Diwali, the festival of lights explained | Arts & Culture
On Monday, October 24, millions of Hindus across the world will celebrate what for many is the biggest and most important holiday of the year – Diwali, the Festival of Lights.
Diwali takes its name from the Sanskrit word, Deepavali, which means “row of lights”. Diwali is not limited to Hindus, as Sikhs, Jains and Newar Buddhists also have their own celebrations. In India, there are also regional differences in the traditions associated with the festival.
In most cases, it is celebrated over five days, starting with Dhanteras.
In Dhanteras, Hindus will clean their homes in preparation for the upcoming celebrations. They will light diyas, which are small clay pots filled with oil, and place them around their homes, where they will remain lit for the next five days. The rangolis, colorful patterns made of sand, will adorn the floor and the entrances of the house.
The second day is Kali Chaudas. On this day, families will serve sweets and perform rituals to ward off all evil. A prayer is performed and coconuts are offered to Hanuman, a deity who symbolizes strength and energy, in order to receive protection from the spirits.
The third day is the high point of the festival and is traditionally celebrated as Diwali. People perform prayers to Lakshmi, which means wealth and prosperity, and invite her into their homes. In the evening, the festivities begin. Families will dress up in traditional clothing, celebrate and light fireworks.
The fourth day is called Annakut, which means “mountain of food”. Gujaratis also means the fourth day as the new year. Many Hindus will go to temples and take blessings. On this day, Hindu temples will prepare and present a range of sweets and foods to those who visit.
The fifth and final day is Bhau-Beej, also called Bhai Dooj. This day celebrates the bond between a brother and a sister. Traditionally, the brother will come to visit the sister and the sister will recite a prayer to protect her brother from harm.
Diwali can be linked to many religious histories and traditions, and there are many regional differences. However, most West Indian stories are related to Lord Vishnu, the Hindu deity of creation, protection and transformation, who has 10 avatars or primary forms.
In North India, Diwali is linked to the stories of the epic “Ramayana”. It is the day when Rama, the seventh avatar of Vishnu, returned home to Ayodhya, after 14 years of exile and the defeat of the demon Ravana. As soon as he arrived, the city lit up in diyas, guiding him home, creating the festival of lights celebrated today.
In southern India, Diwali celebrates the day when Lord Krishna, the eighth avatar of Vishnu, defeated the demon Narakasura. In western India, it means the day when Lord Vishnu sent the demon king Bali to the underworld, and in eastern India, the festival is associated with the goddess Kali, who symbolizes the victory of good on evil.
Regardless of the differences in how Diwali is celebrated, its essence lies in the lessons learned from these stories – good over evil and light over darkness. Thus, celebrations are rooted in doing good, praying for others, and welcoming prosperity and happiness into the lives and homes of those who celebrate.