Diwali, the Festival of Lights, is one of the major holidays observed by Hindus, Jains, Sikhs, and some Buddhists. The celebration, which dates back over 2,500 years, is a time of joy, unity, and spiritual reflection. While the dates vary annually based on the Hindu lunar calendar, Diwali usually occurs in October or November. This year, the festival will be marked from November 10 through November 14, 2023.
There are numerous legends associated with the origin of Diwali. One of the most popular ones is from the Hindu epic Ramayana. It recounts the tale of Lord Rama's return to Ayodhya after defeating the demon king Ravana. The people of Ayodhya welcomed the king by lighting lamps and fireworks. Another folklore credits the festival to Lord Krishna's victory over the demon King Narakasura. Though the tales vary, they all celebrate the triumph of good over evil and light over darkness.
This year's festivities will begin on November 10 with Dhanteras. The day is dedicated to the Hindu deities of wealth and good fortune. It is marked with prayers for the family's well-being and prosperity. Other customs include decorating doorsteps with intricate and colorful designs known as rangoli. The beautiful patterns, often made with colored rice, flower petals, or colored powders, are believed to bring good luck. Since making a purchase is considered auspicious, many people treat themselves to expensive jewelry, clothing, or household goods on this day.
In some regions of India, the festival's second day is called Kali Chaudas. It is marked with traditional rituals to rid homes and businesses of evil spirits. Others call the day "Choti (small) Diwali" and use it as an excuse to start the celebrations early. Regardless of the beliefs, everyone looks forward to the third day of the festival — Diwali.
Diwali celebrations begin early with a visit to a place of worship, such as a temple. After that, families and friends get together to exchange gifts and sweets. Those not content with their purchases on Dhanteras spend the afternoon shopping. At sunset, festival observers light up their homes with glittering diyas (small oil lamps) and share a traditional feast with family and friends.
For those living in India, the real excitement starts late in the evening. That is when entire neighborhoods take to the streets to light up the skies with colorful fireworks. While the younger revelers seek out sparklers, teens and adults light up bigger illuminations. The spectacular show continues until every last firecracker has erupted.
In the Indian state of Gujarat, Diwali marks the end of the calendar year. Since the Hindu calendar is based on shorter lunar cycles, on November 13, 2023, Gujarati people worldwide will welcome the year 2080. The fifth and final day of the festival honors the bond between brothers and sisters. It 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, delicious food, and fireworks. It is no wonder that the festival ranks high among the country's favorite celebrations.
Resources: Wikipedia.org, rmg.co.uk, CNN.com, NationalGeographic.com