Diwali, or Divali, derived from the Sanskrit word dipavali meaning “row of lights,” is one of the most important religious celebrations in India and Hinduism. It is a joyous and colorful holiday consisting of family gatherings, feasts and sweets—particularly scrumptious is gulab jamun (spongy, milky balls, doused in a healthy serving of sweet rose syrup)—and the worship of deities including Lakshmi, Kali, Rama, and Sita. All forms of light, from fireworks to string lanterns, are involved in the festivities.
An essential practice of Diwali is lighting the wicks of small clay lamps filled with oil, each known as a diya, and arranging them in rows, which signifies inner light and protection from spiritual darkness. Rangoli, colorful patterns adorning the ground, created with brightly dyed sand, rice powder or flour and flower petals, are another signature decoration associated with the festival. The reasons for celebrating this holiday vary by location and religious affiliation, but all celebrations are linked by the common theme of a renewal of life.
Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth and prosperity, is most often associated with the holiday (though deity worship varies regionally), with some believing she walks the earth in search of homes welcoming her during this time. Offerings of food and other gifts that stimulate the senses, like flowers and incense, play a large role in welcoming Lakshmi.
In North India, King Rama’s return to Ayodha after defeating Ravana—a tale from the Ramayana (an epic Indian poem dating back to before 300 BCE)—is thought to coincide with this holiday, whereas South India believes Diwali to mark the Krishna's victory over the demon Narakasura, king of Pragjyotishapura. West India celebrates Diwali, acknowledging the condemnation of King Bali to the underworld by Vishnu.
Jains and Sikhs also take part in Diwali celebrations, with Jains celebrating the nirvana or spiritual awakening of Lord Mahavira in 527 B.C. and Sikhs believing it to mark day that Guru Hargobind Ji, the sixth Sikh Guru, was freed from imprisonment.
Diwali usually falls 18 days after Dussehra, the holiday marking the triumph of Rama an avatar of Vishnu, over the 10-headed demon king Ravana. Previously, Diwali would signify the final harvest of the year; today this seasonal significance and relation to commerce is continued into modern times with the day after Diwali marking the first day of the new financial year. This year, the third and main day of Diwali will fall on November 11th.
Who doesn't like eating festive kana, or food, partying, and celebrating life? Even if you won’t be on the subcontinent for the festivities, here are some other destinations where you can get a awesome taste of Diwali.
The Metropolitan Museum of Art will be celebrating Sunday, November 15th with dance, music, and art-making.
The Rubin Museum will be celebrating all November long, with Diwali as the theme for the family Sunday activities.
November 11th at Trafalgar Square will be the site of the city's annual Diwali celebration, with food stalls, talks, activities, jewellery and crafts in the mix.
Can’t make it to any of those happenings? You can still celebrate from the comfort of your living room couch with a Diwali themed The Office (U.S.) episode (Season 3, Episode 6) and a quick batch of coconut ladoos (recipe here).