It’s the most important festival in the Hindu world. In India it’s a public holiday, but Diwali is celebrated in great numbers across the globe. Apart from Hindu, Sikhs, Jains and Buddhists also commemorate Diwali in different forms, making it comparable to the western Christmas.
Although different religions attach slightly varying meanings to Diwali, the main theme is universal: the victory of light over darkness and good over evil. The main celebration of Diwali takes place on the third day, and this year it falls on October 30. The festival is so significant it is visible from space.
Globalization has encouraged many Hindus and people from other religions who celebrate Diwali to move to countries like the USA for work. Because of this, Diwali is commonly celebrated here too, albeit in smaller numbers. If you traditionally celebrate Diwali, you can still do so even if you’re far away from home. You might not be able to enjoy all the traditional Indian snacks, but with a bit of effort, you might find a shop that sells them near you.
There are many different aspects to Diwali, and the festival rituals include extensive preparations, all of which are done joyously and excitedly as the big day draws nearer.
Here are a few of the events, and incredible sights and sounds to see and enjoy on this day.
Diwali gets its name from a combination of the Sanskirt words for “light” and “row”. A very important part of the festival is to light up your home, place of work and the local temple. Rows upon rows of clay lamps are lit in the community. These lamps are called diyas and the simple act of lighting these candles already creates a joyful atmosphere.
Although this mostly takes place during the preparations for Diwali, it is also very important to decorate your house or place of work. Traditional rangoli artworks are created by making beautiful patterns with colored rice or powder in front of the house. On the main day of Diwali, these patterns form part of the cheer experienced throughout the community.
Incredible fireworks displays mark the main celebration of Diwali. Firecrackers is an expression of respect to the heavens for the attainment of health, wealth, knowledge, peace and prosperity. Families light them at home and displays are seen in public areas too. Because what is a big festival without fireworks?
Sweet gifts is tradition during Diwali
Unlike the western Christmas, Diwali does not involve gifting expensive electronics and the like. Rather, Diwali is about sharing food and treats. Women start making traditional Indian sweets as far as a month in advance. These delicious sweet treats are then wrapped in boxes and decorated beautifully. They are handed out as gifts to friends and family and the children are especially delighted with this rare indulgence.
Savory eats are also important
A festival is not complete without a savory spread. It is custom to enjoy many snacks throughout the day during Diwali. Savory snacks shared on the day are traditionally made with chickpeas, rice, lentils and several other varieties of flours. These are seasoned with different combinations of spices, sesame seeds, fresh fenugreek leaves or coconut. They are then molded into assorted shapes and usually deep-fried. Plates stand at the ready for visiting friends and family when they show up at each other’s houses.
The main feast and food donations
For the main meal on Diwali, traditional flatbreads, dal and vegetable curries are piled high for everyone to enjoy. While many Hindus are already vegetarian, it is also common to refrain from eating meat during Diwali. It is custom to share food with the less fortunate, so families prepare more than enough food and donate a large portion to the needy.
Wear new clothes and gold
Part of the preparations for Diwali is to go out and purchase new clothes. This special outfit is worn on the main day of Diwali. It is also custom to buy gold, even if it’s just a small piece, and to wear gold on the day.
A new beginning
The fourth day of Diwali is New Year’s day. It marks a clean slate and a fresh beginning. The lighting of the lamps and candles invites prosperity into the lives of those who celebrate. It is a beautiful festival and can be significant not only for the religious who celebrate it traditionally.
Because Diwali is such an inspiring festival, you can invite non-religious friends, or friends who are from other religions, to share a dal or curry with you to understand a bit of your culture and what makes it beautiful.