October 19th of this year marks the beginning of one of India’s most celebrated annual festivals: Diwali. If you’ve been able to participate in Diwali in the past (or had family and friends who have), then you’re likely already well aware of the many fun and exciting occasions and activities that will be enjoyed during this year’s festival of lights. Like many, however, you may not know all of the fun facts behind the traditions celebrated during Diwali. Understanding why the festival follows the patterns that it does will no doubt give you a greater appreciation of it.
Listed below are just a few of the fun facts surrounding the history of Diwali and how it is celebrated today:
- Hindus aren’t the only ones who celebrate it: While yes, Diwali is primarily a Hindu holiday, other faiths also commemorate the occasion. Sikhs, for example, use Diwali to celebrate the release of their gurji Guru Hargobind Sahibji and the 52 Rajas from their captivity under Shah Jahan. Jains mark Diwali as the celebration of their celebrated Tirthankara Mahavira achieving nirvana. In all, over 800 million people around the world celebrate Diwali.
- There’s a reason why it begins when it does: The first day of Diwali is always the thirteenth lunar day of Krishna Paksh, during the Hindu month of Kartik. It was on this day that Lord Dhanwantari emerged from the ocean to first give Ayurvedic medicine to mankind (which is why the first day of the festival is called Dhanwantari Triodasi). Lord Krishna also features heavily in Diwali tradition, as the second day of the festival commemorates his victory over the demon Narakasur, and fourth day marks the occasion of the first time he caused the people of Vraja to perform Govardhan Pooja. Sandwiched in between on the third day is the celebration of the Goddess Lakshmi. Finally, the fifth and final day remembers the meeting between Yamraj, the Lord of Death, and his sister Yamuna. It is said that on that occasion, Yamraj promised his sister that those who visited her on this day would be liberated from their sins and achieve Moksha (nirvana). This is why brothers visit their sisters on the final day of the festival.
- “Shubh Deepavali” is literally heard all around the world: India, Nepal, Singapore, Surinam, Malaysia, Sri Lanka, Fiji, Myanmar, Mauritius, Bangladesh, Guyana and Trinidad & Tobago all recognize Diwali as a national holiday. The British city of Leicester holds the biggest Diwali celebration in the world outside of India. In each of these countries, the traditional greeting of “Shubh Deepavali” can heard quite often, which means “Have an auspicious Diwali.”
- What do the diyas mean: Diwali holds its distinction as the festival of lights due to many diyas adorning homes during the festivities. These are hung in celebration of the Lord Rama. At the request of his father’s second wife Kaikeyi, Rama and his wife Sita were exiled from Ayodhya to the Dandaka forest for fourteen years. During that time, Sita was abducted by the demon King Ravana. Rama recruited an army of monkeys and marched on Ravana’s home of Lanka, killing him and rescuing Sita. The triumphant duo then returned home to Ayodhya. The diyas are hung to help light their way on their return journey.
- The diyas are not the only things lighting the sky during Diwali: Diwali also holds the distinction of being one of the most popular holidays for fireworks in the world (outside of American 4th of July festivities). It’s estimated that over US$1 billion is spent on fireworks during Diwali every year. This may be all the more reason to send money to family and friends in India.
With all of the history and fanfare that goes into Diwali, it’s easy to see how this festival has taken such a strong hold in the hearts and minds of Indians of all faiths. We here at Ria want you and/or your loved ones to be completely immersed in the Diwali experience this year. For one day only, on October 13, Ria will add $5 to money transfers sent to India, Nepal and Bangladesh with promo code DIWALI3. Don’t miss this chance to brighten someone’s day even more in time for Diwali.