Contributed by Priyal Desai
Diwali—the festival of lights—is one of the most important festival in Hindu Culture. Signifying the symbolic victory of good over evil, Diwali is celebrated with fervor throughout India where different cultures honor it through varied rituals. In my culture, it is generally a four to five day festival where each day has its own special meaning. Diwali is followed by Hindu New Year wherein family and friends get together and pray for everyone’s goodwill. The essence of Diwali, in my experience, is captured by the little lamps or “’diyas’’ that light up most of the houses, illuminating the darkest of the nights: the night of new moon.
According to Hindu mythology in the “Ramayana”, Diwali was first celebrated when Lord Ram had returned to his home in Ayodhya after winning a war with the evil King of Lanka, Ravana, who had captured Lord Ram’s wife after 14 years of exile. It is said that the people adored their king and celebrated his return with utmost joy by lighting lamps on Amavasya night (or the night of the new moon).
In India, communities recognize Diwali through a whole different manner of festivities, but for all one idea is prevalent in the celebrations: after every dark night a new dawn comes. Every religion and region celebrates Diwali in a unique manner, but all cohere to illuminate the country, covering it in a vibrant light. For instance, North India celebrates Diwali as homecoming of Lord Ram, and the famous beauty of this place is increased by the splendor of festivity. Diverging from the north, Eastern India pay respect to their ancestors and the Goddess Kali. In Western India, Diwali is almost a week-long festival, where people make designs with colors and flowers called “rangolis”. They worship Goddess Lakshmi—the goddess of wealth and prosperity—while also doing business on the day of Diwali. Western Indians visit each other and seek blessings from elders all while celebrating the commencement of their New Year. In South India, Diwali is seen as a day symbolic of the victory of Lord Krishna over a demon called Naraka.
Having lived in Western India throughout my life, on Diwali we make various special delicacies, sweets and snacks, to serve our guests, relatives, and friends. Gifts are exchanged and elders generally give some cash to youngsters to buy things. Relatives and friends pray, sit together, talk, laugh and eat special Diwali cuisine to celebrate the joy in their hearts. Many also host Diwali parties which have everything from fairy lights to little lamps, devotion, laughter, crackers, and sweets.
Any celebration of Diwali would be incomplete in India without fire crackers. People burn different types of crackers in the evenings, which are meant as a means for spreading joy amongst all. From my recent experience however, loud bursting crackers have significantly been reduced over the years and people have started adapting to a more eco-friendly Diwali by lighting lamps or ‘’diyas’’ for auspiciousness instead.
As somebody who has celebrated Diwali for years, I am always enthralled by the weight of its importance in different cultures across the globe. It is not only a festival that lights up the night, but a festival that brings people together and lights up souls. Diwali is a festival where we illuminate ourselves with God’s grace, where there is no place for any darkness left to reside.
Priyal Desai is an international student from India. She is from a small yet beautiful place called Bharuch, in the state of Gujarat located in Western India. She is currently pursuing MRes in Cancer sciences at University of Birmingham, and has previously completed an MSc in Human Genetics and BSc in Genetics in India.