A Festival of Lights: Exploring the Rich Traditions of Diwali
Diwali, also known as Divali or Deepavali, celebrated in the UK by its 1 million hindus (UK ONS Data), stands as one of the most celebrated religious festivals in Hinduism and Jainism. This vibrant and spiritually significant event lasts for five days, commencing on the 13th day of the dark half of the lunar month Ashvina and concluding on the second day of the light half of the lunar month Karttika. Typically falling in late October or November in the Gregorian calendar, Diwali carries a profound meaning, symbolising the victory of light over darkness. In this guide, we will explore the diverse traditions and observances that make Diwali a festival of joy, reflection, and unity.
The Meaning of Diwali
The name “Diwali” is derived from the Sanskrit term “Deepavali,” which translates to “row of lights.” This name is aptly chosen, as light plays a central role in the festival’s symbolism. It represents the triumph of good over evil, knowledge over ignorance, and hope over despair. The 5 days of Diwali are filled with customs and practices that vary by region and tradition, but they all revolve around these core themes.
Diwali Traditions and Observances
Diwali customs and practices vary widely across India, reflecting the rich tapestry of cultures and beliefs within the country. Among Hindus, the lighting of “divas” or small earthen lamps filled with oil is a widespread practice on the night of the new moon. This ritual is meant to invoke the presence of Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth and prosperity. However, this is just one facet of Diwali’s rich tapestry.
In different parts of India, Diwali is associated with various events and legends. For instance, in North India, it is celebrated as the royal homecoming of Lord Rama after his victory over the demon king Ravana. In Bengal and other parts of India, Diwali coincides with the worship of goddess Kali, who represents the fierce aspect of the divine feminine. In the southern state of Tamil Nadu, the festival is marked by the defeat of the demon Narakasura by Lord Krishna.
Some also view Diwali as a commemoration of the marriage of Lakshmi and Lord Vishnu or as the birthday of Lakshmi herself. These diverse traditions reflect the rich cultural and religious diversity of India
During Diwali, homes are adorned with rows of lit divas, creating a mesmerising display of lights. Colourful “rangoli” designs decorate floors, adding to the festive atmosphere. Doors and windows are kept open, symbolising the hope that Goddess Lakshmi will enter and bless the residents with prosperity.
Diwali spans five days, each with its specific significance:
Dhanteras: This day involves cleaning homes and buying small gold items, with a primary focus on the worship of Goddess Lakshmi.
Naraka Chaturdashi or Choti Diwali: On this day, people commemorate Lord Krishna’s victory over the demon Narakasura and offer prayers for their ancestors.
Lakshmi Puja: This is the main day of Diwali when families seek blessings from Goddess Lakshmi, light divas, candles, and enjoy fireworks.
Goverdhan Puja, Balipratipada, or Annakut: This day honors Lord Krishna’s victory over Lord Indra. It also marks the beginning of the new year in the Hindu Vikrama calendar, with merchants performing rituals.
Bhai Dooj, Bhai Tika, or Bhai Bij: The final day celebrates the bond between brothers and sisters. Sisters pray for their brother’s well-being and apply a sacred mark on their foreheads.
Diwali Traditions and Celebrations
Diwali is not only about rituals but also about celebrating the spirit of togetherness and joy. During this time, people visit loved ones, exchange gifts, wear new clothes, and indulge in feasts. It is also a time for charitable acts, as Hindus believe that helping the less fortunate brings blessings.
Fireworks are a common feature of Diwali celebrations, though there is a growing awareness of the need to limit pollution. Gambling, especially card games, is encouraged for good luck, reminiscent of divine games of dice. It’s interesting to note that, in honour of Goddess Lakshmi, it is customary for the female player to be considered the winner in some regions.
Diwali in Jainism and Sikhism
Diwali holds significance beyond Hinduism. In Jainism, Diwali signifies the enlightenment and liberation (moksha) of Mahavira, the 24th Tirthankara, from the cycle of life and death. This event is celebrated with the lighting of lamps and deep contemplation.
Sikhism also embraces Diwali. Sikhs commemorate Bandi Chhor Diwas on Diwali, which marks the release of 52 prisoners from Gwalior Fort by Guru Hargobind. This release was achieved without war or battle, and lamps illuminated the entire city of Amritsar upon their return.
Diwali in Buddhism
While not a primary Buddhist festival, some Buddhists commemorate Diwali as the day when Emperor Ashoka converted to Buddhism in the 3rd century BCE. Vajrayana Buddhists in the Newar community in Nepal celebrate Diwali by lighting lamps, adorning temples and monasteries, and venerating the Buddha.
Diwali is a festival that transcends boundaries, bringing people together to celebrate the triumph of light over darkness, knowledge over ignorance, and good over evil. Its diverse traditions and observances showcase the cultural richness of India and its deep-rooted spiritual values. Whether you are lighting divas, exchanging gifts, or simply enjoying the company of loved ones, Diwali is a time for reflection, unity, and the celebration of life’s blessings.