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Festivals, most associated with religion, are an essential part of the Indian culture. There is rarely a week that goes by without some celebration. However, few are as widely observed as Diwali. Also known as Deepavali (row of lights), the joyous five-day ritual is the biggest and most anticipated of all Indian celebrations.
The festival, whose exact date is determined by the Hindu lunar calendar, is usually observed in October or November. This year, the celebrations began on Tuesday, October 17 with Dhanteras. On this day, businesses and households welcomed Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth and prosperity, by decorating their entrances with colorful lanterns and traditional temporary designs or Rangolis, “painted” using colored rice, lentils, flower petals or powder. Since shopping is considered auspicious on this day, many also headed to the nearest mall to treat themselves to some fine jewelry, clothes, or household items.
The second day of the five-day festival is called Kali Chaudas or Narak Chaturdashi. Some Hindus refer to it as “Choti (small) Diwali” and use it as an excuse to start the celebrations early with feasts and fireworks. Others use the day to drive away demons or evil spirits from homes with traditional rituals. No matter the belief, the focus is mainly on the following day — Diwali.
The celebrations begin with a visit to a place of worship, like a temple, to seek the blessings of the deities. Following that, families and friends visit each other to exchange gifts and sweets. Those that were unable to, or did not buy enough jewelry or clothes on the first day, make their way to the shopping malls. Once the sun sets, festival observers worldwide light up their homes with glittering diyas (small oil lamps) and share scrumptious Indian food with their loved ones. For those celebrating in India, the real fun begins late in the evening when everyone heads to the streets to light up their favorite fireworks. While the young seek out sparklers, teens and adults prefer more explosive illuminations. The spectacular show continues late into the night, until every last firecracker has exploded.
For some Hindus, Diwali also marks the end of the calendar year. On Friday, October 20, they will celebrate the first day of the year 2074. The 57-year gap between the Hindu and our conventional calendar is because it is calculated using the shorter lunar cycles. The fifth, and final, day of the festival honors the bond between brothers and sisters and is celebrated with more special food and prayers.
There are numerous myths associated with the origin of Diwali. Some believe the celebrations began in the ancient city of Ayodhya. According to the legend, the day marked the return of Prince Rama following a 14-year-long exile imposed by his step mother, who wanted her son to become king. Others believe the day marks Lord Krishna’s defeat of the demon Narkasura, who was causing great unhappiness in the world. Though the tales of the origin of the festival vary across India, they all teach one lesson – good always triumphs over evil.
For kids in India, the festival is similar to Christmas in western countries. In addition to a week off from school, they are also treated to gifts, new clothes, fantastic food and fireworks. It is no wonder that Diwali ranks pretty high on their list of favorite celebrations.