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The meaning of Diwali - And its many legends

WHAT IS DIWALI?


Diwali is India’s most important festival of the year—a time to celebrate the triumph of light over darkness, knowledge over ignorance, and good over evil. But Diwali is perhaps best known as a festival of lights. Derived from the Sanskrit Deepavali, which means “row of lights,” Diwali is known for the brightly burning clay lamps that celebrants line up outside their homes. In 2021, Diwali begins on November 2, and its most important festival day will take place on November 4.


THE MEANING OF DIWALI- AND ITS MANY LEGENDS


Diwali is so widely celebrated—it’s an important religious festival for Hindus, but is also observed among Jains, Sikhs, and Buddhists—that it has no single origin story. But while each religion has its own historical narrative behind the holiday, they all ultimately represent the victory of good over evil.


In North India, Diwali commemorates Prince Rama’s triumphant return to the city of Ayodhya after 14 years of exile due to the plotting of his evil stepmother.


In South India, meanwhile, Diwali honors the victory of Lord Krishna over the demon king Narakasura, who had imprisoned 16,000 women in his palace and meted out harsh punishments to any of his subjects who dared stand up against him.


In West India, the festival celebrates Vishnu’s banishment of King Bali—whose immense power had become a threat to the gods—to the underworld.


HOW DIWALI IS CELEBRATED


Just as the legends of Diwali differ from region to region so, too, do the holiday’s rituals. What most have in common, though, are the abundance of sweets, and the lighting of clay lamps that symbolize the inner light that protects each household from spiritual darkness.


On the first day of Diwali, people pray to the goddess Lakshmi, bake sweets, and clean their homes—which they decorate the next day with lamps and rangolis,


Diwali’s third day is its most important: On this day, people may go to the temple to honor Lakshmi or gather with friends and family for feasts and fireworks. Devotees also set ablaze the lamps they had displayed the day before.


For many celebrants, the fourth day of Diwali marks the new year and a time to exchange gifts and well wishes. Finally, the fifth day is typically a day to honor one’s siblings.

Gambling, especially in most parts of India, is part of traditional celebrations, and card games are played late into the night in the weeks before Diwali. Expect drinks and plenty of finger food at these parties, which will usually include platters of kebabs, fried savory snacks, tandoori grills, and spiced sweetmeats.


MOST FOLLOWED DIWALI TRADITIONS


  • House cleaning

  • Diwali sweets

  • Rangoli

  • Exchanging gifts

  • Firework display



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