top of page


Diwali, also known as ‘Deepawali’ is one of the major religious festivals in the traditions of Hinduism, Jainism, Buddhism (Newar Buddhists) and Sikhism. This auspicious period is celebrated annually in India, which lasts for five days from the 13th day of the dark-half of the lunar month of Ashwina to the second day of the light-half of the lunar month Kartika. The darkest night is the apex of the celebration of Diwali, coinciding with the second half of October or early November according to the Gregorian calendar. The name is derived from the Sanskrit term ‘deepavali’ meaning ‘the row of lights’ (‘deepa’ meaning clay-lamps and ‘avali’ meaning row). The symbolization of the term indicates the inner light that protects our universe from spiritual darkness. Spiritually, Diwali symbolizes the victory of light over darkness, good over evil and knowledge over ignorance. This festival is also associated with Lakshmi, the goddess of prosperity. Furthermore, in some traditions, Diwali is considered as a celebration of the day when Lord Rama returned to his kingdom Ayodhya with his wife Sita and his brother Lakshmana after defeating Ravana in Lanka and serving 14 years of exile. Diwali is actually a post-harvest festival, celebrating the bounty after the departure of monsoon in the subcontinent. Depending on the regions the celebrations include prayers before one or more Hindu deities, the most common being Lakshmi, who symbolizes three virtues : wealth and prosperity, fertility and abundant crops, as well as good fortune. Merchants seek the blessings of Goddess Lakshmi in their ventures and ritually close their accounting year during Diwali. Fertility motifs appear in agricultural offerings brought before Lakshmi 2 by the farming-families, who give thanks for the recent harvests and seek Her blessings for prosperous crops in future. A symbolic peace of traditional fertiliser, a dried piece of cow-dung is included in the ensemble in Odisha and Deccan region villages, as theagricultural motif. Diwali is usually celebrated twenty days after ‘Vijayadashami’, with Dhanteras or the regional equivalent, marking the first day of the festival when celebrants prepare by cleaning their homes and making decorations on the floor with ‘Rangoli’ (colourful art circle pattern) and ‘Diya’ (oil-lamp). Jhalars are also used to decorate the houses during Diwali. The second day is ‘Naraka Chaturdashi’. The third day is the day of ‘Lakshmi puja’ and the darkest night of the traditional month. In some parts of India, the day after Lakshmi puja is marked with ‘Govardhan puja’ and ‘Balipratipada’ (Padwa). Hindu communities mark the last day as ‘Bhatridwitiya’ (Bhai phonta), dedicating to the bond between brother and sister. Hindus, in particular, have a ritual oil-bath at dawn on each day of the Diwali festival. Other faiths in India also celebrate their respective festivals alongside Diwali. The Jains observe their own Diwali which marks the final liberation of Mahavira, the Sikhs celebrate ‘Bandi Chor Divas’ to mark the release of Guru Hargobind from the prison of a Mughal Emperor, the Buddhists celebrate Diwali by worshipping Lakshmi, the Hindus of Eastern India and Bangladesh generally celebrate Diwali by worshipping Goddess Kali. During Diwali, people wear finest clothes, illuminate the interior and exterior of their homes, perform worships, light fireworks and partake in family feasts; where mithai (sweets) and other gifts are shared. 3 Historical evidence on ‘Diwali’ : Diwali festival is likely a fusion of harvesting festivals in ancient India. It is mentioned in Sanskrit texts such as ‘Padma Purana’ and ‘Skanda Purana’ - both of which were completed in the second half of the first millennium CE. The diyas (lamps) are mentioned in ‘Skanda Kishore Purana’ as symbolising parts of the Sun, describing it as the cosmic giver of light and energy to all life and which seasonally transitioned in the Hindu calendar month of Kartika. King Harsha refers to Deepawali in the 7th century Sanskrit play ‘Nagananda’ as “Dipapratipadotsava” (‘Dipa’ meaning light, ‘pratipada’ meaning first day and ‘utsava’ meaning festival), where lamps were lit and newly engaged brides and grooms received gifts. Rajasekhara referred to ‘Deepawali’ as “Deepamalika” in his epic ‘Kavyamimamasa’, wherein he mentions the tradition of homes being whitewashed and oil-lamps decorated homes, streets, markets at night. The five-day long festival originated in the Indian subcontinent and is mentioned in early Sanskrit texts. Diwali was also described by numerous travellers from outside India. In the 11th century memoir on India, the Persian traveller and historian Al Biruni wrote of Deepawali, being celebrated by Hindus on the day of New moon in the Bengali month Kartika. The Venetian merchant and traveller Niccolo de Conti visited India in the early 15th century and wrote in his memoir, “On another of these festivals they fix up within their temples and on the outside of the roofs, an innumerable number of oil-lamps...which are kept burning day and night” and that families would gather “clothe themselves in new garments” sing, dance and feast. The sixteenth century Portuguese traveller Domingo Paes wrote of his visit to the Hindu Vijayanagara Empire, where Deepawali was celebrated in October with the house-holders illuminating their homes and their temples with lamps. 4 Islamic historians of the Delhi Sultanate and the Mughal Empire era also mentioned Diwali and other Hindu festivals. A few notably the Mughal Emperor Akbar welcomed and participated in the festivities, whereas others banned such festivals such as Diwali and Holi as Aurangzeb did in 1665. Publications from the British colonial era also made mention of Diwali, such as the note on Hindu festivals published in 1799 by Sir William Jones, a philologist known for his early observations on Sanskrit and Indo-European languages. In his paper on ‘The Lunar Year of the Hindus’, Sir William Jones noted four of the five days of Diwali in the autumnal months of Ashwina-Cartica as the following : ‘Bhutachaturdasi Yamaterpanam’ (2nd day), ‘Lacshmipuja Dipanwita’ (the day of Diwali), ‘Dyuta pratipat Belipuja’ (4th day) and ‘Bhatri Dwitiya’ (5th day). The ‘Lacshmipuja Dipanwita’ remarked by Sir Jones was – “a great festival at night, in the home of Lakshmi, with illuminations on trees and houses”. Sanskrit inscriptions in stone and copper mentioning Diwali, occasionally alongside terms such as ‘Dipotsava’, ‘Deepavali’, ‘Divali’ have been discovered at numerous sites across India. Examples include a 10th century Rashtrauta empire copper plate inscription mentioning ‘Dipotsava’ and a 12th century mixed Sanskrit-Kannada Sinda inscription discoverd in the Ishvara temple of Dharwad in Karnataka where the inscription refers to the festival as a ‘sacred occasion’. Also, Jain inscriptions such as the 19th century Saundatti inscription about a donation of oil to Jinendra worship for the Diwali rituals, speak of ‘Dipotsava’. Another early 13th century stone inscription, written in Devanagari script, has been found in the northend of the mosque pillar in Jalore (Rajasthan) evidently built using materials from a demolished Jain temple. The inscription states that 5 Ramachandracharya built and dedicated a drama performance hall, with a golden cupola, on Diwali. Scientific explanation on the concept of Diwali : The time for Diwali is a very weird season, especially if anyone looks at the climatic pattern. Its metamorphism from raining to humid and getting chilled at night exposes the human beings to various kinds of virus and diseases, the most popular being the common cold. It is because of this perfect weather which is promoted by the low temperature and humid condition, the bacteria starts propagating. An ignited oil-lamp, together with the chemicals evolved from the flame kills these bacterial populations. The effect gets multiplied to several thousand times when hundreds of diyas are lighted up. The light of diya superposes over the magnetic field around the superficial electromagnetic flux. The phenomenon activated our blood cells and the immunity provided by them makes to feel everyone energetic. Thus, during Diwali, homes are cleaned and hundreds of lamps are lit to ensure that the atmosphere around is all fully safe. In this era; bounded by air, water and soil pollution; the effects of the flames have undermined by the mutations brought in by the bacteria as a result of Natural Selection. Also the season with light cold leads to increase in hunger as the body continuously looses heat being craved for good that can build energy. As the night approached early, wild animals start to stray earlier, similar to humans they too feel much hungry during winter as the body keeps losing heat. Thus, in order to prevent the animals from loitering close by and making people their meat; crackers were burst or noises were made during Diwali. Also everywhere diyas are lit to shoo off the animals. 6 Rituals of Diwali for five respective days : The rituals of Diwali formally begins two days before the night of Diwali, and ends two days thereafter. Each day has some special significance along with the respective rituals. 1) Dhanteras/Dhanatrayodoshi/Yama-Deepam (day 1) - Dhanteras derived from ‘Dhan’ meaning wealth and ‘teras’ meaning thirteenth, marks the thirteenth day of the dark fortnight of Kartik and the beginning of Diwali. On this day, many Hindus clean their homes and business premises. They install diyas, small earthen oil-filled lamps that they light up for the next five days, near iconography of Lakshmi and Ganesha. Women and children decorate doorways within homes and offices with rangolis, colourful designs, made from rice-flour, flower-petals, coloured rice or coloured sand; while the boys and men decorate the roofs and walls of family-homes, markets and temples and string up lights and lanterns. The day also marks a major shopping day to purchase jewellery, new utensils, home equipments, firecrackers and other items. On the evening of Dhanteras, families offer prayers (puja) to Lakshmi and Ganesha and lay offerings of puffed rice, candy toys, rice-cakes and batashas (hollow sugar cakes). ‘Dhanteras’ is a symbol of annual renewal, cleansing and an auspicious beginning for the next year. The term ‘Dhan’ for this day also alludes to the Ayurvedic icon Dhanvantri, the god of health and healing, who is believed to have emerged from the churning of cosmic ocean on the same day as Lakshmi. Some communities particularly those active in Ayurvedic and health-related professions, pray or perform havan rituals to Dhanvantri on Dhanteras. On ‘Yama Deepam’ (also known as Yama Dipadana or Jam ke Diya), Hindus light a diya, ideally made of wheat flour and filled with sesame oil, that 7 faces South at the back of their homes. This is believed to please Yama (Yamaraj), the god of death, and to ward off the ultimate truth of life (death). Some Hindus observe ‘Yama Deepa’ on the second night before the main day of Diwali. 2) Naraka Chaturdashi/ Kali Chaudas/ Chhoti Diwali/ Hanuman Puja/ Roop Chaudas/ Yama Deepam (day 2) – Naraka Chaturdashi, also known as Chhoti Diwali, is the second day of the festivities coinciding with the fourteenth day of the second fortnight of the lunar month. The term ‘Chhoti’ means little, while ‘Naraka’ means hell and ‘Chaturdashi’ means fourteenth. The day and its rituals are interpreted as ways to liberate any souls from their suffering in ‘Naraka’ or hell; as well as a reminder of spiritual auspiciousness. For the Hindus, it is a day to pray for the peace to the defiled souls of one’s ancestors and light their way for the journeys in the cyclic afterlife. A mythological interpretation of this festive day is the destruction of the asura (demon) Narakasura by Lord Krishna, a victory that frees 16000 imprisoned princess, kidnapped by Narakasura. It is also celebrated as ‘Roop Chaudas’ in some North Indian households, where women bath before sunrise, while lighting diyas (lamps) in the bathing areas; they believe it to enhance their beauty – it is a fun ritual that young girls enjoy as a part of festivities. ‘Ubtan’ is applied by women which is made up of social gram-flour mixed with herbs for cleansing and beautifying themselves. ‘Naraka Chaturdashi’ is also a major day for purchasing festive foods, particularly sweets. A variety of sweets are prepared using flour, semolina, rice, flour, dry fruit pieces powders or paste, milk solids (mawa or khoya) and clarified butter (ghee). These are then shaped into various forms such as laddus, barfis, halwa, kachoris, shrikhand and sandesh, rolled 8 and stuffed delicacies; such as karanji, shankarpali, maladu, susiyam, pottukadalai. Sometimes these are wrapped with edible silver foil (vark). Confectinaries and shops create Diwalithemed decorative displays, selling these in large quantities which are stocked for home celebrations to welcome guests and as gifts. ‘Choti Diwali’ is also a day for visiting friends, business associates and relatives and exchanging gifts. In many regions, Hanuman puja is performed on the second day of Diwali – the tradition is mostly popular in Gujrat. The tradition coincides with the day of ‘Kali Chaudas’ and Hanuman (the deity of strength, power and protection) worshipped to seek protection from any evil spirit. Diwali is also celebrated to mark the return of Rama to Ayodhya after defeating demon-king Ravana and completing his fourteen years of exile. The devotion and dedication of Hanuman pleased Rama so much that He blessed Hanuman to be worshipped before him. Thus, people worship Hanuman on the day before the main day of Diwali. Some Hindus observe ‘Yama Deepam’ (also known as ‘Yama Dipadana’ or ‘Jam ke Diya’) on the second day of Diwali, instead of the first day, but following the similar rituals. 3) Lakshmi Puja, Kali Puja (day 3) - The third day is the height of the festival, which coincides with the last day of the dark fortnight of the lunar month. This is the day when Hindu, Jain, Sikh temples and homes glow with lights; thereby making it ‘the festival of lights’. Small business owners give gifts or special bonus to their employees as payments between Dhanteras and Lakshmi puja. Unlike some other festivals, the Hindus do not typically fast during the five-day long Diwali, including Lakshmi puja; rather they feast and share the bounties of the season at their workplaces, community centres, temples and homes. As the evening approaches, celebrations will wear new clothes or 9 their best outfits, teenage girls and women, in particular, wear sarees and jewelleries. At dusk, family members gather for Lakshmi puja, although prayers will also be offered to other deities such as Ganesha, Saraswati, Rama, Lakshmana, Sita, Hanuman or Kubera. The lamps from the puja ceremony are then used to light more earthen-ware lamps, which are placed in rows along the parapets of temples and houses; while some diyas are set adrift on rivers and streams. After the puja, people go outside and celebrate by lighting up patka (firewroks) together; and then share a family feast and mithai (sweets and desserts). The puja and rituals in the Bengali Hindu community focus on Devi Kali, the goddess of war, instead of Lakshmi. Textual evidence suggests that the Hindus worshipped Lakshmi before the colonial era and that the Kali puja is a more recent phenomenon. Contemporary Bengali celebrations mirror those found elsewhere, with teenage boys playing with fireworks and the sharing of festive foods with family, but with the Shakti goddess Kali as the main focus. On the night of Diwali, rituals across much of India are dedicated to Lakshmi to welcome Her into their cleaned homes and bring prosperity and happiness for the coming year. While the cleaning or painting of the home is in part for Devi Lakshmi, it also signifies the ritual re-enactment of the cleansing and purifying action of the monsoon rains that would have concluded in most of the Indian subcontinent. Vaishnava families recite Hindu legends of the victory of good over evil and the return of hope after despair on the Diwali night, where the main characters may include Rama, Krishna, Vamana or one of the avatars of Vishnu (the divine husband of Devi Lakshmi). At dusk, lamps are placed earlier in the inside and outside of the home are lit up to welcome Devi Lakshmi. Family members light up firecrackers, which some interpret as a way to 10 ward off all evil spirits and the inauspicious as well as add to the festive mood. The nights of Diwali light firecrackers in this interpretation to represent a celebratory and symbolic farewell to the departed ancestral souls. 4) Annakut, Balipratipada (Padwa), Kartik Shukla Pratipada Govardhan puja (day 4) - The day after Diwali is the first day of the bright fortnight of the luni-solar calendar. According to a tradition, the day is associated with the story of Bali’s defeat at the hands of Vishnu. In another interpretation, it is thought to reference that the legend of Devi Parvati and Her husband Lord Shiva playing a game of ‘dyuta’ (dice) on a board of twelve squares and thirty pieces, Devi Parvati wins. Lord Shiva surrenders His shirt and adornments to Her, rendering Him naked. The legend Lord Shiva is actually Hindu metaphor for the cosmic process for creation and dissolution of the world through the masculine destructive power, as represented by Lord Shiva; and the feminine procreative power represented by Parvati Devi; where twelve reflects the number of months in a cyclic year, while thirty are the number of days in a luni-solar month. Thus, the fourth day of the series ritually celebrates the bond between wife and husband; and in some Hindu communities husbands will celebrate this with gifts to their wives. In another region, parents invite a newly married daughter or son together with their spouses to a festive meal and give them gifts. In some rural communities of the north, west and central regions; the fourth day is celebrated as ‘Govardhan puja’, honouring the legend of the Hindu god Krishna saving the cowherd and farming communities from incessant rains and floods triggered by Indra’s anger, which He accomplished by lifting the Govardhan mountain. This legend is remembered through the ritual of 11 building small mountain-like miniatures from cow-dung. The ritualistic use of cow-dung, a common fertilizer, is an agricultural motif and a celebration of its significance to annual crop cycles. Thus, the agricultural symbolism is also observed on this day by many Hindus as ‘Annakut’ (literally mountain of food). Communities prepare over one hundred dishes from a variety of ingredients which is then dedicated to Lord Krishna before shared among the community. Hindu temples on this day prepare and present ‘mountains of sweets’ to the faithful who have gathered for ‘darshan’ (visit) In Gujrat. ‘Annakut’ is the first day of the new year and celebrated through the purchase of essentials or the good things in life such as salt, offering prayers to Lord Krishna and visiting temples. 5) Bhai Dhuj/ Bhau Beej (day 5) - The last day of the festival is called ‘Bhai Dhuj’ (literally means bother’s day), ‘Bhau Beej’, ‘Bhai Phonta’. It celebrates the brother-sister bond, similar in spirit to ‘Rakshna Bandhan’ but it is the brother that travels to meet the sister and her family. This festive day is interpreted by some to symbolise Yama’s sister Yamuna welcoming yama with a ‘tilak’, while others interpret it as the arrival of Lord Krishna to His sister Subhadra after defeating Narakasura. Subhadra welcomes Him with a ‘tilak’ on His forehead. The day celebrates the sibling bond between brother and sister. On this day the womenfolk of the family gather together to perform a puja with prayers for the well-being of their brothers and then return to a ritual of feeding their brothers with their hands and receiving gifts. In some Hindu traditions, women recite tales where sisters protect their brothers from enemies that seek to cause harm either bodily or spiritually. In historic times, this was a day in autumn when brothers would travel to meet their sisters or invite their sister’s family to their village to celebrate their sister- 12 brother bond with the bounty of seasonal harvests – thus ends the festive season Diwali. ***************************************

10 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All