The Festival of Lights
Diwali, also referred to as “The Festival of Lights,” is one of the most significant cultural celebrations in Hinduism, Jainism, and Sikhism, lasting about 5 days on the Hindu calendar. In 2021, Diwali is expected to take place from November 1st to November 5th, with November 4th being its true national holiday (dates can vary).
This well-known festival is derived from the row (avali) of clay lamps (deepa) in Sanskrit that Indians use to light around their homes. Interestingly, it’s celebrated right around the darkest nights of the darkest periods in time, essentially symbolizing the triumph of light over darkness, good over evil, and knowledge over ignorance. The light itself serves as a representation of intelligence and positivity pervades Hindu myths.
South Indians acknowledge this date as the day Lord Krishna (a god in Hindu mythology) defeated the demon Narakasura, while North Indians focus more on King Rama’s return to Ayodhya after defeating Ravana by lighting rows of clay and oil lamps. In short, people celebrate this holiday to commemorate the victories and return of well-known gods in certain religions. Typically, each religion has its own way of celebrating this cultural holiday, but this festival has also been enjoyed by non-Hindu communities and cultures.
On the first day, called Dhanteras by North Indians, people buy expensive jewelry, new clothing, and lamps to welcome Lakshmi, the Hindu goddess of wealth, prosperity, beauty, and youth. Chhoti Diwali, the second day, celebrates the victories of the gods in Hindu mythologies. During this day, people put up twinkling lights and decorations around the entire house to memorialize that moment.
The next couple of days focuses on the festival itself, a time where people visit family and friends to feast, exchange gifts, decorate rangolis (patterns created on floors using colored sand), and light lamps. People dress in kurtas and sarees, which are traditional Indian clothing, eat sweets like halwa (a sugary Indian dish consisting of semolina boiled with milk, butter, and almonds) and kaju katli (an Indian dessert made with cashew nuts and cardamom powder).
They also partake in Rangoli competitions and play common Indian card games like Rummy and Canasta. People also tend to put tikas (a red semi-liquid powder) on each other’s foreheads as a symbol of piety, devotion, power, community, and respect during this event.
There exists no rule that suggests that Diwali only needs to be celebrated in a specific way or that not all cultures can participate in the holiday. Each group interprets the festival differently. Even doing something as simple as lighting fireworks or candles is a big deal to our culture, and trust me... it doesn’t go unrecognized. Similar to common holidays like Christmas and Halloween, other groups can also take part and adopt these yearly traditions; in fact, it is highly encouraged.
Hopefully, the importance of Diwali will continue bringing everyone together at times of peace and light and aspirations. It’s a great way to spend time with your loved ones and community, celebrating all the good spirits in this world. Remember, Diwali is an inclusive holiday that can be celebrated by all!