Diwali also known as Deepawali or the “festival of lights“, is an ancient Hindu Festival celebrated in autumn every year. It is the biggest Hindu festival. The festival spiritually signifies the victory of light over darkness, knowledge over ignorance, good over evil, and hope over despair.
On the same night that Hindus celebrate Diwali, Jains celebrate a festival of lights to mark the attainment of moksha by Mahavira, and Sikhs celebrate Bandi Chhor Divas.
As per ancient Hindu epic Ramayana, when the lord Rama, his wife Sita and brother Lakshaman, returned back to Ayodhya from 14 years of exile, after killing the evil king Ravana, the people of Ayodhya welcomed them by lighting thousands of clay diyas. This marked the victory of good over evil and continued to be celebrated as Deepawali. In addition to diyas, today we light up lots of candles and fancy lights to decorate our homes, offices and various public places.
Before Diwali night, people clean, renovate and decorate their homes. On Diwali night, Hindus dress up in new clothes or their best outfit, light up diyas (lamps and candles) inside and outside their home, participate in family puja typically to Lakshmi – the goddess of wealth and prosperity. After puja (prayers), fireworks follow, then a family feast including mithai (sweets), and an exchange of gifts between family members and close friends. Diwali also marks a major shopping period in nations where it is celebrated.
Diwali has special significance in Jainism. Lord Mahavira, the last of the Jain Tirthankar of this era, attained Nirvana or Moksha on this day at Pavapuri.
Diwali, for Sikhs, marks the Bandi Chhor Divas, when Guru Har Gobind freed himself and Hindu Kings, from Fort Gwalior, from the prison of Islamic ruler Jahangir, and arrived at the Golden Temple in Amritsar. Ever since then, Sikhs celebrate Bandi Choorh Divas, with the annual lighting up of Golden Temple, fireworks and other festivities.
Diwali is celebrated all over India and also around the world, particularly in countries with significant populations of Hindu, Jain and Sikh origin. With more understanding of Indian culture and global migration of people of Indian origin, the number of countries where Diwali/Deepavali is celebrated has been gradually increasing. Diwali is a public holiday in many countries- Malaysia, Singapore, Sri Lanka and Fiji. It is celebrated with much enthusiasm in Australia, New Zealand, the UK and the USA.
Diwali is a five day festival in many regions of India, with Diwali night centering on the new moon – the darkest night. Before Diwali we have Dhanteras and Narak Chaturdasi (Chhoti Diwali). Diwali is followed by Padwa (Govardhan Puja) and Bhai-Dooj.