DĪVĀLĪ, festival of lights (from Sanskrit dīpamālā or dipāvalī meaning row of lamps or nocturnal illumination), is observed all over India on amāvasyā, the last day of the dark half of the lunar month of Kārtika (October-November). Like other seasonal festivals, Dīvālī has been celebrated since time immemorial. In its earliest form, it was regarded as a means to ward off, expel or appease the malignant spirits of darkness and ill luck. The festival is usually linked with the return to Ayodhyā of Lord Rāma at the end of his fourteen-year exile. For the Hindus it is also an occasion for the worship of Lakṣmī, the goddess of good fortune, beauty and wealth.
Among the Sikhs, Dīvalī came to have special significance from the day the town of Amritsar was illuminated on the return to it of Gurū Hargobind (1595-1644) who had been held captive in the Fort at Gwālīor under the orders of the Mughal emperor, Jahāṅgīr (1570-1627). Henceforth Dīvālī, like Baisākhī, became a day of pilgrimage to the seat of the Gurūs. Bhāī Gurdās (d. 1636), in his Vārāṅ, XIX. 6, has drawn an image of "lamps lighted on the night of Divālī like the stars, big and small, twinkling in the firmament going out one by one bringing home to the gurmukh, one who has his face turned towards the Gurū, i. e. he who is attached to the Gurū, how transitory the world is. "
During the turbulent eighteenth century, it was customary for the roaming warrior-bands of Sikhs to converge upon Amritsar braving all hazards to celebrate Dīvālī. It was for his endeavour to hold such a congregation at Amritsar that Bhāī Manī Siṅgh, a most widely revered Sikh of his time, was put to death under the imperial fiat. Amritsar still attracts vast numbers of Sikhs for the festival and although all gurdwārās and Sikh homes are generally illuminated on Dīvālī night, the best and the most expensive display of lights and fireworks takes place at the Darbār Sāhib (Golden Temple), Amritsar.
S. S. Vañjārā Bedī