Diwali the festival of lights is an ancient Hindu festival celebrated in autumn or Spring every year. Diwali is one of the largest and brightest festivals in India. The festival spiritually signifies the victory of good over evil. The preparations and rituals typically extend over a five-day period, but the main festival night of Diwali coincides with the darkest.
Diwali Celebrations Around India –
The ancient festival of Diwali has been celebrated for ages in India and annual celebrations are still held each year all over the country with great flourish, enthusiasm and gaiety. Diwali is one of the prime Hindu festivals that unites the whole of India.
North India :
According to the great Hindu epic ‘Ramayana’, Diwali is believed to be the time when Lord Rama defeated and killed the evil King Ravana and after passing a period of of fourteen years in exile returned to his capital Ayodhya on a new moon day of the Kartik season with wife Sita and brother Lakshman. This homecoming of Lord Rama was celebrated with lights, fireworks, bursting of crackers .The Diwali night, in these areas, is a night of fireworks with sparklers and crackers of all types burnt throughout the night. The idols of Goddess Lakshmi, the symbol of wealth and prosperity and Lord Ganesha, the elephant-headed god, the symbol of auspiciousness and wisdom, are worshipped in most Hindu homes on this day. Most of the temples dedicated to the worship of Lord Rama or Krishna celebrate Diwali with great piety and eagerness.
Eastern India :
In the eastern region of the country, Diwali is celebrated with great fanfare. In Orissa, oil lamps, candles and lanterns are lit and placed in rows around individual homes. Crackers are burst, sparklers lighted and gifts and sweetmeats distributed by people across the state.The celebration here is almost like anywhere in India save for one ritual that calls upon the spirits of the family’s forefathers. A primitive custom in this festival includes burning of jute stems to light up the dark path that the spirits of the ancestors supposedly take to go back to heaven. Most of the houses are brightly lit and the doors and windows kept open to welcome Goddess Lakshmi, who is supposed to visit every home during this time.
In West Bengal, Lakshmi puja is celebrated earlier than the Diwali celebrations and the deity celebrated on this occasion is the fierce Goddess Kali. “Kali Puja” or the worship of Goddess Kali is what makes the celebration in this part of India a unique one. In Kolkata, the capital of the state, as well as in all the other parts of West Bengal, the nights of “Kali Puja” are marked by high festivities that consists of activities similar to other regions like bursting crackers, holding dazzling fireworks display, lighting rows of candles and diyas around individual homes, painting colorful patterns at the doorstep, dressing up in new apparels and paying a visit to friends and relatives.
Western India :
In the western states of India, Diwali is a four-day festival, the preparations for which begin at least 15 days in advance.The markets liven up almost a whole month in advance for Diwali shoppers and the shopping frenzy peaks with the advancement of the occasion. On the night preceding Diwali, Gujaratis start celebrations by creating designs depicting images associated to the festival like deities, sun and flowers from natural powder colors (called “Rangoli”) in their verandas. Images of small footprints are also drawn over individual doorsteps which is supposed to be a way of inviting Goddess Lakshmi to the house.
Southern India :
In Southern India, Diwali is is celebrated in the Tamil month of aipasi (thula month) ‘naraka chaturdasi’ thithi, preceding amavasai. Naraka chaturdashi is the main day of the Diwali celebrations in this area. The preparations begin the day before, when the oven is cleaned, smeared with lime, religious symbols drawn on it and then filled with water for the next day’s oil bath. Individual homes are washed and decorated with kolam designs (akin to rangoli patterns in North India). Firecrackers and new apparels are kept on a plate to be used on the following day. On the morning of Naraka chaturdashi, the actual celebrations begin with an early morning oil bathe before sunrise. Afterwards, sweets are eaten and new clothes worn.
A unique Diwali custom in Tamil Nadu is the once-in-a-lifetime event, Thalai Deepavali, when newly weds spend their first diwali after marriage in the bride’s parental home. The newly married couple, after taking blessings from the elders, burst the first crackers of the day and thereafter pay a visit to the temple, get gifts of clothes and jewellery, savor the sweets reserved for them and receive blessings of elders for a happy married life. In this joyful occasion the groom’s parents and relatives also come down to join in the celebrations.
In Maharashtra, Diwali is celebrated over a span of four days. The first day, Vasubaras, is celebrated by performing an Aarti (prayer with songs) of the cow and its calf- which represents the love between a mother and her baby. The next day is Dhanatrayodashi or Dhanteras, a special day for tradesmen and business people for new account books are opened by them after a worship of Lord Ganesh and Goddess Lakshmi. On the third day, Narakchaturdashi, people get up before sunrise and take a bathe after rubbing scented oil on their body. After this, the entire family visits a temple and offers prayers to their God.
Rural India :
In the rural regions of India, the Diwali celebrations, apart from its other significances, also stand in for harvest celebrations. In villages across the country, Diwali is the time that farmers celebrate with joy and offer praises to God for granting them a good crop. In the morning, variously colored Rangoli or Kolam designs denoting shapes as the footsteps of Goddess Lakshmi are drawn at individual doorsteps and also all over the houses to usher in wealth, fortune and prosperity. Idols of Goddess Lakshmi and Lord Ganesha are worshipped in most Hindu homes on this day.
Diwali Celebrations Around The World
Diwali celebrations in Britain :
The Indians are the second largest ethnic minority in Britain. To get rid of the feeling of missing their homeland, especially during festival times, the Indians here celebrate most of the festivals .The occasion is marked by visit to the local temple to worship the shrine of Lakshmi, which they have made for Diwali. Eating special sweets, burning of incense sticks, lighting the home and surroundings and the blowing of the conch shell follows the prayer session in the Lakshmi temple. The festival here is celebrated according to the Hindu solar calendar hence it falls in the months of October-November, amongst the cold, damp and windy months in Britain.
Diwali celebrations in Guyana :
Guyana, formerly known as British Guiana, is located on the northeast coast of South America. Guyana is 82,978 square miles in area and has a population of about 7,70,000. Hindus constitute 33% of Guyana’s total population. The Co-operative Republic of Guyana in Southern America celebrates Diwali according to the Hindu Solar calendar. The day of the festival is declared as a national holiday in the official calendar of Guyana. The tradition of celebrating the festival is believed to have been brought to Guyana in the year 1853 by the first indentured people from India. The legends related to the festival are similar to that of India.
Diwali celebrations in Indonesia :
The name Indonesia came from two Greek words: “Indos” meaning Indian and “Nesos” meaning islands. The majority of population follows Islam. Hindus constituent about 2% of Indonesia’s total population. However, the Indonesian island of Bali is famous for celebrating the festival of Diwali, as a majority of the population here is that of Indians. It is one of the most revered festivals of the locals here. The celebration and rituals of the festival is mostly similar to that celebrated by their counterparts in India.
Diwali celebrations in Malaysia :
Fascinating in its diversity, Malaysia has many mesmerizing charms and attractions. With a population of about 20 million, comprising of a harmonious multi-ethnic mix of Malays, Malaysia promises a colorful potpourri of cultural traditions. Most are based on the various religious practices, beliefs and traditions influencing the costumes, festivals, ceremonies and rituals. The Hindu community of Malaysia constitutes about 8% of its total population .The community celebrates Diwali as a symbol of triumph of good over evil. The Malaysian people call diwali as Hari Diwali. This festival is celebrated during the 7th month of the Hindu solar calendar. The south Indian traditional of oil bath precedes the festivities. The celebration includes visits to temples and prayers at household altars. Small lamps made from clay and filled with coconut oil and wicks are a common sight to signify the victory of Lord Rama, the hero of the Hindu epic Ramayana, over the demon king Ravana. Diwali is celebrated almost all over the Malaysia except in Sarawak & Federal Territory of Labuan.
Diwali celebrations in Mauritius :
Mauritius is an island in the Indian Ocean that lies to the east of Madagascar. This beautiful landmass is full of picturesque landscapes and enchanting spots. Mauritius accounts a 63% of Indian majority of which 80% follow Hinduism. Hence, celebration of almost all the Hindu festivals in this island is a common phenomenon. In Mauritius, Diwali celebration is an age-old tradition.
Diwali celebrations in Nepal :
Nepal is a landlocked country nestled in the foothills of the Himalayas. Nepal, a multi-ethnic and multi-lingual society is the only Hindu Kingdom of the world. Diwali is celebrated here with the usual Hindu festivities and rituals. Diwali in Nepal is known as Tihar. Just like most places in India Diwali is celebrated here to honor the goddess of wealth and god of prosperity Lakshmi and Ganesh respectively. The festival of light falls in the months of October or November on the day of Amavasya – the darkest day of the year. The festival here continues for five days. Every day has its special significance. The first day is dedicated to cows as they cook rice and feed the cows believing that goddess Lakshmi comes on cows. The second day is for Dogs as the Vahana of Bhairava. Preparation of delicious food especially meant for the dog is a typical characteristic of the day. Lights and lamps are lit to illuminate the entire surrounding and some of the specialty items are prepared to mark the third day of the festival. Fireworks, Lamps and crackers are widely used. The fourth day is dedicated to Yama, the Hindu God of Death. He is prayed for long life. The fifth final day is Bhhaya Dooj dedicated for the brothers who are wished long life and prosperity by their sisters.
Diwali celebrations in South Africa :
South Africa is located at the southern tip of the continent of Africa. The South African culture is a mix of variety of cultures. Asians in South Africa constitute two per cent of South Africa’s population, and most are of Indian origin. Indians in South Africa are descended from indentured labourers who were brought by the British from India in the 19th century, mostly to work in sugar plantations or mines (especially, coal) in KwaZulu-Natal (KZN) and later also from traders who emigrated to South Africa. A decade prior to the colonization by the United States of America, the nation had the largest immigrant Indian community in the world.
Diwali celebrations in Trinidad and Tobago :
Trinidad is the most southern of the Caribbean islands, lying only seven miles off the Venezuelan coast, is one of the most exciting, colorful islands of the West Indies. Considered as the land of the Humming Bird, Trinidad and Tobago has a good number of Indian population. For that reason, Hindu festivals, customs, traditions and observances forms an integral part of the society, which comprises the unique beauty of the twin island state. The Diwali celebration has a unique flavor here in the Caribbean island nation. Here 43 per cent of the 1.3 million populations are ethnic Indians. The Diwali celebrations are usually marked as an occasion to unify the nation that consists of Hindus, Muslims, Christians, Indo-Trinidadians and Afro-Trinidadians. The festival day is regarded as a national holiday.