Diwali, also known as “the festival of lights” is one of the most-celebrated Hindu festivals of the year. In India, this holiday is celebrated by not only those of the Hindu faith, but also by others including Jain, Buddhist, and Sikh. Diwali celebrations symbolize the triumph of light over dark and the holiday gets its name from the rows (avail) of clay lamps (diya/deepa) that people light outside their homes during this time. The lights shining during Diwali are meant to symbolize the inner light that protects us from spiritual darkness.

Celebrated in October or November each year (October 30th  this year!), Diwali originated as the harvest festival marking the last harvest before winter. People would seek the divine blessing of Lakshmi (the Goddess of wealth) for the past harvest and pray for success in the upcoming one. Today, this practice still continues as many families and businesses regard Diwali as the first day of the new financial year.

Diwali lasts four days and each day has its own tale, legend, and myth. The first day is Naraka Chaturdasi and marks the triumph of Lord Krishna, the God of love and joy, over the demon Naraka, On this day, housewives spring clean the home and shop for gold or kitchen utensils to bring good luck and fortune.

The second day, Amavasya, marks the worship of Lakshmi, the Goddess of wealth. It also tells the story of Lord Vishnu, the protector of the universe, who vanquished the tyrant Bali and banished him to hell. Bali was allowed to return to earth once a year, to light millions of lamps to dispel the darkness and ignorance, and spread the radiance of love and wisdom. To prepare for the arrival of Bali, people decorate their homes with clay lamps and create patterns of colored powders or sands on the floor called rangoli.

On the third day, Kartika Shudda Padyami, Bali steps out of hell to rule the earth with light, love, and wisdom. This is the main day of the festival when families gather together for Lakshmi puja, a prayer to the Goddess Lakshmi followed by mouth-watering feasts and firework festivities. This is the first day of the New Year when friends and relatives visit with gifts and best wishes for the new season. The illumination of lights and fireworks symbolize the obeisance to the heavens for health, wealth, knowledge, peace, and prosperity. According to some, the sound of fire-crackers also represents the joy of the people on earth, making the gods aware of their celebrations.

The last day, Yama Dvitiya or Bhai Dooj, is a celebration of the affection and warmth between brother and sister. On this day, sisters apply Tilak on the forehead on their brothers. They give gifts and pray for the longevity of their brothers and in return, brothers pledge to keep their sisters safe. Traditionally, married sisters invite their brothers into their homes to share in a lavish meal.

The Hindu Students’ Association at Western is hosting a Diwali show, visit their Facebook page for details. If you are interested in celebrating Diwali in London, you can stop by the Hindu Cultural Centre in London or participate in Srishti Diwali Dhamaka celebration on November 5th (tickets can be purchased online in advance).

For those celebrating, we wish you a Happy Diwali – may you relish in the light, reflect on the past year and look with hope to the new one!