Although native to India, the Festival of Lights has become a global phenomenon, observed by millions of people each year. Diwali, or Deepavali in Sanskrit, means “a row of lights”, so glittering images of Indian streets lined with candles, lanterns and a kaleidoscope of colour are often what depict this uplifting festival. There is much more than meets the eye however— learn a bit more about Diwali and how it is celebrated here.
Coinciding with Hindu New Year, Diwali is always celebrated in October or November—the actual date varies year on year depending on the cycle of the moon. It is observed on the 15th day of Kartik, the holiest month in the Hindu lunar calendar. Diwali festival is celebrated over five days, with each day having a different meaning. The most well-known and important event is on the third day, the day of the new moon “Amavasya”, which falls this year on 7th November.
Celebrated by Hindus, Sikhs and Jains, Diwali is one of the most important festivals in Indian culture. Although the history and motivation of Diwali vary depending on your beliefs, the common theme that ties all faiths is that the event honours new beginnings and the triumph of good over evil. One of the most popular stories and roots of the festival is that of Lord Rama and his wife Sita, who are believed to have overcome the demon king Ravanna and returned to rule their kingdom in Northern India. When they returned after their many years in exile, their people lit lamps in celebration—this practice still prevails today.
Lighting lots of candles and small clay lamps, called “diyas”, at home, at the door and in the streets is one of the traditions that characterises the Festival of Lights. Much significance is attributed to light in Hindu culture; it signifies purity, goodness, good luck and power. Many believe that evil forces awaken in darkness; that light and evil forces can’t exist in unison. Lighting lamps symbolises the weakening of these dark forces, but also carries a more spiritual message of unity: one lamp has the power to light others, while retaining its own strength.
In addition to these candles and lamps, the festival is marked by huge firework displays. Again, legend has it that locals set off their own version of fireworks on Rama’s return. In the house, people adorn their floors with bright Rangoli artwork; intricate patterns created on the floor with colourful rice, powder or sand. These are usually inspired by nature and designed to guide Goddess Lakshmi, who represents wealth, fortune and prosperity, into their homes. Families gather to perform the “Lakshmi Puja”, an important ritual that is thought to help gain success and overcome poverty. Lakshmi is believed to visit the cleanest of homes first, so it’s customary to make sure your home is especially tidy before the third day. Even if you don’t celebrate Diwali, there’s no harm in a little seasonal spruce up—have a look at our useful guide for some tips.
Perhaps most importantly of all is how Diwali brings people together. Families and friends gather to feast, watch fireworks, and exchange gifts and Indian sweets which are closely associated with the festival. There is a lot of emphasis put on giving food and other goods to those in need, so that everyone in the community can enjoy the festivities.
If all this talk of light and its spiritual importance has you wanting to light up your darker spaces, have a look at our Glow In The Dark blog.