The Darkness and Light of Diwali
When is Diwali Celebrated?
The dates of Diwali, or Deepavali, are governed by the Hindu calendar. It begins on the 13th lunar day of the month of Ashwin and ends on the 2nd lunar day of the month of Kartika. In the Gregorian calendar, this roughly corresponds to mid-October to mid-November, as follows:
2014: October 23rd - 27th
2015: November 9th - 13th
2016: October 28th - November 1st
2017: October 17th - 21st
Diwali is a celebration of destroying the darkness and bringing light into the world. For five days, Hindu people celebrate the legendary gods and events that have driven away darkness with the biggest (and brightest) festival of the year.
Traditional Diwali Celebration
Since Diwali is the Hindu Festival of Light, lanterns and fireworks are used to keep darkness away, and they fill the towns and cities throughout the week. Each day of the Diwali festival celebrates the battle between light and darkness, the triumph of love and family over trial, or the ways to celebrate and rejuvenate love and happiness as recorded in the many scriptures and stories that Hindus hold sacred. And each day's celebrations involves a variety of rituals that evoke those scriptures.
Letting Lakshmi In
The first day is Dhanteras, and Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth, is welcomed to homes and businesses with cleaning and prayer. By day, businesses are cleaned up, and the “footprints of the goddess” are painted on the sidewalk as a way to welcome her in. This is believed to bring well-being and prosperity to the household. That night, the lamps are lit and there is a stunning fireworks display to push out the darkness and praise Lakshmi.
On this first evening, Hindu people often purchase and give gifts to colleagues
and family - often fine metal jewelry or a new silver utensil - as this brings good luck and wealth. Smaller lamps made of clay called Diyas are lit to keep away the shadows, and devotional songs to Lakshmi are sung with gusto.
Conquest and Cleansing
Narak Chaturdashi is the second day of Diwali, and Hindus celebrate Lord Krishna's defeat of the demon Narakusar. This day starts early; celebrants bathe themselves in rich oils and perfumes, and dress in clean or new clothes. This ritual soothes and refreshes the body so the celebrations can continue late into the evening.
Afterward, friends and family gather for a large breakfast before going about their day as usual until nightfall, when the celebrations begin anew with loud and vibrant fireworks to signify success in driving back the demons.
Light for the World
The third day of Diwali, Lakshmi Puja, is the most important one, and it is devoted to the complex Goddess Lakshmi, who has many faces. On this day, she is worshipped in all three of her forms. Vignaharta, one of the faces of Ganesha, and Kuber, the treasurer of the gods, are also revered on this day. People clean their homes scrupulously since Lakshmi decides who to visit based on how clean their home is. They offer vermillion and turmeric and light lamps to welcome her to their homes. Temples ring bells and people sing hymns to celebrate her arrival. Lakshmi is said to come with a ray of light that pours enlightenment and prosperity over everyone - the rich and poor alike.
The fourth day of the festival is called Balipratipada, and it is devoted both to the memory of King Bali as well as to the day Lord Krishna rescued the people from Lord Indra's monsoon.
The first legend records the curse of King Bali and his battles with the enemies of the gods. Although Bali was brave, he was also vain and glory-driven. Despite this, his people were sure the gods would protect him, because of his strong and constant worship. The people were wrong though, and the gods' enemies cast Bali to the nether-world. He is allowed to return once a year on this night, only to light the lanterns that drive back the darkness within himself.
The second legend records Krishna's struggle with Lord Indra. Krishna told the people to stop worshipping Lord Indra, who responded by sending a flood to destroy Gokul. Krishna simply lifted a mountain with his little finger and used it like an umbrella to save the world from the rainfall. After that, Indra conceded the contest to Krishna.
To commemorate these events, Hindus exchange gifts that would please the gods, use fragrant perfumes, and cook literal mountains of food for gifts
and offerings to Krishna.
The Bonds of Brother and Sister
On the fifth day of Dewali, Bai Dooj, siblings travel to see each other, offer blessings to each other, and exchange gifts. A number of scriptures explain the importance of this visit, but according to just one, Yamaraj, the God of Death visited his sister Yami after they had been apart for many years. Overjoyed, Yami placed a mark of blessing on his forehead. They shared a great meal together, and Yamaraj declared that brothers and sisters should do this once each year.
To commemorate this, and other legendary events, sisters invite their brothers to a feast, perform the Aarti ritual, and pray for their brother's longevity and happiness. In return, brothers give their sisters gifts
. The day signifies the duty of a brother and sister to love and protect one another.
From its nourishing feasts to its multitude of blessings and gifts, Diwali is filled with enchanting rituals and a flood of heartfelt emotion. This five-day festival commemorates light overcoming darkness, wealth overcoming impoverishment, and good overcoming evil. During Diwali, we are reminded that the strength of family resides even in the darkest of times, that prosperity is something to celebrate and share, and that all it takes to keep away the dark is to light a single lamp.
Where is Diwali Celebrated?
Diwali is celebrated by Hindus around the world, but the largest celebrations happen in India, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Malaysia, and Singapore.