Diwali, Deepavali or Divali, one of the most popular festivals of Hinduism, is the Indian festival of lights, usually lasting five days and celebrated between mid-October and mid-November. Coinciding with the new moon in the Hindu Lunisolar month Kartika, in 2021 this falls on 4 November.
Widely associated with Lakshmi, goddess of prosperity, Diwali is celebrated by Hindus, Jains, Sikhs, and Newar Buddhists. For each faith it marks different historical events and stories, but nonetheless the festival represents the same symbolic spiritual victory of light over darkness, good over evil and knowledge over ignorance.
The five-day long festival originated in India and is mentioned in early Sanskrit texts completed in the second half of the 1st millennium CE.
In the lead-up to Diwali, people prepare by renovating, cleaning and decorating their homes and workplaces with diyas (small earthen oil-filled lamps), lanterns, candles and rangoli. Rangoli is an art form in which patterns are created on the floor or the ground using materials such as coloured rice flour, coloured sand, quartz powder or flower petals.
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During Diwali people wear their finest clothes, light up the interior and exterior of their homes with diyas, decorate with rangoli, offer puja (worship) to Lakshmi, light fireworks, and enjoy family feasts, where mithai (sweets) and gifts are shared. People rise at dawn for a ritual oil bath on each day of the festival. Communities organise activities, events and parades. Retailers seek Lakshmi's blessings in their ventures and close their accounting year during Diwali. Fertility motifs appear in agricultural offerings by farming families, who give thanks to Lakshmi for the recent harvests and seek her blessings for prosperous future crops.
The main day of the festival of Diwali is an official holiday in India, Fiji, Guyana, Malaysia, Mauritius, Myanmar, Nepal, Pakistan, Singapore, Sri Lanka, Suriname, Trinidad and Tabago.
For ideas on making fun lanterns for home watch this great video by BuzzFeed Nifty:
The five days of Diwali
Dhanteras marks the beginning of Diwali. On this day, people clean their homes and business premises. They install diyas that they light up for the next five days. Doorways are decorated within homes and offices with rangoli by women and children, while men decorate the roofs and walls of homes, temples and markets. People shop for new utensils, home equipment, jewellery, firecrackers. In the evening, prayers and offerings of puffed rice, candy toys, rice cakes and batashas (hollow sugar cakes) are made to Lakshmi and Ganesha.
Naraka Chaturdashi or Choti Diwali is the second day of Diwali, and for Hindus in the south of India, this is Diwali proper. Rituals performed on this day symbolise the elimination of darkness or evil by the power of the light or the Divine goodness. It is a day for visiting friends, relatives and business associates, and exchanging gifts, in addition to being the major day for purchasing mithai, sweets. A variety of sweets are prepared using flour, chickpea flour, rice, semolina, dry fruit pieces powders or paste, milk solids and ghee. Sometimes these are wrapped with edible silver foil. Shops create Diwali-themed decorative displays, selling sweets in large quantities, Homemade delicacies are prepared for the next day.
Most Indian communities observe the third day, the day of Lakshmi Puja, as the height of Diwali. This is the day of the new moon. On this day, Hindu, Jain and Sikh temples and homes are aglow with lights, thereby making it the "festival of lights". Grandparents and other senior members of the community are visited on this day. Small business owners give gifts or special bonus payments to their employees. Shops either do not open or close early on this day allowing employees to enjoy family time. Shopkeepers and small operations perform puja rituals in their office premises. In the evening, people wear their best outfits, teenage girls and women wear saris and jewellery. At dusk, families offer puja, rituals and prayers, to Lakshmi to welcome her into their cleaned homes and bring prosperity and happiness for the coming year. Ganesha, Saraswati, Rama, Lakshmana, Sita, Hanuman, and Kubera are also prayed to. The diyas from the puja ceremony are then used to light more earthenware lamps, which are placed in rows along the parapets of temples and houses, while some diyas are set adrift on rivers and streams. After the puja, people celebrate with fireworks, and then share a family feast and mithai.
The fourth day is called as Annakut, or the regional equivalent, and ritually celebrates the bond between married couples and husbands will celebrate this with gifts to their wives. In some regions, parents invite newly married daughters and sons with their spouse to a festive meal and give them gifts. On this day communities prepare over one hundred dishes which are then dedicated to Krishna before being shared among the community. Hindu temples on this day prepare and present sweets to the faithful.
Some Hindu communities mark the last day as Bhaj Dooj or the regional equivalent, dedicated to the sibling bond between sister and brother. Prayers for the well-being of siblings are offered, then sisters perform the ritual of feeding their brothers with their hands. Other Hindu and Sikh craftsmen communities mark this day as Vishwakarma Puja and observe it by performing maintenance in their businesses and offering prayers.