Diwali, the Festival of Lights

Diwali, the Festival of Lights

One of the most beautiful and colourful celebrations of the year is coming up, so I thought I’d give you beans to brew some background information on Diwali/Deepavali.

Diwali - Festival of Lights

1. “Diwali” is a combination of the Sanskrit words dipa “light” or “lamp”, and avali “row”, “line”, or “series”.  Because of its etymology, Diwali is also known as the Festival of Lights.  Although in English it is most commonly spelled as Diwali, it has various spellings and pronunciations among the people who celebrate this holiday.

2. The origins of Diwali differ according to the various regions and faiths that celebrate it, but they all hold similar the foundations of happiness and light.  For some, Diwali began as a harvest festival in India to mark the last harvest before winter; the lanterns lit during the festival represent the sun, the giver of life.  For others, the festival honours the triumph of good over evil, right over wrong, and knowledge over ignorance; this stems from the legend of Lord Rama and his wife, Sita, who returned home after defeating a demon king called Ravanna.  And then there are those who continue the ancient tradition of looking to Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth, for financial blessings and continued success in the new year; the day after Diwali is considered the first day of the financial new year.

3. On the same night that Hindus commemorate the defeat of Ravanna by Lord Rama and Sita, Jains celebrate the attainment of moksha “release” of Lord Mahavira, the last tirthankara “teacher” who preached dharma “righteous path”, and Sikhs mark the release of Guru Hargobind Ji and 52 other princes from prison through the festival of Bandi Chhor Divas, “Prisoners’ Release Day”.  With all these celebrations, it’s only fitting that Diwali is one of the biggest and most important days of the year, not only in India, but throughout the world.

4. Diwali is an official holiday in many countries, including India, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Malaysia, Singapore, Bangladesh, Fiji, Suriname, Guyana, and Trinidad and Tobago.  It is not a nationwide public holiday in Canada, the United States, or England (among other countries), but it is widely celebrated across these nations, in both small towns and large metropoles.

5. As with all holidays, there are various ways of celebrating Diwali.  Some Hindus dress up in new clothes or their best outfits—women wear fine silk and jewellery and decorate their hands with mehndi “henna”.  Many households light lamps (inside and outside the home) and have a presentation of fireworks or sparklers.  People enjoy participating in puja “prayers”, after which they indulge in a huge family feast (including lots of mithai “sweets”) and gift giving.

6. There are Five Days of Diwali, but the various regions that celebrate them have different names and even different ways of marking each day.  There are similarities across the board, however, and, of course, there are the unifying themes of happiness, togetherness, and light amongst all the varieties.

Diwali - Five Days

Do you celebrate Diwali?  Let me know what some of your traditions are!

[From the mixed-up files of: “Diwali”, “Diwali/Deepavali in Canada”, “Diwali – Nat’l Geo”, “Top 10 Greetings to Wish Your Loved Ones”, “Five Brilliant Days of Diwali, the Glittering Festival of Lights”, “Diwali – BBC”, “Different Days of the Diwali Festival”, and “What is Diwali 2015?”]