Updated: 2018-11-03.
Diwali is an important festival throughout a large portion of southern and central Asia, as well as its diaspora. Nicknamed “the festival of lights,” Diwali is a national holiday in many countries, including India, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Guyana, Fiji, and several other countries. It is an important religious holiday for Hindus, but also for Sikhs, Newar Buddhists, and Jains.

lamps for Diwali festival of lights
Diwali lamps at London’s Trafalgar Square. Taken by Flickr user “everheardofaspacebar” [CC 2.0].
My selfish reason for writing articles such as this one is to learn about the subject myself. I’ve heard of Diwali before, but didn’t understand more than it involving lights and more lights. This time, I want to erase my ignorance of this holiday, since I have no excuse not to know at least a bit about it, and so I researched the holiday and am writing down what I learned in the form of this article.

About the Diwali Festival

Diwali, for many Hindus, marks the start of their New Year, and is considered to be the most important holiday of the year to many. According to National Geographic, “The festival gets its name from the row (avali) of clay lamps (or deepa) that Indians light outside their homes to symbolize the inner light that protects us from spiritual darkness.” This is why Diwali’s also called Deepavali or Dipavali.

Nat Geo goes on to say that “India was an agricultural society where people would seek the divine blessing of Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth, as they closed their accounting books and prayed for success at the outset of a new financial year. Today, this practice extends to businesses all over the Indian subcontinent, which mark the day after Diwali as the first day of the new financial year.”

When is Diwali?

The Diwali festival is five days in length, happening sometime during mid-October to mid-November. Dhanteras (also known as Dhanatrayodashi or Dhanvantari Trayodashi) is the first day of the festival of Diwali, and this takes place two days before the actual day of Diwali. Bhai Dooj (also known as Bhau-Beej, Bhai Tika, or Bhai Phonta) is the final day, two days after the day of Diwali (and five days after the festival begins).

Day Three of the Diwali festival, which is the actual day of Diwali, coincides with the darkest night of the month Kartika on the Hindu Lunisolar calendar.

How is Diwali Celebrated Today?

Indians today usually celebrate with gatherings of friends and family, lighting clay lamps, fireworks displays, and many other light showings. Some of my friends here in New York City dress up in traditional garb and go out to dinner. Puja (prayers) are also offered up to Lakshmi, the Hindu goddess of prosperity.

Here’s how to wish someone a happy Diwali:

Diwali ki Shubhkamnayein! (in Hindi) • Deepavali Aashamsagal! (in Malayalam) • Subha Dipawali ko mangalmaya subha kaamanaa! (in Nepali)

Since talking about Lakshmi, have a look at our post at all the various goddesses of travel.

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