Diwali starts today but Robin, my stepson in India told me that there were already fireworks everywhere yesterday evening as excitement mounted for probably the most famous festival celebrated by Hindus, Jains and Sikhs (although the last two cultures have different meanings for the celebration).
The Festival of Lights, also known as Deepawali or Dival, takes place over five nights, and starts with a thorough cleaning of the house which is then decorated throughout with strings of lights and lamps.
New clothes are often purchased and the outside entrance is decorated with rangolis, elaborate drawings frequently depicting the lotus flower which honours Lakshmi, the goddess of beauty, wealth and prosperity – who it is hoped will enter the houses displaying lamps in the window to light her way.
Such is the belief in the auspiciousness of this time, that special Lakshmi shrines might be created containing pictures of desired material possessions. In India this time marks the end of the harvest season, and prayers of thanks are not only given for past prosperity but for another successful year. Diwali is also considered a good time to start a new business.
It is a period of much joy, where Diwali cards and gifts are exchanged with the wishes of “Shubh Diwali” (Happy Diwali), and googras, a popular Diwali pastry of sweet coconut are offered to friends. There are huge firework displays and in some cases a lot of gambling, which has its origins in the legend that tells of Parvati playing cards with her husband, Lord Shiva, and declaring that anyone who gambled at this time would be lucky!
For some Hindus the occasion celebrates the triumphant return to the city of Ayodha of Lord Rama and Sita, twenty days after the defeat of Ravana. It is said that they arrived to find avali (rows) of deepa (lamps) displayed in homes in honour of their return – hence the name Deepawali.
However, amidst the materialism, it is also important to remember that the deeper spiritual meaning of Diwali is to celebrate an awareness of the inner light that shines through the dark of ignorance and fear.
Taken in part from my book “Do I Kneel or Do I Bow?: What you need to know when attending Religious occasions”, (Kuperard, 2010).