This week celebrates the Festival of Light. Diwali (or Deepavali, the “festival of lights”) is an ancient Hindu festival celebrated every year around late October / early November. One of the largest and brightest festivals in India, spiritually it signifies the victory of good over evil.
Our family has strong ties with India. Marc, our oldest son was born there. Although he has grown up here in Australia from five months of age, India is his birth country. Hence we have always had a keen interest in the culture, traditions and history of India. And a deep love for the cuisine. Even more so now as Shalini, his girlfriend, is part Indian. She has brought some of the traditions of Diwali into our home this year. It has piqued my interest to find out more about this Festival of Light.
The Sanskrit, Dīpāvali, translates to a “row” or “series of lights”. Its celebration include millions of lights shining on housetops, outside doors and windows, around temples and other buildings in the communities and countries where it is observed.
Diwali is a five-day festival that is celebrated by Hindus, Jains, and Sikhs all over the world to mark different historical events, stories or myths but they all symbolise the victory of light over darkness, knowledge over ignorance, good over evil, hope over despair.
The first day of the festival houses and business premises are cleaned, renovated and decorated. This day marks the birthday of Lakshmi – the Goddess of Wealth and Prosperity, and the birthday of Dhanvantari – the God of Health and Healing. Diyas (lamps) are ritually kept burning all through the nights.
The second day of festivities house decoration and colourful floor patterns called rangoli are made. Special bathing rituals such as a fragrant oil bath are held in some regions, followed by minor pujas (prayers). Women decorate their hands with henna designs. Families are also busy preparing homemade sweets for the main Diwali.
The third day is the main festive day. People wear new clothes or their best outfits as the evening approaches. Lamps are lit, pujas (prayers) are offered to Lakshmi and other deities.
Lakshmi is believed to roam the earth on Diwali night. On the evening of Diwali, people open their doors and windows to welcome Lakshmi, and place diya lights on their windowsills and balcony ledges to invite her in. Small earthenware lamps filled with oil are lighted and placed in rows by some Hindus along the parapets of temples and houses. Some set diyas adrift on rivers and streams. Important relationships and friendships are also recognized during the day, by visiting relatives and friends, exchanging gifts and sweets.
After the prayers, people go outside and celebrate with fireworks. Children enjoy small fireworks, while adults enjoy playing with ground chakra, Vishnu chakra, flowerpots, firecrackers, rockets and bigger fireworks.The fireworks signify celebration of Diwali as well a way to chase away evil spirits.
After fireworks, people head back to a family feast. The Festival of Light continues for five days honouring and celebrating various family relationships, businesses and tools of trade.
© Raili Tanska