Diwali (pronounced Di-val-ee) is often called the Festival of Lights and is the most important holiday of the year in India. During this holiday, the whole country gets into a joyous and festive mood while they prepare to celebrate with rituals, decorations, great food, gifts, clay oil lamps, and beautiful firework displays.
The most iconic image of Diwali is the lit diya or small clay oil lantern. If you visit India during this holiday, you will see streets lined with diyas as people light the way for Lord Rama to return home or for Goddess Lakshmi to bring them prosperity.
So what is Diwali?
Diwali is a festival that celebrates the victory of light over darkness and triumph of good over evil in Indian mythology. The holiday is celebrated over 5 days and includes many traditions. The word Diwali comes from the Sanskrit word Deepavali which means 'row of lights' and refers to the holiday's many diyas and glowing decorations.
This holiday is very important to most Indians and is a time to gather with extended family for a large meal. Most households spend a few days preparing homemade sweets leading up to the holiday so they can give them to any visitors who stop by.
Although it is considered to be a mostly Hindu festival, Jains and Sikhs celebrate it too. For Jains, this holiday is the celebration of one of their most revered leaders attaining Nirvana. For Sikhs, it is the celebration of Guru Hargobind's release from prison.
Diwali is also celebrated in Nepal as Tihar Festival.
Diwali, like many Indian holidays, is based on their lunar calendar so the date of the festival changes each year, but it typically falls in late October or early November.
The festival takes place on the night of the new moon after the summer harvest. This is considered to be the darkest night of the year according to the Hindu lunisolar calendar and is very holy.
Diwali lasts for a period of 5 days and the 3rd day is the main day of celebrations. Diwali 2021 will be from November 2 to 6 and the main day of celebrations falls on Thursday, November 4.
Click here for more details on Diwali dates and the Indian calendar..
There are many different traditions that surround the celebration of this holiday. Overall, it is considered an important time for introspection, cleansing, and gathering.
Certain Hindus consider Diwali to be the start of a new year and use it as a time to get rid of the negativity of the past and perform rituals to bring luck and prosperity for a new year.
So, before the festival, people go out to Diwali markets and buy gold, silver, kitchenware, and other auspicious items to decorate their homes and new clothes to wear on the main day of celebrations. This is symbolic of getting rid of the old and bringing in the new.
Diwali is also a large family celebration that often involves extended families coming together for a large meal and the exchange of presents.
During the main day (the third day of celebrations), families get together and the cities fill with lights and fireworks. Everyone puts on their most beautiful traditional clothing and takes a cleansing bath in the morning. In the evening, extended families come together for large meals, the diyas are lit, and a ritual is performed for the goddess Lakshmi.
The fourth day of the festival is dedicated to celebrating the love between husband and wife. Men will often buy gifts for their wives on this day.
On the fifth day, families gather together to celebrate the special bond between brothers and sisters in a beautiful ceremony. During the ritual, sisters perform prayers and wish for the well-being and success of their brothers while tying a special bracelet called a rakhi around the brother’s wrist. In return, brothers often give gifts and sweets to their sisters and promise to protect them.
Diwali is the largest holiday of the year in almost every region of India, but each community celebrates Diwali for its own reasons and have some have their own unique cultural nuances. Some of the most vibrant places to visit during Diwali are Varanasi, Jaipur, and Delhi.
In Varanasi, check out the Ganges River as it glows with thousands of floating clay lanterns called diyas.
In Jaipur, the Nahargarh Fort offers amazing views of the illuminated city below.
In Delhi, spend the day in the Diwali markets shopping for sweets, traditional clothing, and lanterns.
The traditional greeting that is often said on Diwali is 'Shubh Deepavali' or 'Diwali ki Shubhkamnayein'. Both greetings directly translate to 'have an auspicious Diwali'.
It has also common for Indians to greet each other by just saying 'Happy Diwali'.
On the holiday, many people send electronic greeting cards to their friends and family wishing them a happy holiday. If you're in India for the holiday, you can also send greeting cards via Whatsapp, India's preferred method of communication.
Below are some hand-picked Diwali wishes and greetings for your reference:
Food is a major part of the celebration of Diwali. During the festival, friends and relatives exchange Indian sweets. These sweets can be homemade or bought in markets.
Some of the most popular Diwali sweets include laddoos (a round pastry made from flour, butter, and sugar), barfi (white creamy bars made from condensed milk, sugar, and nuts), kheer (sweet rice pudding).
Learn more about what foods to try in India during Diwali.
The main decoration for Diwali is diyas or clay lanterns. These lanterns are often small and shaped like a bowl and hold oil that will burn through the night.
Other important Diwali decorations include intricate floor patterns called rangoli, paper lanterns, candles, door hangings, marigold garlands, and string lights.
Learn more about how India decorates for Diwali.
Because Diwali is celebrated by so many different religions and is surrounded by many myths, it is very difficult to know exactly when and where the festival began. Most researchers believe the festival is more than 2,500 years old and that the holiday is a fusion of many different ancient festivals into one large harvest celebration.
There are many legends and stories that surround Diwali and each region of India believes in a different one. For most Indians, this festival celebrates the birth of the goddess Lakshmi who is said to have emerged from the ocean on the new moon night of the Hindu month of Kartik.(the 8th lunar month).
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