What is Diwali?
Hinduism’s most important holiday, Diwali is a festival of lights that celebrates the triumph of good over evil. Diwali is an official holiday in Nepal, India, Sri Lanka, Mauritius, Guyana, Trinidad and Tobago, Suriname, Malaysia, Singapore and Fiji. Fireworks and feasting takes place across these countries, it’s a great time to be there. Diwali also marks the start of the New Year for many Hindus, meaning it’s time to throw out the old and welcome in the new. People clean out their houses, buy new clothes and give presents to friends and family. Then the festivities start at the temple with singing and dancing before the feasts and parties begin.
When does it take place?
The festival takes place over five days in autumn, between mid-October and mid-December. The exact dates change each year though, depending on the lunar calendar.
Who celebrates Diwali?
It’s the most important holiday for Hindus, but other religions like Sikhs, Buddhists and Jains also celebrate Diwali. And as well as in India, it’s also celebrated in Nepal, Sri Lanka and other parts of south-east Asia.
What is the story behind it?
There are a few different stories behind Diwali. One of the most popular is that it celebrates the homecoming of Rama, prince of Ayodhya. Along with his wife Sita he had been sent to live in exile in the forests by his father. Along the way Sita was kidnapped by a demon king of Lanka, and Rama spent 14 years battling to rescue her. Finally he succeeded and returned home to Ayodhya, where the villagers were overjoyed to see him and lit candles to celebrate his homecoming.
How is it celebrated?
Diwali’s full name is Deepavali, which translates into ‘a row of lighted lamps’. It’s said that Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth, fortune and prosperity, can only find her way to your house if it’s well lit. Therefore, Indian houses are filled with lights during Diwali. Traditionally a small clay lamp filled with oil, known as a diya, was used; but these days’ candles and electric lights are used too.
The twinkling lights make the houses look beautiful, but it’s not just the houses that are decorated for Diwali. Whole streets and towns are lit with lanterns and covered with paper garlands and flowers as offerings to the gods, and at night there are firework displays of sparklers, rockets and firecrackers. The light and sound are said to ward off evil spirits. In many villages you can also join in with a mela, a kind of village fair, where you’ll find food stalls, rides, puppet shows and fortune tellers.
What do people eat?
Like most Indian occasions, food plays a big part in the Diwali celebrations. Families gather for big feasts, and because of its religious significance, many people go vegetarian around the festival. There are also special sweets, or mithai, made for the occasion. Each region has their own favourites, but you might find kaju katli, made from cashew paste, sugar and cardamom cooked in ghee, then spread out and covered with edible silver foil, and cut into diamonds. Or jalebi, made with a batter of flour, curd and sugar syrup formed into concentric circles, and deep fried until crispy.