In every land and among all peoples, there is sure to be beliefs, rituals, and festivals celebrating the victory of good over bad, a sentiment that every civilization and community would like to hold on to. India, the birthplace of most religions found around the world, is no different.
Diwali, the “festival of lights”, signifies the victory of inner light over darkness, knowledge over ignorance, good over evil, and hope over despair. In Hindu mythology, the season of Diwali has many reasons for celebration – one being the return of Lord Rama from his exile, the other being the return of the Pandavas, and yet another being the time when goddess Lakshmi is most inclined to bless. In Eastern India, goddess Kali is worshipped, and in central and northern regions, Lord Krishna’s legends are celebrated during this time. The Jains celebrate Mahavira’s attainment of Moksha, and for the Sikhs, Diwali represents the day when Guru Har Gobin Ji broke free from captivity to return to his people and to the Golden Temple in Amritsar.
Diwali is generally a five-day festival kicked off by Dhanteras, a day especially auspicious for businesses, particularly for gold and silver articles. The second day is the Choti Diwali. On this day, houses are cleaned, decorated, and decked in lights and rangolis, symbolic of ridding oneself of all malaise and evil. Women decorate their hands with mehendi in preparation to welcome goodness and purity into their hearts and homes. The third day marks the main festival, and is the day when millions of lamps are lit and pujas are offered. People keep their doors and windows opened auspiciously on this night, welcoming Lakshmi, the goddess of prosperity and wealth, in to their homes. After the puja, celebrations begin with firecrackers and feast. The day after Diwali honours the love and devotion between married couples. The last day of the festival celebrates love among siblings, and inspires love and honour for each other.
Diwali marks the beginning of a new Hindu year; it represents a new beginning for everything. Sweets, or mithai, are the highlights of Diwali, and are also the most common gifts of the season, exchanged among friends and families. The festival also marks a significant shopping season, with people purchasing new clothes, utensils, jewellery, and even cars. Diwali nights are made memorable with magnificent fireworks that can be seen simultaneously lighting up various parts of the sky. Sights of millions of lamps lighted up on housetops, lawns, porticos, framing doors and windows, temples, and buildings are usual throughout India during Diwali season.
Festivities cut across boundaries to move on from smaller villages to big towns, often beginning almost a month before Diwali. During the season, numerous Melas and fairs can be found throughout the country, offering local fresh produces, cloths, crafts, utensils, and what not. It is also a venue for fortune tellers and snake charmers, folk dances, puppet shows, and other ethnic crafts.
Although Diwali is a major Hindu festival, it is celebrated around the world among India communities. In countries like Singapore, Fiji, and Sri Lanka, Diwali, or Deepavali, is a public holiday celebrated among Indians in all its magnificence, complete with sweets, feast, and fireworks. Indians in Australia, the Caribbean islands, New Zealand, United Kingdom, and the United States, celebrate Diwali in all its grandeur, making it a grand spectacle and merriment for people of other cultures as well. It often showcases the cultural richness and variedness of India.
Diwali also occasions peace and brotherhood even at the sparring border between India and Pakistan. At the international border, on the day of Diwali, the Indian and Pakistani soldiers exchange gifts. Indeed, what better way to dispel darkness and gloom of hatred than to light lamps that infuse the brightness of hope and cheer.