Diwali is derived from the word Deepavali that literally means ‘rows of lighted lamps’. The literal meaning of the word makes the festival more popularly known as the Festival of Lights. The festival of Diwali holds significant importance in many religions including Hinduism, Buddhism, Sikhism and Jainism. It is essentially celebrated as a triumph of light over darkness, knowledge over ignorance and good over evil. The Lakshmi goddess of wealth is known to be most associated with the festival but other gods, goddesses and legends are worshipped during the course of the festival.
The Diwali festival is celebrated for 5 days beginning from dark half of the month of Kartik. It is known to be ‘the darkest night of the darkest period’. The Hindus spring-clean their houses, light them up with Diyas, earthenware oil lamps, decorate the house floors with Rangoli patterns out of colored sand and powders and open all windows to help goddess Lakshmi find her way inside their homes through the darkness. The goddess of wealth is worshipped on the third day of celebration. Wealth is not a materialistic measure of success for Hindus. It is a sign of rewards for the good deeds from the previous life.
The worshippers wear new clothes, exchange sweets, and other gifts amongst friends and family members. Families host festival meals and everyone gathers to celebrate and worship together. One of the essential parts of celebration is the use of fireworks and sparklers during the festival. The sparklers are hand held fireworks, used by children and adults alike for the celebration. They believe that the light and sparkle from the sparklers and fireworks drive the evil away from them and their homes. Here is a video of people celebrating Diwali with sparklers:
The festival also marks the beginning of winter, the sowing period for farmers and the new business year, where businesspersons close old books, start new accounts and worship these books. On the last day of celebration, brothers visit their married sisters, while sisters prepare lavish meals for them and welcome them with love and respect in their homes.
The celebration of Diwali marks the beginning of a new year in the lunar calendar for Hindus. It gives them an opportunity to start afresh. All throughout the celebrations, participants are encouraged to focus on their inner spiritual light. They are asked to remove all negative elements like anger, jealousy and hatred from their lives and focus on being a better person and forgiving enemies. It not just about cleaning the homes and decorating them with lights, but about cleaning the inner self and allowing the inner light to shine through.
Different religions and different sects of the same religion celebrate Diwali for different reasons, the essence remaining the same though. Some of the popular legendary stories associated with the celebration include:
- Rama and Sita’s return from a fourteen-year exile
- Victory of Lord Krishna over the reigning demon king, Narakasura
- Return of Pandavas
- Worship of goddess Kali
Here is a small documentary on the festival of lights in India:
You can see how passionately these people celebrate Diwali. The Festival of Lights is important to the Hindus as Christmas is for Christians. The celebration holds immense spiritual importance and is a way of cleansing your soul each year of all negative influences and emotions. It is the beginning of a new start with celebrations alongside ones family and friends, marked with sweet treats, sparklers and decorum.