What is Diwali? A Guide to the Festival of Lights

Origins and Significance of Diwali

Diwali, also known as Deepavali, is an ancient Hindu festival that is celebrated every year in the autumn season. The word Diwali is derived from the Sanskrit word ‘Deepavali,’ which means “a row of lights.” The festival is celebrated over five days and is marked by lighting diyas (lamps) and candles, decorating homes with rangolis (colored patterns), exchanging gifts and sweets, and offering prayers to deities.

The origins of Diwali are rooted in Hindu mythology, with different legends associated with the festival. One of the most popular legends is that of Lord Rama’s return to Ayodhya after defeating the demon king Ravana and completing his fourteen years of exile. According to the legend, the people of Ayodhya welcomed Rama by lighting diyas, and the tradition has been followed ever since.

Another legend associated with Diwali is the story of Goddess Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth and prosperity. It is believed that on the day of Diwali, Lakshmi visits homes and blesses them with wealth and prosperity. Hence, people light diyas and decorate their homes to welcome her.

In addition to Hinduism, Diwali is also celebrated by Jains, Sikhs, and Buddhists for various reasons. For Jains, Diwali marks the anniversary of Lord Mahavir’s attainment of Nirvana, while for Sikhs, it commemorates the release of their sixth guru, Guru Hargobind, from imprisonment.

Diwali symbolizes the victory of light over darkness, good over evil, and knowledge over ignorance. It is a time of joy, celebration, and renewal, as people come together to share love, warmth, and happiness with each other.

Traditions and Celebrations During Diwali

Diwali is a five-day festival that is celebrated with great enthusiasm and excitement across India and other parts of the world. The celebrations start with Dhanteras, followed by Naraka Chaturdashi, Diwali, Govardhan Puja, and Bhai Dooj. Each day has its unique significance and customs.

On Dhanteras, people buy new utensils, jewelry, or any other valuable item as it is considered auspicious to do so. On Naraka Chaturdashi, people wake up early in the morning, apply oil on their bodies, and take a bath to purify themselves. In the evening, people light diyas and perform puja to ward off evil spirits.

The third day of Diwali is the main festival day, which is celebrated with great fervor. People wake up early in the morning, take a bath, wear new clothes, and decorate their homes with rangolis and diyas. Families and friends get together to exchange gifts and sweets and enjoy a grand feast.

On Govardhan Puja, people make small mounds of cow dung to represent Govardhan mountain and decorate them with flowers and diyas. It is believed that Lord Krishna lifted the mountain to save the people from floods, and the day is celebrated to honor his deeds.

The last day of Diwali is Bhai Dooj, a day to celebrate the bond between brothers and sisters. Sisters apply tilak on their brother’s forehead and pray for their long life and prosperity. In return, brothers give gifts to their sisters.

Overall, Diwali is a time for family gatherings, decorating homes, exchanging gifts, and indulging in delicious food and sweets. It is a festival of love, hope, and new beginnings.

Diwali Across Different Regions and Cultures

Diwali is primarily a Hindu festival, but it is celebrated by people from different religions and cultures across India and other parts of the world. Although the core essence of the festival remains the same, the traditions and customs vary from region to region.

In North India, people celebrate Diwali as the return of Lord Rama to Ayodhya after defeating Ravana. They light diyas, perform puja, and burst firecrackers to mark the victory of good over evil. In some parts of North India, people make rangolis with colors and flowers to decorate their homes.

In West India, Diwali is celebrated as the day when Lord Krishna defeated the demon king Narakasura. People light diyas, perform puja, and enjoy a grand feast. They also make rangolis with colored sand or rice flour and decorate their homes.

In South India, Diwali is celebrated as the day when Lord Krishna defeated the demon Narakasura. People light lamps and make rangolis with rice flour. They also prepare various types of sweets and savories to offer to the deities.

In East India, Diwali is celebrated as Kali Puja, where people worship Goddess Kali, the goddess of power and strength. They light diyas, make rangolis, and burst firecrackers to mark the occasion.

Apart from India, Diwali is celebrated by Indians living in different parts of the world, such as Nepal, Sri Lanka, Malaysia, Singapore, and the United States. In these countries, people decorate their homes with lights and make rangolis. They also exchange gifts and sweets with their loved ones.

Overall, Diwali is a festival that brings people together, irrespective of their religion or culture. It is a celebration of love, happiness, and togetherness.

Diwali Food and Sweets: Delicacies of the Festival

Food is an essential part of any festival, and Diwali is no exception. During Diwali, people prepare a wide variety of traditional sweets and savory dishes to offer to the deities and to share with family and friends.

One of the most popular sweets prepared during Diwali is the traditional Indian sweet, ‘Ladoo.’ Ladoos are small, round, and made with various ingredients like besan (gram flour), coconut, or semolina. Another popular sweet is ‘Barfi,’ a fudge-like sweet made with milk, sugar, and nuts.

‘Gulab Jamun’ is another favorite sweet during Diwali. It is a deep-fried dough ball soaked in sugar syrup and served hot. ‘Rasgulla’ is another popular sweet made with cottage cheese and soaked in sugar syrup.

In addition to sweets, people also prepare savory dishes like ‘Chivda,’ a mixture of puffed rice, nuts, and spices, and ‘Mathri,’ a deep-fried snack made with flour, spices, and herbs.

People also prepare a grand feast on the day of Diwali, which includes dishes like ‘Biryani,’ ‘Pulao,’ ‘Kadai Paneer,’ ‘Butter Chicken,’ and ‘Daal Makhani.’ The feast is usually accompanied by ‘Papad,’ ‘Raita,’ and ‘Naan.’

Overall, Diwali is a festival of indulgence, and people enjoy a wide range of delicious dishes and sweets during the festival. The food adds to the festive spirit and brings people together to share love, warmth, and happiness.

Diwali and the Environment: A Call for Sustainable Celebrations

While Diwali is a time for joy and celebration, it is also important to be mindful of the impact that the festival has on the environment. The festival is known for its extravagant use of firecrackers, which cause air pollution and noise pollution. Additionally, the excessive use of electricity for lighting can also contribute to environmental degradation.

To address these issues, there is a growing awareness and demand for eco-friendly and sustainable Diwali celebrations. Many people are opting for eco-friendly alternatives to traditional firecrackers, such as noise-free fireworks and sky lanterns. Some also choose to light diyas and candles instead of using electric lights, reducing the energy consumption and carbon footprint.

In addition to reducing the impact on the environment, sustainable celebrations also promote ethical and responsible consumption. Many people are choosing to support local artisans and small businesses by buying handmade diyas and decorations instead of mass-produced items. They are also choosing to buy sweets and snacks from local shops and vendors, instead of packaged products from supermarkets.

Overall, sustainable celebrations are a way to honor the spirit of Diwali while also being mindful of the environment and promoting responsible consumption. It is a call for all of us to celebrate the festival in a way that is meaningful, sustainable, and inclusive.

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