Diwali, or Deepavali, is one of the most important festivals in Hinduism. Commonly known as the Festival of Lights, Diwali is celebrated by Hindus all over the world. The festival is also marked by non-Hindus who live in countries with significant Hindu populations.
If you’re unfamiliar with Hinduism, you might be wondering what Diwali is all about. Here’s a handy introduction to Diwali, where we’ll answer common questions like:
- What is Diwali?
- When is Diwali?
- What is Diwali celebrating?
- How is Diwali celebrated?
- What are Diwali traditions?
What is Diwali?
Let’s start with the essentials. What is Diwali?
Diwali – also known as Deepavali – means ‘row of lights’ in the ancient Indian language Sanskrit. The festival symbolises the spiritual victory of light against darkness, knowledge over ignorance, and good over evil.
Diwali is celebrated by Hindus around the globe and includes the worship of deities like Lakshmi and the retelling of mythological stories such as Lord Rama’s return. The customary greeting during the festive season is “Shubh Deepavali,” meaning “have an auspicious Diwali”.
When is Diwali?
Diwali celebrations last for five days and are based on the Hindu lunar calendar, which shifts the dates between October and November each year. The exact date of Diwali varies from year to year, but it usually falls on the darkest night of the Hindu month of Kartik.
This year, Diwali is on 12 November with festivities beginning on 10 November.
What is Diwali celebrating?
Diwali is a celebration of the victory of good over evil and light over darkness. The festival has its roots in Hindu mythology.
One of the most popular stories is of Lord Rama, who defeated the evil demon king Ravana and returned to his kingdom of Ayodhya after 14 years in exile. The people of Ayodhya celebrated Rama’s return by lighting diyas (oil lamps) and decorating their homes with flowers and rangoli (intricate patterns made with coloured powder).
Diwali is also associated with the goddess Lakshmi, who is the goddess of wealth and prosperity. It’s believed that Lakshmi visits the homes of those who are pure of heart and rewards them with wealth and good fortune.
The five days of Diwali
Diwali is a five-day festival, and each day has its own significance and traditions. What are the five days of Diwali?
- The first day of Diwali, Dhanteras, is a day for cleaning the home, buying gold and silver, and praying to the goddess Lakshmi.
- On the second day, Naraka Chaturdasi, diyas are lit and homes are decorated with rangoli.
- The third day is the main day of Diwali, Lakshmi Puja, where families gather to perform puja for Lakshmi, followed by feasting and fireworks.
- The fourth day, Govardhan Puja, marks the first day of the new year for many where gifts are exchanged.
- The fifth day, Bhai Dooj, is for celebrating the bond between brothers and sisters.
How is Diwali celebrated?
How Diwali is celebrated can vary depending on the region and community. There are many different Diwali traditions, but here are some of the most common:
The most iconic Diwali tradition sees the lighting of diyas and candles to symbolise the victory of light over darkness. Traditionally, 13 diyas should be lit during Diwali. The number 13 is considered auspicious in Hindu mythology, and each diya has its own meaning.
Decorating the home
Decorating the home with brightly coloured rangoli, garlands, and flowers is central to the Diwali celebrations for many. Decoration is another way to bring light and colour into the home and welcome Lakshmi’s blessings.
Wearing and gifting new clothes is a Diwali tradition which symbolises new beginnings. New clothes are also thought to bring good luck and prosperity to the wearer.
Fireworks are a big part of the celebrations, and people often gather to watch fireworks together. Like diyas, lighting up the sky with fireworks represents the triumph of light over darkness and is believed to ward off evil spirits.
Food is one of the most important Diwali traditions for many. Families prepare special dishes and sweets to enjoy during the festivities. One of the most popular kinds of food for Diwali is mithai, traditional Indian sweets made from sugar, flour, milk, and nuts.
Puja is a worship ritual that involves offerings of flowers, fruits, and sweets to honour Hindu deities. During Diwali, people perform puja to Lakshmi and other deities to seek their blessings for wealth and prosperity.
It’s a common Diwali tradition to give your home a deep clean on the first day of the festival. This is to welcome the goddess Lakshmi in, as it’s believed she will only visit clean homes.
During Diwali, it’s traditional to exchange gifts like Ganesh coins, jewellery, dried fruits and idols with loved ones.
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