Diwali, also known as Deepavali, is an Indian Festival of Lights celebrated for five days during the Hindu month of Kartika, which usually falls in either October or November of the Gregorian calendar. The festival is observed by people who practice Hinduism, but Jains, Buddhists, and Sikhs also have their Diwali traditions. It commemorates the victory of light over darkness.
Diwali is not a public holiday so schools and businesses remain open.
Being a festival of light, Diwali represents the triumph of good over evil. It is the most popular Hindu holiday among Indian communities in the United States.
The days of Diwali have an ancient history based in stories and myths of the Gods, such as the story of Lord Rama and his wife Sita returning to his people after 14 years of exile and the lights of the lamps being used to show his way home. Or the story of the beautiful Lakshimi, Vishnu who chose to marry her, and the lamps that were used to celebrate their marriage.
The festival lasts for five days. On each day a different God is highlighted and worshiped; and each day has a different name, with different rituals and significance:
Day 1 - Dhanteras. On this, the first day of Diwali week, people pray to and worship Yama Raj, the Lord of Death, hoping it brings safety and peace. People buy jewelry and golden objects to bring themselves, and husbands especially, good luck.
Day 2 - Choti Diwali. Meaning 'little Diwali', this day is spent preparing the home for the following day of Diwali, through decorations and lights. In some parts of India, it is also a day of cleansing, baths, and special face masks (called Ubtans).
Day 3 - Diwali. For many this is the most important day of the festival, it also marks the darkest night of the lunar month. The Goddess Lakshmi and Lord Ganesha are worshiped and celebrated in particular, with diyas (lamps) being lit to welcome Lakshmi, and with her the hope of prosperity and wealth.
Day 4 - Bali Pratipad? (Balipratipada or Padwa). This day is New Year in the Vikram Samvat calendar, used in parts of India and Nepal. For many people, it is a day of good fortune, and a celebration of the connection between man and wife, who will exchange gifts. The God Bali is worshipped during this day.
Day 5 - Bhai Dooj. This day celebrates the relationship between brother and sister. Siblings will exchange gifts and sweets, and they will have a meal together.
Diwali Customs and Traditions
During Diwali, Hindus will decorate their houses and temples with candles and lanterns to illuminate their exterior and interior. They may produce a pattern of petals and other materials, called a Rangoli, in their entrance ways.
They will dress in their newest, finest clothes. Men will wear a kurta (A traditional, smart collarless shirt) and dhoti (a traditional sarong). Women will decorate their hands and feet with patterned henna, or Mehndi.
As a festival of merriment and happiness, there are also fireworks and family feasts where people share sweets and gifts.
Diwali is a spiritual festival, so people offer worship (or puja) to the goddess Lakshmi, participate in prayers and give offerings to the gods.
How to Celebrate Diwali
During Diwali over a billion people take part in the celebrations. Almost every Hindu community will hold Diwali celebrations in schools, Hindu, and Indian organizations. Commemorations involve feasts, dancing, and colorful decorations. Outside of India, large celebrations of Diwali take place in the United States, in Times Square in New York; and also in the UK, Leicester, and London.