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What Is Diwali: Experience the Indian Festival of Lights

Diwali lanterns and lights strung above the street. For those in India (as well as members of the Indian diaspora around the world), the season of fall signifies one of the region’s most beloved and magical holidays.

Diwali, also known as the Festival of Lights, is a time for Hindus and other faiths alike to celebrate the triumph of good over evil, of lightness over darkness, and knowledge over ignorance. We're taking a virtual trip to India 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 the first millennium C.E. 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 [diwali], illuminating their path and representing their great victory. 

It’s one of the happiest holidays in the world

Thousands of floating lights illuminating a dark area.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 already preparing — 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

A hand, clad with bangles, lights one of the diyas (oil lamps) for Diwali.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. Although Diwali is celebrated differently depending on the region, here’s a snapshot of the activities from day one to day five to give you a small taste of the excitement at home:

Day one — Dhanteras 

Dhanteras is made up of two words: dhan [wealth] and teras [13th day]. According to The Times of India, Dhanteras falls on the 13th lunar day of Krishna Paksha [dark fortnight] in the month of Ashwin. Cleaning, shopping, decorating (traditional floor decorations called rangoli are typically made on this day), 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 these gods. 

Day two — Naraka Chaturdasi

Day two of the Diwali festival is also known as Kali Chaudas, where kali means 'dark' and chaudas means '14th day.' The preparations continue with the men applying perfumed oils before bathing, and afterward, clean or new clothes are worn. Families practice early morning religious rituals, make homemade pastries for the next few days, and houses are lit with oil lamps during the evening.

Day three —  Lakshmi Puja

The third day of Diwali is the main day of celebration 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 — who are the ones working hard all year long. The celebrations close out with loud fireworks displays while families enjoy the delicious sweets they spent hours preparing. 

Day four — 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 five — 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

RangoliRegardless 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 to the United States — are lighting their diyas in preparation for the big day.

Have you caught Diwali fever? Learn more about the Indian language courses that Mango offers. Whether it’s Hindi, Punjabi, Tamil, Urdu, Telugu, or Malayalam you’re sure to find a language course that suits you.

Ready to start learning? Click the button below to log in or create a profile and try a course for free! शुभ दीवाली [Happy Diwali]! 


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What intrigues you most about this holiday? Have you ever tried to learn Hindi or another Indian language? Let us know in the comments below or give us a shout-out on social! 

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Britta Wilhelmsen

Britta is a University of Michigan graduate, currently living and working in the vibrant city of Buenos Aires, Argentina. When she's not busy teaching English to business professionals or writing for Mango, you can find her enjoying the sun in one of Buenos Aires' beautiful parks and/or studying Spanish in her free time. Like many mangos, she believes that language consistently makes life more colorful.

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