Diwali is known as the Festival of Lights, and invoking the power of Lord Ganesha, the Hindu deity who is believed to be the remover of obstacles and harbinger of auspicious times, is a must during this festival. Hindu mythology also suggests that Diwali was the day when Lord Rama returned to his homeland of Ayodhya after 14 years of exilewhich is why people lit lamps and welcomed the rightful king home on this day, a tradition that is followed even today.But did you know that its not just the male deities of Lord Ganesha and Lord Rama who hold immense significance during Diwali? Two goddesses, Lakshmi and Kali are also worshipped in different parts of India during the festival of Diwali. In fact, while Lakshmi Puja is the key ritual of the third day of Diwali, the rituals of Kali Puja are what people in Bengal, Odisha and Assam follow on the same day, at roughly the same time! What is it about the third, primary day of the Diwali festival that makes the celebration of these goddesses vital? Lets find out.Lakshmi: The Gem Who Emerged From Samudra ManthanAs described in the Vishnu Puran, the celestial venture of Samudra Manthan was a key moment in Hindu mythology. Lord Vishnu took his second avatar, Kurma or the celestial tortoise, held the mountain of Mandar on his back, while the Devas and Asuras churned the ocean to extract the nectar of immortality, Amrit. But before the nectar was extracted, 13 other gems or Ratnas also emerged due to the churning process. Goddess Lakshmi was one of them.In fact, it is believed that Lakshmi and Kuber emerged almost at the same time during Samudra Manthan, that too on the day of Dhanteras, which is the first day of Diwali. Both the Devas and Asuras fought over whose loot Lakshmi was, until the moment that Lakshmi appealed to Lord Brahma and Vishnu to intervene on her behalf. Brahma intervened and informed the Devas and Asuras that while both parties could propose to Lakshmi to join them, the right to deny or accept such a proposal lay with only the goddess herself.Yes, there is a very empowering message here for all women. When Brahma asked the Devas and Asuras to not treat Lakshmi as an inanimate object or a property to own, and told them to bow down in front of her choice of a mate, he also introduced the concept of Swayamvara ritual through which a woman chooses her husband on her own terms. When the first Swayamvar was held for Lakshmi to choose her consort, she chose Vishnu. In a way, this story highlights the agency and right to consent that was afforded to Lakshmi, and to all women.In many parts of the country, it is this union of Lakshmi and Vishnu that is believed to be the basis of Lakshmi Puja on Diwali. Of course, its a celebration of the Goddess of Wealth. But is it not also the celebration of a womans right to consent and her right to make her own choices in life?Kali: The War Goddess Motherly WorshipDark skin, unkempt wildly flowing hair, four arms equipped with weapons of destruction, and trickles of blood all around her denoting that shes just won a big victory after battling hardthat is the popular iconography of Kali were all familiar with. Kali might be the goddess of time, doom and death in Hindu mythology, but she has emerged over time as a feminist icon who battles evil and protects her worshippers from it. She is believed to be one of the most brilliant embodiments of the ultimate feminine power, Shakti. It would be wrong to assume that Kali is only worshipped in East India, because Shakta traditions from South India also hail her as Bhadrakali, the protector of the good. But the celebration of Shyama Puja or Kali Puja did originate in Bengal in the 16th Century.The origin of Kali Puja is attributed to the 16th Century Tantric scholar, Krishnananda Agamavagisha. It is widely believed that this scholar dreamt of Kali one night, and the goddess asked him to worship her not only as the mother of death and destruction of evil, but the mother of all things good. Agamavagisha was apparently shown the milder, domesticated and motherly form of Kali, which is why he initiated the worship of Kali on the night of Diwali, a tradition which is followed to this day.Other legends, however, date this worship of Kali back to the 6th Century BC. This is because the key mention of Kali was in the Devi Mahatmya section of the Makandeya Puran. As per this story, Kali was engaged in a ferocious battle against demons in her fury incarnate form. After vanquishing all her opponents, Kali started a furious victory dance which made the entire planet tremble. Fearing the goddess would destroy everything, the Devas asked Lord Shiva to intervene. Shiva lay down in front of her, and Kali accidentally stepped on him. Realising her mistake immediately, Kali stuck out her tongue and calmed down. This entire chain of events reportedly occurred on the Amavasya night of the month of Kartik, making it the night when Kalis victory over evil is celebrated through Kali Puja.No matter which story you believe in, the origin of Kali Puja explains that by worshipping Kali on the night of Diwali, you too can be blessed with the power to defeat all evil. Combine the same occasion as the time to worship Lakshmi, and you may understand why Diwali is not just the celebration of the victory of good over evil, but a time to celebrate the power of femininity in its most remarkable forms as per Hindu mythology.