Glowing lights, sparkling fireworks, colorful dresses, mouth-watering sweets -- India's festival of light is a treat for the senses!
Diwali, as the festival is known, is celebrated each year in October or November according to the lunar calendar. This year, Diwali falls on November 7.
Much like Christmas season drives up sales in stores, India's Diwali is a blessing for shopkeepers. Shops are packed with customers buying new clothes, gold jewelry, gifts for friends and co-workers, and decorations for their homes.
The Story of Diwali
Diwali gets its name from the word "Deepavali" meaning a "row of lamps" and refers to the oil lamps that people light up along the walls of their homes. The light is symbolic of the victory of good over evil.
Behind this religious custom of lights is a story. An ancient epic called Ramayana tells the story of a young prince, Rama, who was banished from his kingdom and sent to live in the forests. He is faced with many trials and finally slays the demon who had abducted his wife. When the prince returns, the people of his kingdom rejoice and celebrate his victory by lighting up the streets with oil lamps and setting off fireworks.
For many Hindus, the festival is also an opportunity to honor the goddess of wealth and bounty.
How Do Indians Celebrate?
Indians, whether in India or living outside the country, look forward to this much-awaited festival. They start preparing a week earlier by purchasing new clothes and fireworks, cleaning their homes, and making sweets. In North India, the festival begins three days earlier with purchase of gold, silver and copper items which are considered auspicious.
On Diwali day, people wake up early and after a bath, don new clothes and visit temples (the Hindu places of worship). They also meet with friends and extended families, and exchange sweets. As the sun sets, homes are lit up with lamps and the skies light up with fireworks. For traders and businessmen, Diwali is an auspicious time to start a new financial year and close out their old books.
If you live outside India and have neighbors who are celebrating this festival, drop by and say "Happy Diwali!"