Understanding Diwali, the Festival of Lights
Posted by: Priyanka Guha, Senior Manager, Client Services
It’s About Light
Every year, Indian communities all over the world celebrate Diwali, the Festival of Lights, with much fanfare. Diwali is a five-day festival that celebrates the triumph of light over darkness, knowledge over ignorance, and hope over despair. The origin of the word ‘Diwali’ is from the Sanskrit word ‘Deepavali’ where ‘deepa’ means ‘light’ and ‘vali’ means ‘row’; thus a row of lights, which is exactly what is seen in homes during this time—rows of light in celebration of the festival.
This festival is celebrated on Amavasya or ‘no moon’ day and heralds the dawn of a New Year according to the Hindu calendar. Celebrated by Hindus, Sikhs, and Jains, each of these groups honor some historical figure and significance. Whatever one’s belief, it is a celebration of good over evil and heralds new, positive beginnings.
In the Indian culture, there was a time when there used to be a festival every day of the year—365 festivals in a year! The idea behind this was to make our whole life into a celebration. Today, maybe only thirty or forty festivals remain. We are not able to celebrate even those, so people usually celebrate only around eight or ten festivals annually. Diwali is an official holiday in India, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Myanmar, Mauritius, Guyana, Trinidad & Tobago, Suriname, Malaysia, Singapore, and Fiji. However, the largest Diwali celebration outside of India takes place in Leicester, England’s Golden Mile section.
The Festival of Lights does just that―light up the homes and hearts of communities all over the world. During the five-day period, people’s homes are lit up by ‘diyas’ (earthen candles or small clay lamps), and the exteriors are often decorated with electric lights. Inside the home, one will find intricate rangoli art, which are patterns on the floor created by either rice or coloured powder. Neighbours exchange gifts, and the emphasis is often on sweets, dried fruit, and other gifts. It is also a time to share with those in need and give freely to members of the community who have little.
The air is rich with the smell of incense, the acrid smell of burning crackers, and the aromas coming from the kitchen. The celebration features various rich savoury and sweet dishes, and while eating out is popular, families will mostly prepare food at home for when guests arrive to exchange gifts and watch fireworks.
To some, Diwali celebrations are loud and colorful, with people vying for who has the loudest and brightest firework! For some, Diwali means the annual cleaning and decorating of the house. And for some, it means the last bit of sweets, the end of an array of Hindu celebrations before you start dieting to get into that evening gown on New Year’s Eve!
May this festival of lights bring you peace, prosperity, success, health and great happiness!