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Diwali – Festival of Lights
October 14, 2017, 5:15 pm

One great attribute of Indians is their strong attachment to the rich culture and history of their country. Regardless of where they find themselves in the world, when the time comes to celebrate the multiplicity of religious, cultural or historic events, both big and small, that dot India's festival calendar, Indians are in a league of their own. Indians from all walks of life come together at these traditional festivals, appreciating and celebrating with a vibrancy and gusto that has to be seen to be believed. Diwali, or the festival of light, which this year falls on October 19, is one such significant festival that brings Indians together in a joyous spirit of sharing, friendship and oneness.

Diwali or Deepawali gets its name from the words ‘deepa’, which means lamp and ‘avali’, which signifies a row, or the ‘row of lamps’ that are traditionally placed inside and outside homes. The lighting of lamps on Diwali, which falls on the darkest new moon night, traditionally served as a symbolic gesture of driving away the darkness and beseeching religious blessings for an auspicious year ahead.

Though various religious communities in India, including the Sikhs, Jains, Newar Buddhists and Hindus, celebrate Diwali to mark diverse events, the overarching theme of the festival is the triumph of good over evil. The Sikh community marks Diwali as Bandi Chhor Divas to celebrate the release from imprisonment of Guru Hargobind Ji, the revered Sixth Guru of the Sikhs. The Jain community, celebrate this auspicious occasion as the spiritual awakening of Lord Mahavira. 

Even among Hindus, Diwali signifies different meanings to people in different parts of the country. In Northern India, Diwali is celebrated as the return of King Ram to Ayodhya after defeating the demon-king Ravana, which is also why it is a popular practice to burn effigies of Ravana in the north. In the western parts of India it is Lord Vishnu’s decision to send the demon King Bali to rule the nether world that is cause for celebration of Diwali. In the east, devotees offer prayers to the goddess Kali on the day. And, down south, the day celebrates the victory of Lord Krishna over the demon Narakasura.

This has resulted in Diwali being celebrated in different parts of the country with a variety of customs and traditions, along with the meanings associated with them. But no matter how it is celebrated, the unifying motif and the sense of fervor and enthusiasm behind Diwali, is the triumph of good over evil, of knowledge over ignorance, of hope over despair and the overcoming of darkness with the light that symbolizes the path to wisdom, peace and prosperity for Indians everywhere.

Some of the more common traditions of Diwali involve the lighting of earthen lamps and drawings of ‘rangoli’, or colorful designs made from powder, grains, flowers and chalk, inside and outside homes and offices. This is a welcoming gesture to Goddess Lakshmi, believed to be the Goddess of wealth, as she visits homes that are clean, well lit and decorated, and blessing the residents with luck and prosperity in the coming year. According to legend, Lord Ram was welcomed to Ayodhya after his exile of fourteen years with lights and color, the spirit of which is carried out by Indians even today.

Card games are popular during this festival, as it is considered a prosperous time of the year, where friends and families gather to play and try their luck at winning, with the belief that the Goddess of Wealth is a part of their celebrations. This also encourages spending within families, whether in the form of purchasing gifts for one another or new clothes, food and household goods for themselves.

Other rituals are also observed in towns and villages across India during Diwali and include the celebration of the strong bond shared between a brother and sister on the last day of the festival, called ‘Bhai Dhooj’. On this day, sisters cook for their brothers, who in turn bestow them with gifts and blessings.

The days leading up to Diwali stir various activities within households, as family and friends come together to cook, clean and decorate their homes in time for the upcoming festivities. The tradition of making and sharing mithai (sweets) among family and friends is one that is anticipated by many, as is the bursting of firecrackers, especially among children.

It is no surprise therefore that the festival of Diwali fills Indians everywhere with excitement. If there is any time of the year to experience the richness and vibrancy of Indian culture and history, the strong ties shared among family and friends, and to taste the most delicious sweets, Diwali would definitely be it. 


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