Diwali is one of the most beautiful celebrations the world has to offer, but what are the celebrations for, and how is it celebrated across the globe? Here's everything you need to know about the festival of light.
What is Diwali?
Image via Diwali Celebration 2015
Diwali is a festival of lights celebrated mainly by members of the Hindu faith, but also by some Sikhs and Jains. It is celebrated once a year, in the autumn in the UK.
In India, Diwali is one of the biggest and brightest festivals of the year and it represents the spiritual triumph of good over evil. The word Diwali itself means a ‘series of lights’.
Across the world, the festival marks a celebration of different religious events, the most commonly upheld being honouring the return of the god Rama, his wife Sita and brother Lakshmana from their 14 years of exile. In certain parts of India, it also marks the beginning of a new Hindu year.
For Sikhs, Diwali commemorates the selfless deed of the sixth Guru Nanak, when he refused to leave Gwalior Fort until all his fellow political prisoners, who had been unjustly incarcerated, were also released.
When he returned, the night sky was lit with candles and celebrations were marked with festive sweets—a tradition that continues today. His successful plight formed the moment in which the Sikh commitment to human rights became sacred.
The various nights of festivities celebrate different kinds of relationships. The fourth day for example, Diwali Padva, is dedicated to husbands and wives while the fifth day, Bhau-beej, is devoted to the brother/sister bond.
Celebrations of Diwali date all the way back to first millennium AD, where it was initially a kind of harvest festival. The lights featured in the ceremonies originally symbolised the sun, giver of light and energy, and therefore a good harvest.
How is Diwali celebrated?
Image via DNA India
Preparations for Diwali are extensive, and usually take place over a five-day period. Hindus clean and redecorate their homes in the lead up to the festival and dedicate prayers to the goddess of prosperity, Lakshmi.
The main event always coincides with the darkest, newest moon of the Hindu month of Kartika. This night will feature fireworks, a feast including sweet foods and an exchange of gifts.
During Diwali, millions of lights are shone on housetops, outside doors and windows as well as around temples and other significant buildings.
People buy gifts for one another, and children are told ancient myths and legends about light versus darkness and the battle between good and evil.
Perhaps most importantly, Diwali is a festival of peace. At the international border every year, Indian forces will approach the Pakistani forces and offer them traditional confectioneries. The Pakistani soldiers respond in kind with their own traditional treats.
How is Diwali celebrated outside of Asia?
Image via Wiki
People of Indian origin celebrate alongside other Australians every year, and in Melbourne there is an annual fireworks display over the Yarra River.
Federation Square plays host to live music and traditional dancing during the festivities as well as Indian cuisine and arts and crafts.
Due to the overwhelming number of people attending, Diwali in Federation Square is now officially Australia’s biggest yearly celebration.
Image via The Canadian Daily
In Trinidad and Tobego Diwali unites different communities as they come together to celebrate.
The Village of the Festival of Lights features a variety of stage performances, a folk theatre, exhibitions, nightly worship and a food court filled with vegetarian delicacies.
Image via BBC
Here in Britain Indian communities celebrate Diwali by cleaning and decorating their homes and putting on their own fireworks displays.
Communities often put on religious ceremonies, and it’s considered important to contact any family in India and to exchange gifts.
Diwali is beginning to permeate the cultural fabric of Britain, and increasingly non-Hindus are joining in the celebrations. It has been officially celebrated in Downing Street since 2009, a tradition begun by Gordon Brown.
Amazingly, Leicester plays host to some of the most extravagant Diwali celebrations outside of India itself.
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