We’re nearing the end of October, and for many of us here in the United States, that means hot cider, Halloween costumes, and ghost stories. For those in India (as well as Indian diaspora all over the world), this time of year signifies one of the region’s most beloved and magical holidays.
Diwali (festival of lights) is a time for Hindus and Buddhists alike to celebrate the triumph of good over evil, of lightness over darkness, and knowledge over ignorance. We took a virtual trip to India this month to bring you a few of Diwali’s best highlights.
First, a little background on the festival, a tradition deeply rooted in the legends of Hindu religious scriptures. Descriptions of Diwali were found in ancient Sanskrit texts dating back to before the first millennium A.D. While the legends do vary in terms of storyline and characters, the central theme of good prevailing over evil is dominant in all historical texts.
One of the most popular Diwali legends taken from Hindu mythology tells the story of great warrior Lord Rama and his wife, Sita. Both were sent into exile by Rama’s father, King of Ayodhya, but were able to return to their kingdom after 14 long years. While in exile, Rama defeated the formidable demon Ravana of Lanka – proving to the Hindu people that Good will always defeat Evil. Once Lord Rama and his wife returned to their hometown of Ayodhya, they were greeted with rows of lighted clay lamps, illuminating their path and representing their great victory. Below, you can see an illustration featuring both Lord Rama and Sita.
It’s one of the happiest holidays in the world.
Any festival centered around the power of goodness and light is a festival worth celebrating in our book. Weeks before the holiday begins, Indian families are deep in the throes of preparation — cooking, cleaning, and decorating their homes with colorful textiles and designs. Did we mention shopping? Diwali is fondly known as the “Christmas” of the east, in that it’s one of the biggest shopping days of the year in both India and Nepal. People flock to the local stores to stock up on sweet snacks, thoughtful gifts for family members, and even shiny new cars. One thing is for certain: Diwali is first and foremost a time to celebrate compassion towards others, and we can definitely get on board with that.
Each day brings something new.
Just when you thought it couldn’t get any better, the festivities last a total of five joyous days, each having its own unique significance. Here’s a snapshot of the activities from Day 1 to Day 5 to give you a small taste of the excitement at home.
Day 1 - Dhanteras
Cleaning, shopping, decorating, and home renovations are what the first day’s all about. This day also marks the birth of two important deities: Lakshmi, the Goddess of Wealth and Prosperity, and Dhanvantari, the God of Health and Healing. People typically arrange diyas (lamps) around their homes that burn throughout the night to honor them.
Ghughra, a traditional Indian pastry commonly served for Diwali celebrations. The importance of food is certainly not forgotten during this festive time.
Day 2 - Naraka Chaturdasi
The preparations continue, with traditional floor decorations called rangoli typically being made on this day. Families practice early morning religious rituals and make homemade pastries for the next few days.
Day 3 - Lakshmi Puja
The main day of Diwali has finally arrived, and Lakshmi, the Goddess of Wealth and Prosperity that we met earlier, is the guest of honor. Since it is believed that she visits earth on this day, people around India welcome her into their homes by opening their doors and arranging lighted clay lamps on windowsills and balconies. This is a day to celebrate friendships, strong relationships, and mothers - the ones who work hard all year long. The celebrations close out with loud fireworks displays while families enjoy the delicious sweets they spent hours preparing.
Day 4 - Padwa, Balipratipada
Today, the relationship between husbands and wives is the main focus. Men give gifts to their spouses to symbolize their love and devotion, while newly married couples are also typically recognized with special meals.
Day 5 - Bhai Duj, Bhaiya Dooji
The last day of the festival in India is a day for honoring the close bond between siblings. Women come together and pray for the well-being of their brothers, and additional gifts are given as tokens of appreciation. Sometimes, family members travel long distances just to be with their siblings on this day.
Celebrating Diwali around the world.
Regardless of the specific region, the central theme of Diwali remains the same: the victory of goodness, truth, and light over adversity. Although it has its roots in Hinduism, today it’s a holiday that transcends religion while bringing friends and family together in the name of love. Indian people around the world - from Australia and Pakistan to the United Kingdom and the United States - are lighting their diyas this month in preparation for the big day.
Have you caught Diwali fever? Check out one of the hundreds of events happening in the United States, or learn more about the Indian language courses that Mango offers. Whether it’s Hindi, Punjabi, or Tamil, you’re sure to find a language that suits you - and what better time to start learning than during the month of Diwali. Find out if Mango Languages is offered at a library near you for free, and let us do the rest. हैप्पी दीवाली (Happy Diwali)!