Diwali for Kids
By Tina Trikha
It is sometimes difficult to teach children about Indian mythology and the significance of festivals, because the stories are not always written in the most child-friendly manner. Of course, the five syllable names of several of the protagonists don’t make it easier.
Indian mythology is rich with stories that will spark a young child’s imagination and creativity, teach good lessons, and reinforce strong values. We are re-telling some of this Diwali story for kids to capture all their richness, but also make them interesting and intriguing to a five-year-old. (Some details of the story have been modified to make them easier to explain to a small child.)
A long time ago in a beautiful kingdom, there lived a king and his four sons. The four brothers were best friends; they were well-behaved, polite and caring and everyone in the kingdom loved them.
Several happy years went by and the boys became young men and even got married. But they remained close to each other, and continued to be loved by all for their kindness and good nature. Their father, King Dashrath, was extremely proud of all of them.
One day, the king was very sad. His oldest son, Ram, noticed and asked him why he was upset. The king told him that he had granted a wish to someone who had helped him in a time of need. As part of the wish, the person asked King Dashrath to send his oldest son to the forest for fourteen years.
King Dashrath was obviously very sad about having to send his son, Ram, away from him for so long. He couldn’t believe that his dear son, who had only seen the comforts of the palace, would have to live in the tough forest.
You may wonder if the King actually kept his word and granted the wish. After all, he could have easily refused. However, for kings in that time, keeping your word was more important than even keeping your life. Someone who lied and broke his promises would never be respected in the kingdom. Indeed, it would be a mark of great dishonor to break your word.
Ram was an obedient son, and would not even dream of asking his father to break his promise, even if that meant having to leave his home for fourteen years. He wiped his father’s tears and hugged him, and got ready to leave immediately.
As he was leaving, his wife, Sita, and his brother, Laxman, joined him, as they didn’t want him to be alone in the forest. It was a sign of how much Laxman loved and respected his older brother that he was willing to give up the luxuries of the palace for the dangers of the forest. All the people of the kingdom came out on the streets to bid a tearful goodbye to Ram, Sita and Laxman.
Ram, Sita and Laxman made their way towards the forest. They were also quite sad at having left behind all their family and friends. Today, when we are far away from our loved ones, we can stay connected with email, video chats and phone calls. However, at that time, none of these things existed. Not even the old fashioned telephone! There was no way for them to talk to anyone in the kingdom. In fact, even the postal mail system had not been set up and definitely would not be available in the forest.
The forest had many dangers with lots of animals and few places of shelter. Ram, Laxman and Sita were very brave. Over time, they made their own cottage in the forest and lived there peacefully while waiting for the fourteen years to pass. For food they ate the ample fruits that the forest provided and for company they befriended many of the gentle animals living in the forest.
Sometimes, there would be other people passing through the forest. Ram, Sita and Laxman were always good to them and helped them in any way they could – offering them water, fruit and a place to rest. Over time, legend began to spread about the kindness of Ram, Sita and Laxman.
This legend also spread to Lanka where the evil king Ravan ruled. He heard about the strength and courage of Ram and Laxman and the beauty of Sita. Ravan was very vain and was not happy that other people were praising Ram so much. He wanted to prove that he was stronger than Ram and that he could take the beautiful Sita as his wife. One day, he came to the small cottage in the forest where Ram, Sita and Laxman lived. He tricked Ram and Laxman into leaving their cottage, and while they were gone, he kidnapped Sita and took her back to his kingdom on his flying chariot.
Sita was scared, but she was clever. As Ravan was taking her to his kingdom she kept dropping small pieces of her jewelry along the way, so that Ram would know the path that they were taking. Ram and Laxman found her jewels and could figure out that Ravan had taken her towards Lanka; they left immediately to find her.
Along the way, they met Hanuman, a monkey god who had heard about Ram’s many kind deeds. When he found out that Ram’s wife was in danger, he offered his help along with that of his entire monkey army.
Ram, Laxman, and Hanuman led the army towards Lanka. Ravan heard that they were approaching and asked his army to get ready to fight them. He decided his younger brother, Kumbhakarna, would lead the army.
Now, Kumbhakarna was a very big man who weighed 500 kilos! That is how much 25 five-year olds would weigh together! It was certain that just seeing his size would scare most enemies. But Kumbhakarna had a weakness: he loved to feast on food and desserts. After a huge feast, he would feel very sleepy and then sleep for days on end. Nothing and no one could wake him up.
Ravan ordered a thousand alarm clocks, hundreds of drummers and trumpeters and several dozen elephants to make a lot of noise right next to his sleeping brother. The loud noise would have torn many eardrums! But all it did was make Kumbhakarna stir. Ravan ordered them to make the noise even louder. This time, Kumbhakarna woke out of his slumber, but he was very upset at being disturbed.
Kumbhakarna was just about to throw a royal tantrum when Ravan explained the situation to him. Immediately, Kumbhakarna decided to go into battle for his brother and fight against Ram.
Kumbhakarna reached the battlefield with his bows and arrows and started to attack Ram. But Ram’s brilliant archery was too powerful and Kumbhakarna was forced to retreat to his castle after losing all his arrows.
Ravan wasn’t happy about his brother’s defeat and decided to take matters into his own hands. He took a big supply of bows and arrows and headed to the battlefield. He was also a very well-trained archer; he and Ram had a long battle that day. For each arrow that Ravan sent, Ram launched a better arrow as a reply that would crush it in mid air. Several days went by with the two of them fighting. Ravan began to get very tired. As he reached for his last arrow, he tried to give it all his strength. However, once again, his arrow was defeated by Ram’s arrow. Ravan had to admit defeat. He folded his hands and begged for Ram’s forgiveness.
Ram asked him to free Sita immediately. Once Sita was back with them, Ram, Laxman and Hanuman started to head out of Lanka. The day that Ram defeated Ravan’s army is called Dussehra and it symbolizes the victory of good over evil. Sometimes, it is much harder to be good and to do the right thing, but Ram’s story tells us that victory comes to those who stay on the path of truth and kindness.
By now fourteen years had passed and it was time for Ram, Laxman and Sita to return home. Along with Hanuman, who was now their trusted friend, they headed back to their kingdom.
Word of their return spread through the kingdom and everyone came out of their homes to welcome their beloved princes and princess. To show their love and happiness they lit up the entire city with lamps and candles. That is where the term “Festival of Lights” comes from. The day that Ram, Laxman and Sita come back to their home after fourteen years in the forest is called Diwali. And that day is celebrated by bringing in light and joy into the city and into our homes.