The festival of lights is celebrated in the month of Kartik (October – November) on Krishna Chaturdasi. The moon rotates around the earth in 28 days. We have fourteen days of light and fourteen days of darkness, Krishna Chaturdasi is the darkest night of the dark period. It is associated with the cult of Kali.
The mythological background of this festival is many and varied. It is said that when Rama returned to Ayodhya after defeating Ravana in Lanka, the people of Ayodhya celebrated the event with lights and fireworks on Krishna Chaturdashi. In the month of Kartik, Narakasura, a demon, took into captivity all the gopinis ,(shepherdesses) of Brindavan and Mathura. Krishna was furious and in his anger he killed Narakasura. All the gopinis were rescued. The event was celebrated with lights and fireworks all over Mathura and Brindavan.
Yet again the story goes that the Gods wanted the ‘Amrit Kumbha’ so as to get the elixir of life and conquer death. They joined the demons in this venture. Mainak mountain was used as the churning rod and Basuki, the snake was twisted round the mountain to be used as the churning rope. The God and the demons began to churn the ocean in unison. The poison from Basuki vitiated the water and the demons became unconscious. It was then that the Amrit Kumbha arose from the water. The Gods drank and became immortal. This memorable event was celebrated with lights and fireworks by the Gods.
On the historical front we have Chandragupta II who took the name of Sakari Vikramaditya after conquering the Sakas. He returned to his capital Magadh in triumph. His subjects celebrated his great victory with lights and fireworks.
The sociological aspect of this festival is very interesting. We find evidences of the worship of Kali by the non – Aryan tribes – Katya, Kaushiki, Parnasabari and so on. The goddess Kali was worshipped on the darkest night of the month, i.e. on Krishna Chaturdashi to ward off death. She was perceived as someone faithful and naked. Darkness was her only apparel. Due to the darkness, the worship of Kali took place amidst illuminations. Crackers were burst to ward off evil spirits. With the passage of time, this festival entered into the Aryan cult of worship. Gradually the fearful appearance was replaced by different forms. Kali assumed different names in different regions. In Andhra Pradesh and in Karnataka she is Chamundeshwari, in Kanchi we have Kamakshi, Meenakshi in Madurai and further down South, she is Mukh Ambika. In the eastern region she came to be known as Mahakali.