Diwali, or Deepavali, is the Hindu festival of lights. It is celebrated in a big way in India and Nepal, where it is called Tihar. The term Deepavali is of Sanskrit origin, which means an array of lamps. The word ‘deep’ means clay lamp and ‘avali’ means an array. The celebration of the festival signifies the victory of good over evil within oneself. The word Diwali is actually a corruption of the Sanskrit term Deepavali. Today it is celebrated by Sikhs, Jains, Hindus, and even some Buddhists all around the globe.
The festival has a deep significance since ancient times. According to the Vedic culture, the message of Diwali is to eradicate the world from darkness and lead it towards the self-illuminated light within. Here, each individual is likened to a brightly lit clay lamp. The message is to collectively participate in the endeavour, as it is not just the effort of one individual. The differences between the high and low are forgotten, as the aim is to usher in equanimity and equality in society.
Traditionally, the celebration of Deepavali is associated with a number of mythological events. In Northern India, Deepavali is celebrated to celebrate the return of King Rama to his Kingdom Ayodhaya after from a 14 year exile and victory over the demon king Ravana. The people of Ayodhaya lit an array of clay lamps to celebrate his return.
In Southern India, another legend describes the victory of Lord Krishna over the demon Narakasura. In western India, it is celebrated in the honour of the King Bali who went to rule the nether world by the order of Lord Vishnu.
The festival has varied significance all over India. In West Bengal, it is celebrated in honour of Goddess Durga. Particularly, in the north of India, Hindu merchants open their new books and pray to Goddess Laxmi for a joyful and prosperous new year. In most parts of India, people get up early before dawn on Diwali and pray to the Lord for their spiritual advancement.
Additionally, Diwali is celebrated over a period of five days in many parts of India. These days include Dhanteras, Naraka Chadurdashi, Lakshmi Puja, Govardhana Puja, and Bhai Duj. On Dhanteras, which actually means the thirteenth day of the lunar month, people purchase utensils and gold as it is considered an auspicious occasion. On Naraka Chaturdashi, people commemorate the slaying of the demon Narakasura as it was the 14th day on which the demon was killed.
On Laxmi Puja, people worship Goddess Laxmi, which is considered the Goddess of wealth and prosperity. Govardhan Puja is the worship of Lord Krishna, which is celebrated as the day on which Lord Krishna obtained victory over Lord Indra. In Gujarat, this day is also celebrated as the New Year, and the first day of the new Vikram Samavat. On Bhai Dooj, sisters meet brothers and vice versa and exchange presents and sweets to express their fondness and affection for each other.
Every one in the family gets up early in the morning and puts on new clothes. Especially on this day, children and parents alike burst crackers, make use of a variety of fireworks at night and light lamps to celebrate the occasion. It’s a great joy to see crackers bursting and joyful people all around celebrating this festival with a lot of happiness and gaiety. On many occasions, even people of other faiths join together in celebrating this occasion as one.
On this occasion, people exchange a lot of gifts between each other. Families and friends alike give and accept gifts like sweets, puja thalis, dry fruits, homemade chocolates, diyas, candles, wall hangings, decor items, gift hampers, jewellery, apparel, flowers, bhai dooj gifts and so on.
The business community celebrates the festival by exchanging gifts like corporate gift hampers, gift baskets, designer gift boxes, pen sets, diaries, watches, perfumes, mobiles, and the like.
Nowadays, many Indians have settled abroad in countries like the United Sates, United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand, and other countries. Therefore, this festival is being celebrated by a lot of expatriates in the same graceful manner as it is celebrated on the home front.