By MACKENZIE STEELE
You may remember earlier this year we celebrated Holi, the Hindu festival of colours. Now it is the Hindu festival of lights, called Diwali or Deepavali, which lands on the 19th of October this year. Like Holi, the date changes every year because of the lunisolar Hindu calendar, where Diwali falls on the new moon of the month Kartika. In most parts of India, this is a five-day festival, but could last as little as two or as many as six days.
Diwali is all about the triumph of light over darkness. This is a holiday with a rich cultural background. The stories, rituals, and meanings of the festival (and even the individual days) change depending on the region and culture, but they all keep the unifying theme of light over darkness and hope in the despair.
Hindus celebrate the victory of Rama and his allies over the demon Ravana, but they also celebrate Lakshmi and her love for Vishnu, her husband. Sikhs call the festival Bandi Chhor Divas, celebrating Guru Har Gobind’s escape from an enemy prison with Hindu royalty, and subsequent arrival at the Golden Temple. Today, this is celebrated with fireworks, festivities, and decorating the Golden Temple with lights. Jains celebrate Diwali as the day the spiritual teacher Mahavira reached Nirvana, or enlightenment, and do so with prayers of remembrance. Newar Buddhists in Nepal worship Lakshmi for Diwali in the same way the Hindus do, over five days. There is also a lovely tradition between Indian and Pakistani armed forces, where traditional sweets from both cultures are exchanged.
The festivities differ, but there is a general format. Beforehand, houses are renovated, cleaned, and decorated. The first day is Dhanteras, where people decorate the floors with colourful patterns, put up lights, and finish any renovations still in progress. Today is the birthday of Lakshmi, the goddess of prosperity, and Dhanvantari, the god of health. A lot of people go shopping for gifts for their family and friends. That night, lamps are kept burning all night to honour Lakshmi and Dhanvantari.
The second day is Narak Chaturdasi or Choti Diwali, celebrating the day that Krishna, Satyabhama, and Kali killed the demon Narakasura together. People cook, have bathing rituals, and attend religious ceremonies.
The third day is the main day of Diwali, Lakshmi Puja. People give each other gifts through the day. People dress up, light lanterns, and pray to Lakshmi. It is said that the goddess walks the earth on this night, so people leave their doors and windows open to welcome her in. Mothers are celebrated alongside Lakshmi. At night there are fireworks, and feasts, including the sweets made the day before.
The fourth day is Padwa, the celebration of the bond between married couples. Newly married couples have dinners at the brides’ parents’ house, and this day is kind of like an anniversary for all married couples. There are also prayers to Krishna, and in some parts of India, this is the beginning of the new year.
The last day is Bhai Dooj, which celebrates the brother-sister bond. There are feasts, and gifts are exchanged between siblings.
I think what I like best about Diwali is that it is a very detailed and complex celebration. All the people of India celebrate it, no matter their religion, and when they left and spread, they took Diwali with them. Now it is celebrated by many people, of many ethnicities, all over the world. It’s a beautiful thing, the gift of peace and hope, and that is what this festival signifies.
What’s really cool is that there public celebrations for Diwali here. Many areas have some kind of celebration going on this month, often easily found with a Google search. As an excuse to dance, eat, and have fun for a festival all about resilience with a happy ending, I think we all could do worse.
If you would like to know more, start with these cool sites:
MACKENZIE STEELE is our resident evil Aspie queen. (Mwahaha!) She’s dead set on becoming a geneticist, but she’s interested in other things too. Like Sims, cats, owls, Sims, books, music, Sims, Ancient Roman life, Latin, Sims…
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