It’s fall, which means time for the colorful Diwali festival in India! Here's an overview of this popular ritual in the East and how you can join in on the celebration of love and lights.
The Meaning of Diwali
Also known as the Festival of Lights, Diwali takes place over a five-day period and is Hinduism’s way of celebrating life itself. The name, Diwali, comes from the row (avali) of clay lamps (deepa) that religious families display by their homes. These clay lamps are symbolic of Diwali’s primary meaning--the triumph of our inner, spiritual light that rises above darkness and evil. To further illustrate just how big a deal this festival really is, you can think of Diwali as the Hindu counterpart to Christmas.
Diwali typically last for five days, with the biggest celebrations happening on the third day; the primary day which coincides with the darkest night of the Hindu lunar calendar month, Kartik. In the Gregorian calendar, Diwali can take place anywhere between the middle of October to the middle of November. For Hindus, this celebration is sacred and auspicious.
Diwali is celebrated not only by Hindus, but also by Jains, Buddhists and Sikhs across the globe. For these devotees, Diwali is the largest celebration of the entire year. If you’re out traveling about the world, you’ll get to feast your eyes upon this festival of splendor in places like Singapore, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Myanmar, Malaysia and of course, India. Even in the West, you might find Diwali celebrations among various communities, now that yoga's Eastern influence has swept the entire world with its massive popularity.
India's Spectrum of Diwali Celebrations
For Hindus, Diwali celebrates the ultimate triumph of light over dark, good over evil. In northern India, it also commemorates the Hindu god, Ram, and this god of virtue’s return to his holy kingdom after a 14-year period of banishment. Western India pays homage to Lord Vishnu, and in particular, the day that he ordered the demon, King Bali, to rule the netherworld. In southern India, Lord Krishna’s successful battle with Narakasura (another demon) is celebrated. Finally, for Buddhists, Jains and Sikhs, Diwali celebrates different auspicious moments within their own religious legends and myths.
Diwali's Colorful Rangoli Artwork
If you’ve never experienced Diwali, you’re probably wondering how it’s celebrated. For starters, imagine lots of candles and, nowadays, even fireworks. It’s a festival of light, after all, and the devotees that celebrate it know how to make magic with the contrast between light and dark. Households are filled with candles, loads of sweets and treats, and colorful rangoli artwork--a form of art created especially for Diwali. In fact, you may have seen it. It’s an age-old tradition that’s been going on for hundreds of years.
Traditionally, the intricate rangoli patterns and designs were made from rice flour. Nowadays, sand or colorful powders are also used. They’re intensely colorful artworks done on the floor of homes. Meticulous and highly creative, rangoli designs are worth researching just to get an idea of what some of these fascinating works of art typically look like. If you wish to create your own Diwali celebration in the comfort of your own home, you might consider making your very own rangoli artwork. It’s a splendid way to mark the sheer beauty, complexity and also impermanence of life.
Celebrate Good Times
Another aspect of Diwali is the giving of sweets and treats to friends, family, and those in need. Again, Diwali celebrates the triumph of good over evil and generosity is a symbol of this goodness. Therefore, communities come together to take care of one another during this special festival of lights. Kindness, hospitality and alms-giving reign supreme.
Diwali takes place over a five-day period. On the first day, devotees typically do a big "spring cleaning" of their homes. They spruce up their households in a major way, adding new kitchen supplies and other household items to their collection. The second day marks the lighting of those beautiful clay lamps and the creation of rangoli art on the floors. The third day, the primary day of celebration, brings communities together to perform puja to their beloved goddess, Lakshmi. Commemorative feasts and fireworks follow.
(You may be wondering about Performing Puja: A 'How-To' on Creating Your Own Spiritual Ritual.)
On the fourth day of Diwali, exchanges of gifts and sweet treats between friends, families and neighbors take place. People dress up in brand new clothes and dazzling jewelry. The fourth day also marks the first day of the new year on the Hindu calendar. The fifth (and last day) of Diwali commemorates the loving bond between brothers and sisters. To celebrate, families get together for a great feast and toast the unbreakable bond between a brother and sister.
Festival of Lights (and Love)
As you can see, Diwali is a truly special celebration for those who celebrate. It’s festive, it’s colorful and it’s full of love. Ultimately, it’s a celebration of the nurturing bonds between humans, and the devotion of the gods and goddesses they revere.
To pay homage to this beautiful tradition, why not set aside some time today to pay your respects to Goddess Lakshmi. Perform your own puja ceremony or simply take some time out to practice japa while reciting Lakshmi’s mantra. You can make Diwali your own personal celebration of goodness, however that manifests for you. It never hurts to celebrate the sacred--no matter how big or small!
(More on the Abundance-Boosting Mantra & Meditation of Goddess Lakshmi.)
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