an external approach. Realistically, we should light up our internal lamps - awaken our inner vision by practicing the path shown by Lord Mahavir. As a traditional Diwäli lamp needs clay bowl, oil, cotton and lighter (or match box). the inner lamp needs right faith, right knowledge, right conduct and right Tap (austerity). External lamp needs oxygen, internal lamp needs self-effort. The resolution to increase the practice of good conduct is the way to celebrate the Diwäli. Some fast for two days as Lord Mahavir did. Some count 20 rosaries, first reciting "Shri Mahavir Swami Sarvajnaya Namah" on every bead (108 beads in one rosary) and followed by 20 rosaries of reciting "Shri Mahavir Swami Päragataya Namah". In brief, Diwäli is for enhancing the spiritual wealth.
New Year: Lord Mahavir's chief disciple, Indrabhuti Gautam, had not been able to overcome his attachment to his master and that had prevented his achieving enlightenment. The barrier was only broken after a period of grief over his master’s Nirvän. He at last managed to achieve the highest degree of non-attachment which enabled him to attain the stage of omniscience, the full enlightenment, in the early morning of the first day of the new year. The Jains begin the new year with a glorification of Lord Gautam Swämi; and listen with devotion to the nine Stotras (Navsmaran) and the auspicious Räs (epochal poem) of Gautam Swami. Some fast for three days including the New Year day. The real wish should be that the whole coming year may be filled with realistic Dharma, intellectual serenity and equanimity.
Bhäi Beej (Festival day for brothers): Raja Nandivardhan, the brother of Bhagawän Mahavir was in great sorrow due to the Nirvän of Mahavir. His sister, Sudarshana took him to her house and comforted him. This happened on the second day after Diwäli. This day is observed as Bhäi Beej. This festival is like Raksha Bandhan. On the day of Raksha Bandhan, the sister goes to the brother and ties the Raksha; but on this day, the sister invites her brother to her house to show regard for him.
Jnän Panchami (The holy day for acquiring knowledge): Jnän Panchami is the name given to the celebration that takes place on the 5th day of the first month of the year. This day has been fixed for the worship of pure knowledge. On this day, the scriptures, which impart knowledge to the people, are worshipped with religious devotion. Swädhyäy, meditation, Pratikraman etc., are also carried out. Moreover. the books preserved in the religious libraries are cleansed and repaired as necessary.
Hindu Celebration: Ravan is supposed to have ten heads. He kidnapped Rama’s wife Sita. Rama was left with no choice but to destroy evil forces of Ravan and Ravan himself. On the day of Dashera, which occurs 20 days before Diwäli, Rama became victorious by destroying the evil forces of Ravan and returned to Ayodhya on the day of Diwäli along with Sita.
Realistic Interpretation: It could be interpreted that the battle fought by Rama was an internal one. Ten heads of Ravan represent the ten evils; ignorance (lack of awareness), anger, ego, deceit, greed, violence, lying, stealing, adultery (pre-marital sex or sex with other person other than your spouse) and accumulation. By-products of these evils are jealousy, fear, contempt (disrespect), jokes (laughter) that hurt others (humor is OK), sorrow, hatred, affection, gossip, defamation, arrogance, lust, etc. Rama conquered his battle against his internal enemies (Karmas) and achieved the enlightenment. Jains believe that Rama has attained Moksha.
The above mentioned ten evils are our worst enemies. The greatest of all is greed. The greed is at the root of all other evils. Anger destroys love, ego destroys humility, deceit destroys friendship and greed destroys all. They (inner evils) have kidnapped (over-shadowed) our consciousness. The purpose of Diwäli is to remind us of Ravan (the real enemy), that is staying inside and our goal should be to be victorious over that real Ravan. The only way for that is to put good conduct in practice. This should be the resolve for Diwäli and the New Year.
Summary: Diwäli is for enhancing the spiritual wealth. One needs to make some resolutions that lead to the better conduct and can be practiced without regrets.