Diwali: Ready for the Light?
A big part of the world is about to be much brighter and much happier. Diwali, one of the most joyous holidays on the planet, is a Hindu festival of light that begins November 11th this year. With so much darkness and so many things to fear coming from every news outlet, Hindu or not, now is a perfect time to celebrate Diwali.
What does it celebrate?
Coming at the darkest time of year on the Hindu calendar, Diwali celebrates the triumph of light over darkness, good over evil, and knowledge over fear. A central part of Hindu philosophy is the belief that our true spiritual nature is obscured by ignorance. Knowledge, however, can remove this obstacle and reveal our true reality, as well as bring about compassion and connection to all things. Ignorance, darkness, and evil lose; knowledge, light, and compassion win. Happy Diwali, everyone! Just as Christmas is now celebrated in the West by non-Christians, Diwali is celebrated throughout India and the Hindu world by non-Hindus.
Though the theme of light prevailing over darkness is held common, different regions attach different legends, myths, and historical events to Diwali. In northern India, for example, people celebrate King Rama’s return to Ayodhya after defeating Ravana. In the South, however, people celebrate Lord Krishna defeating a demon, while in the West people celebrate Lord Vishnu sending the demon King Bali to rule the underworld.
How is it celebrated?
Diwali is celebrated over the course of five days. On the first day, preparations are made—houses are scrubbed clean and new clothes are purchased. Kids start the day off with a literal bang as they set off firecrackers while sporting new clothes. Firecrackers are then set off every night after. On the second day, people start decorating their homes with strings of lights, diyas (clay lamps symbolizing light’s victory), and creating auspicious patterns on the floor (rangoli) with sand or colored powder. Things really start to get fun on the third day. After prayers are made to the goddess Lakshmi, families gather for a feast and the setting off of fireworks. The fun continues on the fourth day (the first day of the new year) when friends and family visit and exchange gifts and good wishes. The final day of Diwali celebrates the special bond between brother and sister, where brothers visit their sisters’ homes bringing gifts and enjoying a feast.
Of course, these five days are subject to change by region or even by family as people create their own special ways to observe the holiday. It is even called a different name in places. The holiday is also referred to as Deepavali (especially in southern India) which translates as “row of diyas”.
How can I celebrate Diwali?
Easy. Gather your loved ones together and be happy. Eat your favorite foods (in India, Diwali is a time for sweets! For descriptions of some of the delectables eaten around Diwali, visit here) and focus on the light in your life. You can even make a few diyas with your family (great instructions for how to make flour-based diyas here), light them, and let that serve as a reminder of the good in the world. If you have Hindu friends, wishing them happiness in the new year would be very much appreciated. You may also want to give gifts. Flowers, sweets, and homemade riyas would be perfect. For closer friends, you may consider festive clothing and accessories (gold is big this time of year).
Just as the undeniable awesomeness that is the Christmas season allows people of all faiths to partake in its time of goodwill and compassion, Diwali is a time for everyone to celebrate the goodness in the world.
“Celebrate the triumph of Goodness over evil. May this bright day bless you with health, wealth and prosperity. Happy Diwali.”
Photos from Wikipedia