Diwali, popularly known as the festival of lights, is celebrated all over India and around the world. The word Diwali derives from the Sanskrit word ‘Deepavali’, which translates to rows of lighted lamps. It symbolizes the dominance of light over darkness, good over evil, and it also marks the New Year. The five day festival falls which usually falls around October and November, is determined as the 15th day of the 8th month of the year known as Kartik as per the Hindu calendar. Along with worship to god and prayers, there are many traditions and rituals performed during Diwali, some of which include buying new clothes, gifting, drawing rangolis, dancing, eating traditional sweets and of course bursting of crackers and lighting diyas (oil lamps).
There are many different stories as to why Diwali is celebrated, which differ from region to region. The most prominent of them, mainly in northern India, is that it is the celebration of Lord Rama’s victory over the demon Ravana and his return along with Laxmana and Sita to Ayodhya, their home, after 14 years. The celebration included a pathway of lighted clay lamps or diyas, being the reason many Hindus do the same to celebrate the festival today.
In South India, Diwali is celebrated to symbolize Lord Krishna killing the evil king Narakasura, who held many captive in his kingdom. After Lord Krishna killed the demon, he freed those who were held captive, commencing the day of festivities.
In Western India, Diwali is celebrated worshipping goddess Lakshmi by drawing rangolis to welcome her into their homes. They also draw small footsteps of goddess Lakshmi around their house as a symbol of wealth.
In the Eastern parts of India, it’s celebrated as the victory of Goddess Parvati, who took the form of Kali in order to defeat the demon Bakasura. Here, Kali puja coincides with and is a big part of the Diwali celebrations.
Diwali is also celebrated within other religions. Within Jainism, Diwali is celebrated marking Lord Mahavira’s attainment of nirvana. Mahavira is the twenty fourth and final tirthankara, making the festival auspicious and important for Jains across India.
Diwali is celebrated in Sikhism commemorating the freedom from imprisonment of the sixth guru, Guru Hargobind who had been imprisoned along with 52 other princes by the Mughal emperor Jahangir. For the Sikhs, Diwali represents the struggle for freedom.
For the farmers, Diwali is also simply celebrated as a harvest festival and the commencement of the new year with brightness and lights.
During the 5 day celebratory period, each day has a certain significance, starting with Dhanteras, then Naraka Chaturdasi, Lakshmi Puja, Govardhan Puja and the last day Bhai Dooj.
On Diwali, people wear new clothes to symbolize a new beginning for the new year and leaving the past behind. It is one the main festivals that the traditional attire is donned by both men and women. It is also a time of sharing the joy with others and the exchange of traditional Indian sweets and dry fruits with friends and family.
Though there may be different traditions in different parts of the country what is common amongst all is the importance of light and traditional diyas, decorating the house with rangolis and bursting of crackers. However in the recent times, there has been a curb on crackers due to its harming effect on the environment. A growing number of eople have now chosen to celebrate the festival more responsibly and choose to spend Diwali more ecologically.
Diwali is a time of joyous new beginnings, delicious food, coming together in harmony no matter how we choose to celebrate it!