Wherever you are in the world, it is likely that this evening you will hear some fireworks as tonight is the ‘Festival of Lights’ or Diwali.
The autumn celebration dates back to 701–1200 CE and is a festivity of lightness winning over darkness, which relates metaphorically to such ideas as good winning over evil. The use of lights in homes also relates to ‘the goddess of wealth’ Lakshmi entering the homes of those involved.
But if you’re travelling through the countries that celebrate the holiday on a large scale, such as India or Sri Lanka, you might want to know a little bit more about the five-day festival.
In the lead up to the first day of Diwali, Dhanteras, in which wealth is honoured, it is customary to spring clean the home so that it is spick and span before lights are lit for Lakshmi’s entry. After the lamp is lit, many will also draw footprints in flour to mark the arrival of the wealth goddess.
The day is also celebrated by wearing fancy new clothes and jewellery, and some even get together and gamble.
According to legend, on this day Lord Krishna defeated the demon Narakasura before rescuing 16,000 princesses being held against their wish. As a result, in the state of Goa, it is not unusual to see demon effigies being burnt in the early hours of the morning.
But most men who follow the traditions of Diwali will undergo the morning ritual of washing oneself in scented oils before putting on some fresh or new garments are adorned. A large breakfast is then eaten with friends and family. Later in the day sweets and flattened rice is consumed.
The third day of Diwali is the main day of celebration where Hindus usher in their new year. To mark this occasion, Hindus light up the sky with amazing firework demonstrations and fill their houses with lamps and candles—hence why it is referred to as the Festival of Lights. Additionally, beautiful imagery of Indian folk art or ‘Rangoli’ is recreated in houses and present giving is enjoyed among family and friends.
Excited by business? Well, the fourth day of Diwali may be of interest to you. Like New Years Day in the West, things start afresh and new accounts are opened by merchants. It is important that one does not cook anything and imbibes food that doesn’t need to be prepared. Salt or ‘sabra’s is also sold to women to help bring about affluence in the New Year.
The fifth and final day of Diwali is special in that it is principally concerned with observing the special relationship that brothers and sisters have. The day usually consists of siblings swapping gifts. Sisters often make a big meal for their brothers and anoint ‘tika’, which is a red mark, on their foreheads to symbolise their wish of goodwill and happiness for the future.
Diwali is one of the highlights of the year for Hindus and Sikhs across the world, and especially the Indian Subcontinent. Should you have the pleasure of witnessing the various practices, remember to treat any involvement with gratitude and mirth.