A Celebration of Light: How Diwali is Celebrated in India

A Celebration of Light: How Diwali is Celebrated in India

Diwali, or Deepavali, the Festival of Lights, is an essential celebration in Hindu culture. This five-day festival takes place between mid-October and mid-November in Northern and Southern India and Nepal. 

Diwali comes from the Sanskrit words deep, light, and vali, meaning to burst. Diwali commemorates the return of Lord Rama, his wife Sita, and brother Lakshmana from the 14-year exile imposed by the demon king Ravana.

The Meaning Behind It

Diwali is a five-day festival that celebrates the victory of light over darkness. Known by different names, including the festival of lights and the remover of darkness, this holiday has been observed for more than 2,000 years. 

It was initially celebrated with lamps to ward off the darkness that covers Earth during winter.

The History of Diwali

Diwali celebrates the return of Lord Rama to his kingdom after defeating Ravana. The story goes that following a long battle, Lord Rama returned from Lanka to Ayodhya with his wife, Sita, and brother, Lakshmana. It was an auspicious day for King Dasharatha to die, so he did. 

They all had a grand ceremony on their return, and it became a tradition to celebrate this day every year on this very day. But there are many ways in which Diwali is celebrated now in different parts of India and worldwide.

Rituals & Legends Surrounding The Festival

Diwali is one of the most important Indian festivals celebrated by Hindus, Sikhs, and Jains. The word 'Diwali' means a row or series of lights. It is a five-day festival that starts on the third day of Kartik (which usually falls in October or November) and continues until the following dawn. 

On the first day, prayers are offered to Goddess Lakshmi. On the second day, lamps are lit to dispel darkness and evil forces. On the third day, people visit friends and relatives to exchange gifts before family members pray for their deceased ancestors. 

The fourth day is known as Ghee-yatra and celebrates Lord Rama's return from exile. On this day, there is a ceremony called Deepar-savana, where lamps are lit outside homes to commemorate his return. The fifth day marks the end of festivities with Lakshmi Puja; people offer thanks to God Laxmi, goddess of wealth and prosperity. 

Religious customs during Diwali vary according to region or religion. In some communities, Hindus worship Lakshmi in her dual forms of Saraswati - goddess of knowledge, music, and arts - while others worship Narayan - god of protection who symbolizes happiness. Firecrackers and candles represent peace, joy, and hope. 

Sikh traditions celebrate Guru Nanak's birthday, while Jain revolves around 16th-century philosopher Vardhaman Mahavira's Nirvana Day.

What to Do During Diwali

Diwali's five-day celebration starts on the day before and ends on the sixth day with a ritual that symbolizes unity. On this last day, it is customary for people to make elaborate preparations for their homes by decorating them with new clothes, flowers, sweets, and other food items. 

People also light candles and lamps inside or outside their houses and at the street corners near their homes. Homes are decorated with colorful rangoli patterns made from colored rice, sandalwood paste, and spices such as turmeric, ginger, cumin seeds, etc. At the same time, lamps are lit inside and outside the house to welcome Lord Rama, who has returned home.

The Best Gifts for Kids

Diwali gifts for kids should be well-thought-out to ensure your little ones get the most out of their new toy. Children old enough could be given a high-quality art set or sketchbook with plenty of markers and pens. Younger children will love an interactive game that they can learn from. 

If you're looking to give something more traditional, consider giving a child their first book or set of books!

Traditional Sweets & Foods To Enjoy During Diwali

There are many traditional sweets and foods to enjoy during Diwali. Some of the most popular include gulab jamun, a deep-fried milk-based sweet ball soaked in sugar syrup, and jalebi, a deep-fried wheat flour dough shaped into twisted coils. 

Rasgulla, an Indian cheese ball soaked in syrup made from dried fruit or flavored with rose water and saffron, is a typical dish served at Diwali celebrations. 

Nowadays, vegetarian variations are available for those who don't eat meat. Traditionally filled with spiced potatoes and peas, Samosas can also be found on many Indian restaurant menus during Diwali. 

Another favorite dessert is barfi, a fudge-like confectionery made from chopped nuts and either condensed milk or cream combined with various other ingredients such as pistachios, almonds, and cardamom powder.

Other Ways to Celebrate the Festival

Diwali isn't just about lighting lamps and sending fireworks into the sky. It's a celebration that lasts for five days, where families and communities come together to remember their ancestors, celebrate life, and honor Lakshmi (the Hindu goddess of wealth). 

The festival begins with the Deepawali puja on Diwali eve, when people pray to Lakshmi for peace and prosperity. Then the next day, they light up clay oil lamps and place them outside their homes. 

These lamps symbolize knowledge - the light which dispels ignorance. As night falls, people take deep breaths of air as they gaze at the stars and listen to storytellers recount tales from Hindu mythology. They meditate and pray to Lord Ganesha for happiness, knowledge, and wisdom.

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