Diwali, the Hindu Festival of Lights, is one of the most significant events on the Indian calendar. It is a celebration of the triumph of good over evil, and light over darkness. On the nights of Diwali each year, numerous Diya lamps and candles are lit, sweets are shared, gifts are given, homes are decorated, and firecrackers are set. Even though Diwali is mostly a Hindu festival, it is also celebrated by Jains and Sikhs, which means most of the Indian population gets involved.
Whether you have heard of the Festival of Lights or not, please take a look at what it is all about, and how and when it is celebrated.
What is Diwali?
Diwali is a religious holiday and a national Hindu festival that is characterized by the lighting of countless Diya’s (oil lamps). The festival is linked to the celebration of Lakshmi, the goddess of prosperity and wealth, and wife of deity Vishnu. The celebrations of Diwali are considered so important that many businesses are founded at this time of the year in the hope that the goddess will help them make a fortune. However, Diwali is not just about these festivities. It also marks the beginning of a new year for Hindus and hence it is an opportunity to encourage good fortune and remove negativity for the 12 months to come.
Even though the Festival of Lights is primarily a Hindu event, it is also celebrated by other religious communities including Jains and Sikhs. Because of this, there are regional and religious variations in the way it is celebrated. In general, Diwali signifies the triumph of knowledge over ignorance, light over darkness, and good over evil.
Origins of Diwali
The word “Diwali” originates from “Deepavali” – a Sanskrit word that means “row of lighted lamps”. Hence, the event is called Diwali because of the many Diyas (oil lamps) that are used to decorate public spaces and properties. This is also the reason why this event is commonly referred to as the Festival of Lights.
The Festival of Lights is surrounded by mythology. People from different regions and religions celebrate it. Because of this, there is no definitive answer to the question of when and why Diwali began. There are many legends and stories surrounding this festival, including that it’s a celebration of the marriage of the goddess Lakshmi and vanquishing of the demon Ravana by the hand of Lord Rama who returned after a 14 year long exile. According to the legend, the residents of Ayodhya (the capital of Rama’s kingdom) welcomed him by lighting rows of Diyas. That’s why lighting diyas is the key component of Diwali.
How is Diwali Celebrated?
The Festival of Lights is celebrated across five days. Each day involves different activities and rituals. Following are the key aspects of this festival:
Diwali is celebrated by people lighting up and decorating their homes, both inside and out. People light Diyas and place them inside their houses and use electric lights to decorate the exteriors elaborately. Diyas are lit inside as it is believed that they will help Lakshmi find her way into people’s homes. Many people leave the doors and windows of their houses open because of this belief.
Rangoli artwork is patterns created using coloured powder or rice. On Diwali, people celebrate the festival by creating this artwork. The most common pattern is the lotus flower because Lakshmi was often pictured either holding a lotus or sitting on one.
Spring-Cleaning and Redecoration
Diwali is also a time when people spring-clean and redecorate their homes as well as wear new clothes. Apart from Diyas, people celebrate Diwali by constructing colourful, elaborate displays using traditional designs, with mirrors, flowers, bells, lights, and other ceremonial objects to welcome the goddess of prosperity and wealth into their homes.
Foods, Gifts, and More
Food plays a key role during the Diwali, especially on the third day of the festival where families pray then feast. People make or buy dried fruits and sweets to share with friends and family to honour the occasion. Gifts are also exchanged. Diwali is also a time to offer charity. During the festival, many give goods and food to those who are less fortunate. Sweets are the food most associated with the Festival of Lights. Some favourite delicacies include Burfi, Besan Ladoo, Rasgulla, and Jalebi. Apart from these, traditional savoury snacks such as pakoras and samosas are also widely eaten during Diwali.
Diwali and Fireworks
Fireworks are an essential part of Diwali. Fireworks on this event are primarily used to display the range of colours and vibrancy rather than volume and effects. Large firework displays are quite common as they are used as a way to celebrate Lord Rama and his wife, Sita. The fireworks signify Rama’s return after exile and vanquishing of demon Ravana. The local people use their own version of fireworks.
Fireworks are an integral part of Indian culture. They are a symbol of triumph and celebration in many paintings from the 16th and 17th century. Fireworks are widely used on the first night of Diwali, illuminating the sky with different colours. Many cities honour the start of the event with an opening ceremony which ends with massive fireworks and spectacular display.
When is Diwali?
The date of Diwali changes every year because the day it is celebrated is calculated according to the Hindu lunar calendar and the position of the moon. The festival usually falls in either October or November. This year 2020, the Festival of Lights will begin on 14th November.
Diwali Around the World
Although Diwali is one of the biggest festivals in Indian culture, it is also celebrated around the world by millions of people. It’s an official holiday in India, Singapore, Malaysia, Sri Lanka, Nepal, and many other countries. In places like the UK, Australia, and Melbourne, Diwali is celebrated with street festivals and fireworks that are attended and spectated by tens of thousands of people. Other unique celebrations are held in countries like Guyana and Indonesia.