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Diwali: the Festival of Lights

4 min read

Diwali is the Indian “festival of lights”, a holiday that, in short, celebrates the triumph of good over evil.

This year, 2021, it will be celebrated on this day, November 4.

Though technically religious, it’s also become a cultural event that’s celebrated with sweets and traditional foods.
Also called Divali or Deepavali, it is literally a festival of lights that celebrates the triumph of light over dark and good over evil, as well as the blessings of victory, freedom, and enlightenment.
The name comes from Sanksrit dipavali, meaning “row of lights”.
On this night celebrants light dozens of candles and clay lamps (called diyas), placing them throughout their homes and in the streets to light up the dark night.

In most of India, it consists of a five-day celebration that peaks on the third day with the main celebration of Diwali.
On the first day, people clean their homes and create intricate rangoli, designs made of colored rice, sand, or flowers created on the floor of the home.
The second day is spent preparing or buying special food, especially sweets, called mithai, as well as praying for the spirits of ancestors in the afterlife.
On the third day, the main day of Diwali, families gather and celebrate by lighting lanterns and candles in their homes and in the streets, and by shooting off fireworks.
Traditions of the fourth day are different, but a common theme is the bond between husband and wife, so husbands will often buy their spouses gifts to celebrate.
The fifth day focuses on the bond between siblings, specifically between brother and sister.

In other places where Diwali occurs, usually only the main day is celebrated.
This holiday is primarily celebrated by followers of the Hindu, Sikh, and Jain faiths.
Among the Hindus, Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth and prosperity is worshipped on this day.
However, the holiday is celebrated throughout India, Singapore, and several other South Asian countries as a national holiday, meaning that people outside these religions may participate in Diwali celebrations, too.
Hindu, Sikh, and Jain communities in the United Kingdom, United States, Australia, and elsewhere around the globe also regularly celebrate Diwali.
It occurs annually in autumn (or spring, in the southern hemisphere), during the Hindu month of Kartik. And, to tell it in Western terms, Kartik begins around mid-October and ends in mid-November.
More specifically, Diwali occurs on the darkest day of the lunar month, which is the day of the new Moon, when the sky is at its darkest, so a big part of the celebration revolves around light.

These are the dates:
2021 – Thursday, November 4
2022 – Monday, October 24
2023 – Sunday, November 12
2024 – Friday, November 1

Because Diwali is celebrated by so many people worldwide, traditions are diverse, though there are a few common themes, including the lighting of candles and the gathering of families.
Candles, clay lamps, and oil lanterns are lit and placed throughout the home, in the streets, in areas of worship, and floated on lakes and rivers.
Fireworks are also set off on the night of Diwali, according to some to ward off evil spirits.
Another central theme of Diwali is family.
Wearing their best new clothes, families gather together to eat sweets and other special foods, light diyas (decorative oil lamps), and pray for their ancestors.
Businesses are generally closed (or close early) to allow workers to celebrate with their families, too.
The feast can be quite extravagant, with the table filled with special dishes and sweets.

There are various legends behind the celebration of Diwali, even within Hinduism, and each religion marks a different Diwali story and historical event.

In one of the main stories in Hindu mythology, Diwali is the day Lord Rama, his wife Sita Devi and brother Lakshmana return to their homeland after 14 years in exile. The villagers lit a path for Rama, who had defeated the demon king Ravana. And reenactments of this story are part of celebrations in some regions.

Another Diwali story in Hindu mythology is that Diwali marks the day Lord Krishna defeated the demon Narakasura and freed the people of his kingdom. After he slayed the demon, Lord Krishna declared it a day of festivities. In some parts of India, people burn effigies of the demon kings in both stories as part of the celebration.

People also celebrate the Hindu Goddess Lakshmi during Diwali. As the goddess of prosperity, wealth and fertility, the romantic Diwali story says that she chose Lord Vishnu, one of Hinduism’s most important deities, to be her husband on the night of Diwali.

In other cultures, Diwali coincides with harvest and new year celebrations.
But, in any case, no matter which Diwali story you celebrate, it’s always a day of new beginnings and light over darkness, and the easiest way to spread some Diwali cheer is by saying “Deepavalee mubarak ho”, meaning “Happy Diwali”.
You pronounce it “dee-wall-ee moo-bar-ak ho”.

And do you celebrate Diwali?
What traditions do you follow for the holiday, and what is your favorite?