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Diwali celebration in India and abroad
October 30, 2016, 10:20 am

Diwali, a festival every Indian looks forward to every year, is also known as the Festival of Lights and is believed to eradicate darkness and despair from the world. People in different regions and among various communities in India, as well as in some countries abroad, celebrate Diwali in their own unique.

According to one belief, Diwali marks the day that Lord Rama, who had been exiled to the forest for 14 years, returned to his kingdom of Ayodhya. To welcome him back, his subjects lined the streets of the kingdom holding small auspicious oil lamps called diyas. Among some communities, Diwali marks the arrival of Goddess Kali, while elsewhere, it marks the day that ancestors descent from heaven to be with their families.

Here, we look at how Diwali is celebrated in some regions and communities in India and abroad.

Eastern India : In the eastern region of the country, Diwali is celebrated with great fanfare. In Orissa, oil lamps, candles and lanterns are lit and placed in rows around individual homes. Crackers are burst, sparklers lighted and gifts and sweetmeats distributed by people across the state.

The celebration here is almost like anywhere in India save for one ritual that calls upon the spirits of the family's forefathers. A primitive custom in this festival includes burning of jute stems to light up the dark path that the spirits of the ancestors supposedly take to go back to heaven. Most of the houses are brightly lit and the doors and windows kept open to welcome Goddess Lakshmi, who is supposed to visit every home during this time and ignores all places that are kept dark and abandoned.

Kali Puja, West Bengal: In West Bengal and eastern India, Diwali is celebrated to welcome the arrival of Maa Kali, avatar of Goddess Durga. Bengalis worship Goddess Kali for three days and celebrate the
occasion by lighting up entire localities, bursting crackers, meeting kin and spending time with friends. In some parts, animals are also sacrificed to appease the deity. People observe fast and also worship Goddess Lakshmi, the deity of wealth.

Diyari, Sindhi: The Sindhi community in India and abroad celebrates Diwali under the name of Diyari and they have a different custom. They wash gold and silver coins in milk before worshipping the Goddess Lakshmi. After the Puja, they tap the coin against their teeth and chant the phrase - "Lakshmi aayi, danat vaai", which means Lakshmi arrived, poverty went away.

Bali Pratipada, North India: Bali Pratipada is observed on the third day of Diwali. This custom is celebrated throughout North India. According to Hindu mythology, this day marks the one-day return of the demon king, Bali. Lord Vishnu had reincarnated as his fifth avatar Vamana and banished Bali to 'patal loka' or the nether world. However, due to Bali's relentless devotion towards Vishnu, the Lord took pity on him and granted him one day to visit the world every year.

Kauriya Kathi, Odisha: One of India's most culturally diverse state, Odisha, celebrates Diwali in a different way. During Kaunriya Kathi, the people of Odisha burn jute sticks to invite their ancestors who are said to descend from heaven on the day of Diwali, as the sun begins to move towards the Tropic of Capricorn.

Western India : In the western states of India, Diwali is a four-day festival, the preparations for which begin at least 15 days in advance.

The markets liven up almost a whole month in advance for Diwali shoppers and the shopping frenzy peaks with the advancement of the occasion. On the night preceding Diwali, Gujaratis start celebrations by creating designs depicting images associated to the festival like deities, sun and flowers from natural powder colors (called ‘Rangoli’) in their verandas. Images of small footprints are also drawn over individual doorsteps which are supposed to be a way of inviting Goddess Lakshmi to the house.

On the first day, Narakchaturdashi, fruits are smashed and crackers burst to symbolize the killing of the evil demon Narakasur. On Lakshmi Pujan, the second and most important day of Diwali, Hindu homes all over the western region of India worship the idols of Lord Ganesh (deity of auspiciousness and wisdom) and Goddess Lakshmi (deity of wealth and prosperity) or symbols of them like currency notes and gold. The third day, Padawa, is considered to be one of the most auspicious days of the year in states like Maharashtra, and is held to be propitious for beginning any important task. This is the day for shopping, lighting diyas (earthen lamps) and performing tilak ceremony.

In Gujarat, this is the New Year day when people visit each other to wish a new beginning. Bhau Beej is the last day of the festival that signifies sibling bonding and the celebrations during this day is quite akin to Rakhi, another great Indian festival standing for the brother-sister relationship. Unlike Raksha Bandhan however, which is a day dedicated to brothers, Bhau Beej is dedicated to sisters. 

Southern India: In Southern India, Diwali is celebrated in the Tamil month of aipasi (thula month) 'naraka chaturdasi' thithi, preceding amavasai. Naraka chaturdashi is the main day of the Diwali celebrations in this area. The preparations begin the day before, when the oven is cleaned, smeared with lime, religious symbols drawn on it and then filled with water for the next day's oil bath. Individual homes are washed and decorated with kolam designs (similar to rangoli patterns in North India).

Firecrackers and new apparels are kept on a plate to be used on the following day. On the morning of Naraka chaturdashi, the actual celebrations begin with an early morning oil bathe before sunrise. Afterwards, sweets are eaten and new clothes are worn. 

A unique Diwali custom in Tamil Nadu is the once-in-a-lifetime event, Thalai Deepavali, when newlyweds spend their first Diwali after marriage in the bride's parental home. The newly married couple, after taking blessings from the elders, burst the first crackers of the day and thereafter pays a visit to the temple, receive gifts of clothes and jewelry, savor the sweets reserved for them and receive blessings of elders for a happy married life. In this joyful occasion, the groom's parents and relatives also come down to join in the celebrations. 

In Maharashtra, Diwali is celebrated over a span of four days. The first day, Vasubaras, is celebrated by performing an Aarti (prayer with songs) of the cow and its calf- which represents the love between a mother and her baby. The next day is Dhanatrayodashi or Dhanteras, a special day for tradesmen and business people for new account books are opened by them after a worship of Lord Ganesh and Goddess Lakshmi. On the third day, Narakchaturdashi, people get up before sunrise and take a bathe after rubbing scented oil on their body. After this, the entire family visits a temple and offers prayers to their God. Following this, everyone feasts on Faral, a special Diwali preparation consisting of delicious sweets such as "karanji" and "ladoo" as well as some spicy eatables like "chakli" and "sev". The fourth day is Lakshmi pujan day, a new moon day, the dark night of which is illuminated by lamps and fireworks. In every household, an idol of Goddess Lakshmi and items of wealth like currency and jewelry are worshipped. Friends, neighbors and relatives are invited over and celebrations are in full swing. 

In many other countries such as Nepal, Mauritius, Malaysia, Indonesia, Myanmar, Singapore, Sri Lanka,  Japan, Thailand, South Africa, Kenya, Tanzania, Britain, Australia, Guyana, Surinam and Fiji, Diwali is celebrated as thousands of Indians have been staying in these countries for several generations.

Tihar, Nepal: The festival of Diwali is called Tihar in Nepal. The only Hindu kingdom in the world celebrates Diwali much differently than Indians. However, they too worship Goddess Lakshmi during Diwali. The festival continues for five days in Nepal. Each day is dedicated to a specific ritual.

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