Every year, around October or November, Hindus, Sikhs, and Jains worldwide celebrate Diwali. Also referred to as Deepavali or the Festival of Lights, the five-day event, whose exact date is determined by the Hindu lunar calendar, dates back over 2,500 years. Hence, it should come as no surprise that Diwali, which will be commemorated from November 5 to November 9 this year, is India’s biggest and most significant holiday.
The fun begins with Dhanteras, which is dedicated to Goddess Laxmi and Lord Kubera, the two deities of wealth. To celebrate the occasion, worshippers pray for the prosperity, success, and well-being of their loved ones. They also welcome the two gods into their homes and businesses by decorating entrances with colorful lanterns and traditional temporary designs, or rangolis, created using materials like colored rice, lentils, flowers, and powder. Since making a purchase on this day is considered auspicious, many people head to the neighborhood shopping areas to treat themselves to beautiful jewelry, clothing, or household goods.
The second day of the festival is known as Kali Chaudas, or Narak Chaturdashi. For some, it is a day to abolish laziness and drive away demons or evil spirits from homes with traditional rituals. Others think of it as “Choti (small) Diwali” and use it as an excuse to start the festival celebrations early with feasts and fireworks. Regardless of their beliefs, everyone looks forward to Diwali which is observed on the third day.
Diwali celebrations begin early with a visit to a place of worship, such as a temple, to seek the blessings of the deities. After that, families and friends get together to exchange gifts and sweets. Those not satisfied with their shopping haul on the first day of the festival head to the malls to purchase additional items. As the sun sets, festival observers worldwide light up their homes with glittering diyas (small oil lamps) and share scrumptious, traditional food with their loved ones. For the residents of India, the real fun begins late in the evening when entire neighborhoods take to the streets to light up the skies with colorful fireworks. While the young revelers seek out sparklers, teens and adults prefer to light up bigger illuminations. The spectacular show continues until every last firecracker has exploded.
The folklore behind the origin of this ancient festival differ depending on the state. Some believe that Diwali was first celebrated by the residents of Ayodhya to mark the return of their king Rama, his wife Sita, and his brother Lakhsmana, after a 14-year-long exile imposed by the king's mother. Others believe it began following the taming of a goddess who, unable to control demons through conventional warfare, began a rampage that threatened to not only destroy the evil spirits, but also wipe out every living creature on Earth. It was only after her husband, Lord Shiva, intervened that she came to her senses and stopped. Though the tales may vary, they all celebrate the victory of good over evil!
For the residents of the western states of India like Gujarat, Diwali marks the end of the calendar year. On Thursday, November 8, they will welcome the first day of the year 2075. The 57-year gap between the Hindu and more familiar Gregorian calendar is due to their use of shorter lunar cycles. In the Northern state of India, the day is widely celebrated as Govardhan Pooja in honor of Hindu god Lord Krishna. The fifth and final day of the festival, celebrated by all, has been set aside to honor the bond between brothers and sisters and is celebrated with more delicious food and prayers.
For children in India, Diwali is similar to Christmas. 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 the festival ranks high among the country’s favorite celebrations.
Resources: About.com, BBCnews.com, huffingtonpost.com, in.lifestyle.yahoo.com