Have your Indian friends, neighbours and colleagues been very excited about the arrival of the festive season? Have there been nostalgic talks about gorgeous ethnic clothes, homemade sweets and family gathering at this time of the year? Yes, you guessed right! It’s Diwali, the festival of lights, the victory of light over darkness.
Diwali is the most widely celebrated Hindu festival across 28 states and union territories in India, unlike other Indian religious festivals that are local to regions. The celebrations differ for each region; however, the essence of the festival remains the same. Diwali signifies the triumph of light over darkness. It symbolizes the fight against all evils and the ability to overcome hardships and be successful in life.
Diwali, in the northern part of India, signifies the victory of good over evil and the celebration of Lord Ram's return to Ayodhya. As per the Hindu epic Ramayana, Lord Rama, his brother Laxmana, and his wife Sita returned to Ayodhya after a period of 14 years in exile after defeating the demon king Ravana.
It is believed that the villagers lit a path for the victorious Lord Rama, who had defeated the demon king Ravana. Southern India celebrates it as the day that Lord Krishna defeated the demon Narakasura. Worshiping the Goddess of wealth, Lakshmi is one of the most important and vibrant rituals performed during the festival of Diwali. During the ritual, people invite Goddess Lakshmi into their homes so that the new year is filled with peace, wealth, and prosperity.
Diwali, also known as Deepawali is celebrations over five days by Hindus, Jains, Sikhs and some Buddhists. It takes place every autumn between October and November, with the date changing every year. The whole of India comes to a standstill, with this being a national holiday and schools and businesses pause for a period of rest, celebration and festivities.
The preparation for this festival begins a few weeks before the day itself. It starts with a deep spring clean of houses, shopping for clothes and jewellery and planning the festivities including, family gatherings, food, presents and fireworks.
As a child growing up in India, I have many fond memories of buying new clothes, helping my mother make some delicious homemade Indian sweets and savouries, preparing for the prayers and the excitement of bursting crackers all through the day.
Each year, the night before Diwali felt eternal. There was a constant battle between the urge to start setting off fireworks a day before Diwali and the realisation that doing so would leave me with insufficient fireworks for the next day. Going to bed thinking about waking up before the sun, taking an oil bath, wearing my colourful and spotless new clothes, devouring breakfast, and getting all set to go out on the streets to set the crackers on fire with friends and family invariably fills me with a sense of euphoria.
Despite having an entire day to spend celebrating, watching newly released movies, bursting crackers, gobbling delectable sweets and snacks, and catching up with friends and relatives, it always feels like a race against time. A major part of the celebration was also about sharing these homemade goodies with our neighbours, friends and colleagues from different religions and beliefs.
The lambent lights and exploding sounds of the fireworks that brighten up the entire town, the endless long chats with family members, the presents and all the mouthwatering food will always remain etched in my memory. Ethnic fashion, Diwali parties, Bollywood music and dancing, recreational games of cards / gambling, celebratory drinks and a Diwali bonus to salaries also become part of tradition as a young adult.
Last but not the least, people take the time to thank and appreciate all the domestic helpers and the less privileged. People dig deep and donate money generously for those affected by poverty, in addition to ensuring they are included in the festivities.
Diwali is, and will continue to be, an imperative and inseparable part of my life. I would like to wish all my friends and colleagues a happy, prosperous, and joyous Diwali. May this Diwali light up your life and give abundant exuberance to you and your family. Diwali is a festival that illuminates our lives and enlightens our souls, and my hope is that it is not limited to borders and religions.