A trip to India between mid-October and mid-November doesn’t disappoint. This is perfect time of year to catch the 5-day festivities of Diwali. You’ll be greeted by warm, sunny weather, skies filled with fireworks and homes adorned with string lights and oil lamps.
What is Diwali?
The word Diwali originates from the Sanskrit word “Deepavali,” which means “rows of lights.” The festival is celebrated to mark the victory of good over evil and light over darkness, and to pray for health and prosperity throughout the year.
Why is Diwali celebrated?
There are many festivals celebrated in India, but Diwali is probably the most widely celebrated one. It’s celebrated not only by Hindus, but also by Sikhs, Jains and Buddhists.
The reason for its observance varies across religions and by region. For instance, most Hindu folks who live in the Northern part of India celebrate the festival in remembrance of the day when Lord Rama and his wife Sita returned to their kingdom in Ayodhya after 14 years in exile. His subjects were so happy to have them back, they lit oil lamps as a warm welcome.
Diwali is also celebrated in the Southern and Eastern parts of India to mark the defeat of the demon Narakasura.
Jains celebrate Diwali as the day Mahavira attained nirvana (spiritual awakening), whereas Sikhs celebrate it as the day when Guru Hargobind returned to Amritsar after being held captive in Gwalior.
Buddhists celebrate Diwali in commemoration of the day when Emperor Ashoka converted to Buddhism.
Diwali is celebrated by more than a billion people across the world!
When is Diwali celebrated?
Diwali is a five-day celebration that is held in the Hindu lunar month of Kartik. Kartik begins around mid-October and ends in mid-November.
The third day of Diwali is the most important. It is celebrated on the moonless night (also called darkest day or Amavasya) in the month of Kartik. Therefore, the date changes every year.
How is Diwali celebrated?
While the festival lasts for five days, the prep begins weeks in advance. Homes, specifically kitchens, are deep cleaned; some people even give their walls a fresh coat of paint.
New clothes and kitchen utensils are bought, decorations such as string lights and lanterns are hung, and just a few days before Diwali, homemade sweets and savories are prepared.
The celebrations are spread over five days, each with its own significance.
The Days of Diwali
Day 1: Dhanteras
The festival commences with Dhanteras. “Dhan” means wealth and “teras” refers to the 13th
day of Kartik. It is believed that on this day Laxmi, the Goddess of wealth and prosperity, emerged from the ocean. She is worshipped, and people buy gold and silver on this auspicious day.
Day 2: Choti (small) Diwali
This day is celebrated as Narak Chaturdasi or Choti Diwali. “Naraka” means hell and “Chaturdasi” refers to the 14th
day. It is believed that Narakasura, a terrifying demon, was killed on this day.
Choti Diwali is celebrated by cleaning the house
then decorating the house with rangoli (drawings or patterns made with flowers or colored powders). People also offer prayers for the souls of their departed ancestors by lighting oil lamps.
Day 3: Lakshmi pooja / Diwali day
This is the most important day in the 5-day celebration. People wake up early, apply oil
on their body before taking a shower, don their new clothes and pray at home or at a temple. It is also the day when the goddess of wealth (Lakshmi) is worshipped. Doors and windows are kept open with the hope that goddess Laxmi will find her way in and bless everyone with wealth and prosperity.
Loved ones also get together to share food
, sweets and play card games. Fireworks are also a big part of this day.
Day 4: Annakoot / Govardhan puja
On this day, some celebrants prepare a large variety of dishes and offer it to Krishna. It is their way of thanking the god for saving mankind from the wrath of Lord Indra (the god of thunder and rain). He did so by lifting Govardhan mountain so that villagers could take shelter under it.
That’s why the fourth day is known as annakoot, meaning “mountain of food” metaphorically representing Govardhan mountain.
According to some communities, this day is dedicated to celebrating the love between spouses.
Day 5: Bhai dhuj
The fifth and final day celebrates sibling love. It is called Bhai Duj, Yama Dwitiya, or Bhai tika in various parts of the country.
Brothers visit their married sisters’ houses bearing gifts, while sisters pray for the health and longevity of their brothers.
In a nutshell, Diwali is a time for families to spend time with loved ones, enjoy delicious home-cooked feasts, exchange gifts and celebrate new beginnings.
Diwali Q&A With Recipe Creator Anushree Shetty
How will you be celebrating this year?
Though we do not get a chance to enjoy some of the large-scale festivities that we did growing up in India, we still enjoy practicing traditions such as going to the temple, buying new clothes, making sweets at home and having friends over, and of course, putting up beautiful decorations around the house.
This year, we’ll be hosting a party to celebrate with our neighbors and enjoy a delicious Diwali feast. Finally, our celebrations would not be complete without sparklers. Our favorite activity is watching Diwali fireworks on a crisp October night.
What’s your favorite Diwali memory?
Growing up in India, my favorite memory of Diwali is my dad buying Kaju Katli (cashew fudge) from our neighborhood sweet store. Both my brother and I loved this sweet and couldn’t wait to get our hands on it!
What’s your go-to recipe to share?
My favorite recipe to share is Kalakand (Indian milk cake)
. Traditionally, it takes a long time to make since you need to reduce the milk, but I use store-bought ricotta cheese and condensed milk to cut the cooking time in half.
How do you decorate for Diwali?
I decorate the exterior of the house with string lights that I often leave hanging until New Year’s.
The entryway door features a decorative door hanging (also called thoran) made with marigold flowers and mango leaves. Though traditionally they are made from real flowers, I use one made with artificial flowers that I got off Etsy.
The next thing I do is place a decorative brass bowl (urli) near the entryway inside the house to welcome guests. The bowl is filled with water and flower petals or floating candles.
Marigold flowers adorn the fireplace and I use flameless tealight candles around the house and on stairways.
To finish off my decorations, I make a rangoli out of flowers. It makes for a beautiful statement piece.