Diwali: Celebrating the Festival of Lights

Tuesday 2nd November 2021 marks the beginning of Diwali, the five-day festival of lights, which is celebrated by Hindus, Sikhs and Jains all over the world. Diwali is the most popular festival in India, equal to Christmas in importance, and celebrates the triumph of good over evil. Although Diwali is a Hindu celebration, it is celebrated across all the regions of India regardless of faith. The word Diwali comes from the Sanskrit ‘deepavali’ meaning ‘rows of lighted lamps’.[1]

Diwali celebrates the Hindu New Year, the victory of good over evil, light over darkness, and knowledge over ignorance.[1] The five-day festival normally takes place between October and November, but the date varies each year due to the Hindu lunar calendar.[2] This year the main festivities will take place on the third day of the festival, Thursday 4th November. The third day of Diwali (known as Lakshmi Puja) is the most important as it is devoted to Lakshmi who is the Hindu goddess of wealth, affluence and is the personification of beauty.[3]

Each day of the festival holds different importance:

  1. Dhanteras is when Goddess Laxmi (or Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth) is worshipped for prosperity. This is important for business communities but more importantly, it is a brilliantly lucky day for shopping – especially for jewellery!
  2. ‘Choti Diwali’ or ‘Small Diwali’. This marks the day on which the demon Narakasura was killed. It is your typical victory of good over evil and light over darkness.
  3. Diwali is celebrated when the moon completely wanes, and total darkness sets in the night sky. It is extremely important to keep the house spotlessly clean and pure on Diwali so that Goddess Laxmi (or Lakshmi, goddess of wealth) will visit your house first.
  4. The fourth day is known as the Govardhan Puja where we remember the miracle of Lord Krishna lifting a mountain.
  5. The final day, Bhayaduj, marks another good day for the ladies! It is a day where brothers and sisters celebrate their bond, however, brothers also have to give cash or presents.

Diwali primarily symbolises the epic of Ramayana in which god Ram defeats the demon Ravan. After 14 years in exile, Ram returned to his hometown where the villagers lit lamps or ‘diyas’ in his honour. The lights and lamps are also said to help Lakshmi find her way into peoples’ homes, bringing prosperity in the year to come hence the continuation of the ritual today.

Image depicting the Ramlila (a condensed dramatization of the Ramayana – the epic tale of god Ram) at the Indian Community Centre’s Diwali celebrations in 2019. Source: Dr. Satyavir Singhal.

Along with lighting lamps, traditional Diwali celebrations include prayers, fireworks, sweets, presents, parties and portrayals of the Ramayana. Much like the short plays performed at Christmas which portray the story of Jesus’s birth, the Ramlila is a condensed dramatization of the Ramayana – the epic tale of Ram. It is enacted with great enthusiasm all over north India. Since Diwali also marks a brand-new year, the Indian community will wear new clothes and traditional businessmen even start their financial year on this lucky day. In cards, you will often see Happy Diwali and have a prosperous new year.

Image depicting Diwali celebrations at the Indian Community Centre’s Diwali celebrations in 2019. Source: Dr. Satyavir Singhal.

Traditionally, at the Belfast Indian Community Centre, community members get together, eat traditional Indian cuisine and enjoy a dramatization of the Ramayana to celebrate Diwali with friends and family. This year, celebrations will take a different form, but Diwali will still be celebrated both across the world and right here in Belfast.

Footnotes:

[1] Diwali:  ‘Hindu festival’ (https://www.britannica.com/topic/Diwali-Hindu-festival)

[2] Ibid.

[3] ‘Five festive days of Diwali in India’ (http://www.walkthroughindia.com/festivals/five-festive-days-of-diwali/)

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