Diwali is a festival originating from India and is one of the biggest in the country, commemorating the beginning of the Indian financial year, and has also spread other Asian countries, though it is celebrated by over 800 million Hindus, Buddhists, Jains and Sikhs all over the world. In fact, the English city Leicester boasts the largest celebration outside of India.
Diwali, or deepavali, is widely known as the Festival of Lights, which is in fact derived from its name, deep meaning ‘light’, and avali ‘a row’, translating to ‘row of lights’. Indeed, Diwali is renowned for its illumination of the entire country, as everyone lights diyas, oil lamps, outside their houses and fireworks are set off to create a colourful display of lights.
Like many Hindu festivals and myths, Diwali has multiple stories behind its origins, though the two most popular ones are in honour of Lakshmi and Rama. Diwali is typically dedicated to Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth, and celebrates her marriage to Lord Vishnu as well as her birthday. It also commemorates the return of Lord Rama, the seventh reincarnation of Vishnu, from his 14-year-long exile and his triumph over the demon-king Ravana.
Diwali is celebrated over a period of 4 days, each involving the worship of different gods. The central goddess is the afore mentioned Lakshmi, who is worshipped primarily on the second day. It is said that the light of the diyas attract Lakshmi’s attention, causing her to bestow blessings upon the household for the new year. Next to oil lamps and fireworks, participants also celebrate by decorating the floor or ground with intricate and colourful Rangoli. On the last day, Bhai Duj, it is custom for sisters to invite their brothers to their homes and pray for their safety and success. The widely popular god Ganesh, who appears as a boy with the head of an elephant, is also worshipped during Diwali. During the festival people will often completely clean their houses, symbolic of a new start for the new year. It is a time of giving presents to each other, somewhat like Christmas, with clothes being a common gift. Two days before the festival of lights, Dhanteras is celebrated, during which gambling plays a large role, as it is believed that those who gamble on that day will have a prosperous year, due to the blessing of the goddess Parvati, who is said to have played dice with her husband Lord Shiva on that day. Regardless of their beliefs and different forms of worship, all participants rejoice in the festival of Diwali, as it is a time of light-hearted celebration and appreciation of life for everyone, revelling in the victory of light over darkness.