Most of India’s population is Hindu. As a Hindu country, India has several festivals celebrated on a large scale as national holidays. There are several famous festivals in India, but one of the most famous is the Diwali (or Divali) Festival, or the Festival of Lights. It is also one of the most important celebrations for the Hindu community. Diwali celebrations last for two to five days, depending on the area. It is celebrated in the Hindu month of Ashwayuja (October-November). The Diwali Festival is intended to honor Lakshmi (the Hindu goddess of wealth). Diwali also marks the return of Rama, the hero in the Ramayana epic, to her hometown after being away for 14 years.
In West Bengal, Diwali is associated with homage to Kali (the Hindu goddess of destruction). Followers of the Sikh religion honor Guru Hargobind (Sikh spiritual leader). Diwali marks the day when Guru Hargobind was released from prison in 1619 by the ruler of the kingdom of ancient India.
The first day of Diwali is called Dhanteras. It is intended to commemorate the advent of the Dhanvantari gods from the ocean. On this day, Hindus buy valuable items, such as gold and silver, because it is believed to bring good luck throughout the year. Hindus also believe the goddess Lakshmi gives good luck on this day. In the evening, people put out a lot of little lights, or Diyas, to drive out evil spirits. They also gather together and sing Bhajans to praise Lakshmi and give her fruit offerings.
The second day is Naraka Chaturdashi and commemorates when Krishna and Kali fought the giant Narakasura. It is the day of victory over evil. Indians usually make Rangoli, which are beautiful floor decorations made of dyed rice and flour. In addition, Hindus usually get up early to worship Krishna, after which they eat breakfast with family and usually exchange gifts. That evening, they have fireworks.
The third day, Lakshmi Puja, is the highlight of Diwali. This day is filled with worship to Lakshmi as the goddess of prosperity, and Ganesh as the god of luck. At the end of the day, people open their doors and windows to welcome Lakshmi, whom they believe roams the earth this night.
The fourth day, Balipratipada, is also known as Padwa. It is a celebration of love and mutual devotion between husband and wife. Husbands give their wives gifts, and often wives prepare special meals for their husbands. The day ends with Goverdhan Puja (worship to Krishna).
The fifth day, Yama Dwitiya, or Bhai Dooj, commemorates the visit of Yama (the god of death) to his sister, Yami. On this day, brothers visit or welcome their sisters and eat together.
Although this is what a typical celebration in India looks like, Hindus in Bangladesh as well as some parts of India celebrate Diwali differently than what’s been described above. Do you have a Hindu friend? Ask him how he and his family celebrate it!