As the sweltering heat of summer ends and just before the heavy monsoon season begins, fall in India may be considered by some as the happiest season in India. Revolving around the agrarian calendar, autumn is the end of harvest season and the beginning of a new financial year. All across India, it’s marked by the Diwali festival; from the bustling, metropolis of Mumbai to the culturally traditional towns of Jaipur and Udaipur, the festival of lights, is one of joy and abundance.
India’s rich and diverse towns and cities are the backdrop to this celebrated national holiday. Many business doors close as home doors are left open in this outdoor festival, celebrating open-heartedness and harmony. Diwali represents Indian culture and tradition in its happiest form, where being gracious and generous to anyone is considered good luck.
Diwali is a Hindu festival that has come to involve nearly all who live in India. Nicknamed the Indian Christmas by westerners, Diwali is a 5 day event beginning this week on 23 October. Although this festival of good will and hospitality bears its roots in religious waters, it’s a free and welcome celebration for anyone who wishes to partake in this spiritual and mythical homecoming. This is demonstrated by the Sikhs and Jain societies who also celebrate their beliefs throughout this festival of lights.
For some, Diwali is the homecoming of Rama, a Hindu god who, according to the ancient Hindu text Ramayana, was exiled from his home. After standing up against the potent force Ravana, a 10-headed spirit king, with the help of the powerful monkey God Hanuman, Rama returns home with his rescued princess Sita. Hindus celebrate his journey home by lighting his path home with candles, oil lamps and fireworks.
To others, Diwali is to worship Lakshmi, the goddess of beauty, wealth and prosperity. With the first day of Diwali falling on the Goddess’ birthday, candles and lamps are lit to invite Lakshmi into homes and business on the third night of Diwali when she is considered to return to walk the earth.
With Diwali coming to represent many aspects of the Hindu, Sikhs and Jain faith, the festival is separated into five different days. Dhanteras is the first day, devoted to clearing out the home, honouring Lakshmi’s birthday and buying or preparing the best clothes for all family members. Naraka Chaturdasi is the second day, when homes are decorated with candles, oil lamps, garlands of jasmine flower; rangoli patterns drawn on the floor and coloured sand in the shape of a lotus flower represent spiritual welcomes in entrances.
Diwali is the third and main event, with lavish feasts, firework displays, prayers and worship to both Rama and Lakshmi. The lighting of many torches, candles, diyas and sparklers both guide Rama home and welcome in the blessings of Lakshmi. The fourth and fifth days, Padwa and Bhai Duj are days to honour the bonds of marriage and the bonds of siblings, when Indians travel to visit family members, give gifts and eat meals together, in honour of the family ties that are strongest.
India’s already beautiful landscape and bustling cities are lit up with 1000’s of lights used in joy and celebration. Diwali encourages the people of India to look inwards at their spiritual journey and inner light. As knowledge triumphs victoriously over obliviousness, Diwali is considered the eternal victory of good, with light prevailing over shadow. On an individual scale, Diwali has become an opportunity to make peace over conflict with graciousness and display hospitality throughout the country.
Already renowned as a place of rich history, traditional culture and opportunity, in the heart of Diwali, India is a memorable sight. It becomes a country of unity and celebration, where family relationships and ties of love are as honoured as the Hindu Gods and their awaited homecoming.
What might be learnt from this Hindu festival and their methods of celebration?