Diwali is India’s most important festival of the year, but how much do you know about it?

What is Diwali?

Diwali is a five-day-long festival of lights celebrated by millions of people from various faiths including Hindus, Jains, Sikhs, Muslims, and some Buddhists. The major holiday is traditionally religious but has developed into a more secular event similar to Christmas.

Diwali is celebrated differently in multiple parts of India. In the north, they celebrate King Rama’s return to Ayodhya after defeating Ravana. South India recognizes Lord Krishna’s defeat of the demon Narakasura. Western India observes the day that Lord Vishnu, the Preserver (an important God in the triple deity of supreme divinity) sent the demon king Mahabali to the netherworld. For the non-Hindu celebrants, Diwali means other things. In Jainism, Diwali “marks the nirvana or spiritual awakening of the spiritual leader Mahavira in 527 BCE.” For Sikhs, Diwali denotes the day that Guru Hargobind Ji, the sixth of the ten Sikh gurus, was freed from imprisonment in the 17th century.

What does it mean?

Diwali comes from the Sanskrit word Deepavali, which means “rows of lighted lamps” and signifies the light that protects people from spiritual darkness.

Udayaditya Barua

How is it celebrated?

There are multiple activities over five days. The first day is for cleaning and renovating homes. Gold and silver items are purchased as they are thought to bring luck. On day two, people decorate their homes with clay lamps known as diyas to drive out darkness and generate goodness and purity. Day three is the main festival day when people gather for Lakshmi puja, a prayer to Goddess Lakshmi. This is followed by an extravagant meal and a display featuring lights, candles, firecrackers, and fireworks. 

The new year begins on day four as relatives, friends and neighbors exchange gifts and well wishes. This is also a day to celebrate the bond between husband and wife. The final day focuses on sibling love.

What is commonly eaten?

Indian sweets like Halwa, Laddu, Barfi, Gulab jamun, and kheer or savory dishes including Bhaji, Samosas, Idli, and Puri.

When is Diwali?

The festival is usually in the autumn during October or November, coinciding with the Hindu lunar calendar. This year it started on November 2nd, 2021 but the main festival falls on November 4th.