Starting Thursday, November 12, 2020, over a billion people worldwide will begin celebrating Diwali, the Festival of Lights. Also known as Deepavali, the ancient tradition, which dates back over 2,500 years, is observed by Indians of many faiths, including Hindus, Jains, Buddhists, and Sikhs. While the commemoration lasts five days, the most important day — the celebration's namesake — falls on the third day. This year, Diwali will be celebrated on Saturday, November 14, 2020.
The fun begins with Dhanteras, a day dedicated to Goddess Lakshmi and Lord Kubera, the two deities of wealth. Worshippers mark the occasion by praying for the prosperity, success, and well-being of their loved ones. They also invite the gods into their homes and businesses by decorating entrances with colorful lanterns and rangolis, patterns created using materials like colored rice, lentils, flowers, and powder. Since purchases are considered auspicious, many people treat themselves to beautiful jewelry, clothing, or household goods.
The second day, called Kali Chaudas, or Narak Chaturdashi, is observed in different ways. For some, it is a day to abolish laziness and drive away demons from homes with traditional rituals. Others think of it as “Choti (small) Diwali" and use it as an excuse to start the festive celebrations early with feasts and fireworks.
Diwali celebrations begin early on the third day with a visit to a place of worship, such as a temple, to seek the deities' blessings. Families and friends then get together to exchange gifts and sweets. Those not satisfied with their Dhanteras shopping haul head to the malls to purchase additional items. At sunset, festival observers worldwide light up their homes with glittering diyas — small oil lamps — and share delicious, traditional food with their loved ones.
For residents of India, the real fun begins late in the evening when entire neighborhoods take to the streets and light up the skies with colorful fireworks. Young revelers seek out sparklers, while teens and adults opt for more powerful illuminations. The spectacular show continues until every last firecracker has exploded.
In the western state of Gujarat, Diwali marks the end of the calendar year. On Sunday, November 15, 2020, residents will welcome the first day of 2077. The 57-year gap between the Hindu and our more familiar Gregorian calendar is due to the use of shorter lunar cycles. In India's Northern states, the fourth day is widely celebrated as Govardhan Pooja in honor of Hindu god Lord Krishna. The fifth and final day of the Diwali, observed by all, pays respect to the bond between brothers and sisters and is celebrated with more delicious food and prayers.
There are numerous folklore associated with the ancient festival. The most popular one credits it to residents of Ayodhya, who lit their homes with diyas to mark the return of King Rama, his wife Sita, and his brother Lakshmana from a 14-year exile imposed by the king's stepmother. Others believe Diwali celebrates the day Lord Krishna defeated demon Prince Narakasura and brought peace to earth. Though the tales may vary, they all celebrate the triumph of good over evil!
Diwali celebrations amid the coronavirus pandemic
The COVID-19 pandemic is forcing people to get more creative about celebrating the all-important festival. Shuttered temples are offering online prayer sessions allowing worshippers to commemorate the event from the safety of their homes. To make up for the cancellation of public events, some cities are planning to live stream fun activities like yoga, cooking tutorials, diya lighting, and a dance party. Since large gatherings are discouraged, many families are hosting virtual parties over Zoom or other online video sites to celebrate with their loved ones.
Resources: Wikipedia.com,telegraph.co.uk, USAtoday.com