Diwali, literally a garland of lamps, is an apt description of this festival of lights. Tradition maintains that lamps are lit to keep alive the memory of Prince Rama's return to Ayodhya after conquering the tyrant Ravana, the ruler of Lanka, who had abducted his consort Sita. The heroic deeds of Rama are recounted in the Hindu epic Ramayan and Diwali symbolizes the victory of virtue over vice. Rama, we are told had gladly accepted an exile in the forest to keep his step-mother happy and save his father from embarassment. He is considered the epitome of a dutiful son and a responsible ruler. Another myth traces the origins of the festival to the annual 'inspection tours' of Lakshmi, the Hindu goddess of wealth and prosperity. The faithful believe that on this day Lakshmi goes around visiting her devotees and sets up residence in the house she finds best spruced up and most hospitable. Diwali is an occasion for spring cleaning, painting the walls, decorating the floor with attractive designs wrought in coloured powder or paste made with rice.
The ritual traditionally associated with Diwali is gambling. Friends get together to indulge in games of chance, dice or cards. The 'addicts' seek legitimacy for their unusual pastime by referring to the celestial game of dice played by the great lord Shiva with his companion Parvati - a scene superbly sculpted at Kailash temple, Ellora. Others rationalise that this is just to remind oneself of the fickleness of lady luck and to inculcate a sense of balance in our pursuit of material success.
The children can be seen bursting fire crackers and lighting candles or earthen lamps. This is a time of generously exchanging sweets with neighbours and friends. Puffed rice and sugar candy are the favourite fares.