Diwali, Deepavali or Dipavali is the Hindu festival of lights, which is celebrated every autumn in the northern hemisphere. One of the most popular festivals of Hinduism, Diwali symbolizes the spiritual "victory of light over darkness, good over evil and knowledge over ignorance.
Hindus interpret the Diwali story based upon where they live:
In northern India, they celebrate the story of King Rama's return to Ayodhya after he defeated Ravana by lighting rows of clay lamps.
Southern India celebrates it as the day that Lord Krishna defeated the demon Narakasura.
In western India, the festival marks the day that Lord Vishnu, the Preserver (one of the main gods of the Hindu trinity) sent the demon King Bali to rule the nether world.
In all interpretations, one common thread rings true—the festival marks the victory of good over evil.
The Five Days of Diwali
On the first day of Diwali, people consider it auspicious to spring clean the home and shop for gold or kitchen utensils.
On the second day, people decorate their homes with clay lamps and create design patterns called rangoli on the floor using colored powders or sand.
The third day is the main day of the festival when families gather together for Lakshmi puja, a prayer to Goddess Lakshmi followed by mouth-watering feasts and firework festivities.
The fourth day is the first day of the new year when friends and relatives visit with gifts and best wishes for the season. On the last day of Diwali, brothers visit their married sisters who welcome them with love and a lavish meal.
What is Diwali?
Diwali is the five-day festival of lights, celebrated by millions of Hindus, Sikhs, and Jains across the world. The festival, which coincides with the Hindu New Year, celebrates new beginnings and the triumph of good over evil and light over darkness. The actual day of Diwali is traditionally celebrated on the festival’s third day, which this year falls on Wednesday 7 November. The festival usually falls between the middle of October and the middle of November, although this is decided upon by the Hindu lunar calendar. While each faith has its own reason to celebrate the festival, one of the most popular stories told is the legend of Lord Rama and his wife Sita returning to their kingdom in northern India from exile after defeating the demon king Ravana in the 15th century BC.
How is Diwali celebrated?
The festival is marked by large firework displays, to remember the celebrations which, according to the legend, took place upon Rama’s return as locals set off their own version of fireworks. Those celebrating the festival also light traditional earthen diyas (candles) and decorate their houses with colorful rangoli artworks – patterns created on the floor using colored rice or powder. During Diwali, families, and friends share sweets and gifts and there is also a strong belief in giving food and goods to those in need. It is also traditional for homes to be cleaned and new clothes to be worn at the time of the festival.
What is eaten during Diwali?
The food most closely associated with the festival is Indian sweets, which come in a range of colors and flavors. The celebration, however, features various rich savory and sweet dishes, and while eating out is popular, families will mostly prepare food at home for when guests arrive to exchange gifts and watch fireworks. Unlike the traditional roast turkey at Christmas, each family celebrating Diwali will more than likely have its own favorite meal for the festival, and the food will most often play a central theme to the celebrations.
Dhanteras: The Tradition of Gambling
Some people refer to Diwali as a five-day festival because they include the festival of Dhanteras (than meaning "wealth" and teras meaning "13th"). This celebration of wealth and prosperity occurs two days before the festival of lights.
The tradition of gambling on Diwali also has a legend behind it. It is believed that on this day, Goddess Parvati played dice with her husband Lord Shiva. She decreed that whosoever gambled on Diwali night would prosper throughout the ensuing year.