Diwali is one of the most widely celebrated festivals, in India and around the world. It is a joyous Festival of Lights when families unite on the darkest night of the year to light candles, set off fireworks, give gifts, and celebrate together the victory of light over darkness.
Many wonderful tales of the Gods and Goddesses – Ganesha, Lakshmi, and Krishna – are told during Diwali. We are going to tell you one of our favourite stories.
This is the wonderful tale of Prince Rama and his beautiful Princess Sita, told by Valmiki in the epic Ramayana. Prince Rama was one of the greatest heroes of India. His wisdom and bravery, and that of his virtuous wife Sita, are justly celebrated even today all over the world. And during Diwali we celebrate their triumph at the end of many harsh trials.
The story begins long ago in the kingdom of Ayodhya. In that happy land reigned a wise and powerful king called Dasharatha. King Dasharatha had three beautiful and intelligent wives: Kaushalya, Kaikeyi, and Sumitra.
King Dasharatha was beloved by all his subjects and his happiness was complete, except for one thing. The King had no son to take the throne after him, and ensure the continued prosperity and safety of the Kingdom
“Let us pray to the Gods,” said King Dasharatha to his wives.
“Yes,” said Queen Kaushalya, “Perhaps they will be kind to us and give us children.”
So Dasharatha and his queens prayed fervently to the Gods in heaven. Finally their prayers were answered when a divine being arose from the sacrificial flames holding a bowl of payasam, rice pudding.
“O King,” said this divine spirit, “The Gods are pleased with your sacrifice. Vishnu himself has decided to be born on earth as your sons. Divide this payasam between these three saintly queens, and in time divine children will be born to you.”
King Dasharatha shared the payasam equally between his three wives, but a crow swooped down and took Sumitra’s portion before she could eat. Queen Kaushalya and Queen Kaikeyi immediately shared part of their portions with Queen Sumitra.
When the proper time had passed, each of the queens gave birth to a son. Kaushalya gave birth to Rama, Kaikeyi to Bharata, and Sumitra, because she had eaten two portions, gave birth to the twins Lakshmana and Shatrughna.
These four sons of King Dasharatha were God given and were all embodiments of the great Lord Vishnu, hence their beauty, power, skill and strength. But Prince Rama was the bravest and wisest and most handsome of them all.
On the day that the four princes reached the age of manhood, King Dasharatha made an announcement: “I decree that my son, Prince Rama, will succeed to the throne of Ayodhya.”
On hearing this, the entire Kingdom erupted in an outpouring of joy.
“When he becomes king, Rama will turn on your son Bharata and exile him. Or worse!” She convinced Kaikeyi to go to the King and demand that her son Bharata be named successor, and that Rama be banished.
King Dasharatha was heart-broken, but many years before, he had made a vow to grant Kaikeyi anything she wished, so he had to agree.
Rama calmly obeyed his father’s instruction to stand aside for his brother Bharata. Without a single word of complaint, he prepared to leave Ayodhya for life in the jungle.
“I will accompany you,” said his wife Sita. Rama tried to persuade her to stay in Ayodhya, but she would not hear of it. She exchanged her beautiful clothing, fit for a princess, for rough clothes suitable for a jungle dweller.
Rama’s loyal brother Lakshmana also vowed to join them in their humble life far from the comforts and luxuries of the royal palace.
Bharata, devoted to his brother Rama, was shocked at his mother’s actions.
“I will rule in your name while you are gone,” he said, “And when you return the kingdom shall be yours again. Please, I beg you, give me a pair of your sandals.”
Rama gave Bharata a pair of his sandals, and Bharata immediately placed them on the throne as a symbol of Rama’s rule.
Finally Rama, Sita and Lakshmana left the palace. They said farewell to the grieving citizens of Ayodhya, and began their journey to the jungle for their years of exile.
While all this was taking place, there lived, in the far off island of Lanka, a cruel and powerful demon king called Ravana. He was fearsome to behold, with ten heads and twenty arms. He rode in a chariot pulled through the air by man-eating mules with sharp teeth!
Evil Ravana sent his demons out from Lanka to oppress the wise men and women of the world, to disrupt their sacrifices to the Gods and Goddesses, and to make the lives of ordinary folk miserable.
When Rama, Sita and Lakshmana arrived in the jungle, the wise men and women greeted them joyfully.
“O great Princes, O wise Princess,” they said, “Please, we beg you to protect us from Ravana’s fearsome demons.”
So Rama and Lakshmana took up their weapons and fought Ravana’s demon hordes. They protected the wise men and women from the vicious attacks by the demons that owed allegiance to Ravana.
After some time, Ravana’s angry demons, brought word to him that two mighty heroes were driving them away from their victims, and were continually defeating them in battle.
Ravana was outraged and decided to take revenge on Rama. He flew in his chariot pulled by flying mules to Rama’s jungle home.
Seeing Rama and Lakshmana living a simple life with the beautiful Sita, Ravana devised an evil plan. He decided to kidnap Sita and make her one of his wives in Lanka.
By a trick, he lured both Rama and Lakshmana away from the jungle hut where they lived. Then he disguised himself as a harmless old man.
“Please give me something to drink,” he said to Sita.
“Certainly, Old Father,” said the tender-hearted Sita, inviting him in.
In the blink of an eye he scooped her up in his arms and, despite her angry cries for help, he flew off with her to Lanka.
When Rama and Lakshmana returned to their dwelling place they were dismayed to find that Sita had vanished. Rama was distraught, and he and Lakshmana searched everywhere for her.
They finally encountered Jatayu, the Vulture King, lying wounded on the ground. He told them a strange tale.
“O Prince,” gasped Jatayu, with his dying breath, “I saw Ravana, the demon king, fleeing in his chariot through the air. In the chariot was a beautiful woman crying out for help. I tried to stop him, but Ravana wounded me grievously.”
Rama and Lakshmana immediately began to seek for word of Ravana’s whereabouts. In their search they came across Sugriva, the King of the Monkeys. One of Sugriva’s followers was the powerful monkey Hanuman, who became one of Rama’s most faithful devotees.
“O Great King,” said Rama, respectfully, “My brother and I are searching for my wife Sita, who has been taken by Ravana the demon king. Help us I beg you to find her.”
Sugriva, Hanuman and all the monkeys eagerly agreed to help Rama in his search. They fanned out in all directions looking for Sita.
It was Hanuman who flew over the sea to the far off island of Lanka, where he finally located the weeping Sita.
“O beautiful Lady,” said Hanuman, “Dry your tears. Your brave husband Rama is coming to rescue you.”
Then Hanuman played a trick on Ravana and the demons. He allowed himself to be captured and bound with ropes.
The cruel demons set fire to his tail, whereupon he broke his bonds, and leapt from roof to roof, setting fire to all of Lanka.
Hanuman then returned to Rama and told him of his discovery.
Rama, Lakshmana, Hanuman and an uncountable multitude of fierce monkeys marched towards the sea. With tremendous energy the monkey army built a bridge of rocks, which they crossed. They marched right up to the very gates of Ravana’s palace.
“Who dares invade my kingdom!” shouted the enraged Ravana. He sent out his demon army to attack the monkeys.
For many days Rama and Lakshmana and the courageous monkey army fought off the ferocious attacks of the demons. Ravana used all the deceitful and cunning tricks he could think of, but Rama and his allies were able to defeat each one and drive the demons back.
Finally Rama and Ravana encountered each other on the battlefield. They fought ferociously, but Ravana was finally defeated and killed by Rama.
Imagine the joyful reunion of husband and wife! Rama and Sita were reunited to the loud cheers of Lakshmana, Sugriva, Hanuman and all the monkey army.
Rama, Sita and Lakshmana bade a fond farewell to their monkey friends, and then made their way back to the royal palace of Ayodhya. All along the way the joyful people lit lamps to celebrate their triumphant progress.
The magnificent city of Ayodhya was ablaze with lights, as the four royal princes were reunited.
Rama and Sita ascended the throne to rule wisely for many a long year.
And to this day the Festival of Diwali re-enacts this triumphant return of Rama and Sita, and the final victory of goodness over evil; truth over ignorance; and light over darkness.