Deepawali (Diwali) – Festival of Lights five-day celebration begins

photo by Umesh Soni/Unsplash

Today, October 22nd, is the beginning of a five day celebration known as Diwali or the Festival of Lights when Indian homes, shops and public places are decorated with environmentally-friendly earthenware oil lamps called diyas.

The following is an explanation of Diwali written by Chandra Tripathi in 2013.  Tripathi holds a PhD in environmental engineering from the University of Toronto and works for Bruce Power. In addition to his professional commitment to the environmental field, he is passionate about diversity and inclusiveness, and is the founder and key organizer of the Kincardine Multicultural Celebration.

“The term Deepavali or Diwali originates from the most ancient language, Sanskrit, and literally means rows (avali) of lights (deepa). 

In our modern market-driven society where everything is for sale, these traditional oil diyas have been replaced by chemically-scented candles. Diwali is regarded as the culture’s most lavish festival and is celebrated across India and by Indians living abroad.

Like Christmas and New Year’s Eve rolled into one, the five-day festival is filled with parties, street festivals, prayers, fireworks, love, gift-giving, forgiveness, strengthening relationships, foods, and other cultural programs.

As per the Hindu lunar calendar, the 2022 five-day Diwali celebration spans from October 22nd to October 27th. Each one of the five days has its own significance and name – Dhanteras, Narak Chaturdashi, Lakshmi Puja, Govardhan Pooja and Bhaiya Dooj.

Besides a prayer for Goddess Laxmi (prosperity) and Lord Ganesh (true wisdom and intelligence), the celebration includes a cultural show, live music, dancing and a several-course vegetarian meal. 

During this time, streets as well as houses start to look festive and mouths start to water as the delicate aroma of foods and sweets (mithais) fill the air. Lavish sweets are made from saffron, rose petals, cashews, almonds, milk and pistachios, decorated with silver leaf, milk cakes, fried sugar-syrup-soaked gulab jamun, rasgulla, ras-malai, emiriti, jalebi, laddoo, balushai, gujhia and burfee. 

Some of the salty snacks include fried kachori, delicious puri, puffed rice, papari chat, and paneer curries, as well as innovative takes on samosas and dhokalas. 

Hindus are very hospitable and the culture requires that all guests are shown the highest level of courtesy and respect. ‘Athiti devo bhav’ is a Sanskrit term which best describes this host-guest relationship, the literal meaning of which is, “Guest becomes God.” 

Therefore, feel free to visit Hindu friends, neighbours, and co-workers to get a taste of these unique Indian dishes and wish them a Happy Diwali.

For Hindus living abroad, Diwali is about new beginnings and is a time to reinforce our connections with the Indian culture and traditions. It involves:

  • Spring/autumn-cleaning and welcoming the winter
  • Wearing new clothes and costumes
  • Exchanging gifts, sweets and dry fruits
  • Decorating buildings with fancy lights
  • Firework shows and displays of Rangoli (cultural pattern) on the floors
  • Paying gratitude to elders, poorvajs (ancient souls) and Divinity

India is one of the most diverse countries in the world and though its national language is Hindi, there are 22 other official languages and hundreds of regional dialects. Much like these languages, the legends that go with the festival vary in different parts of India:

  • In Northern India, Diwali celebrates Lord Rama’s return from 14 years of exile to Ayodhya after defeating the evil king Ravana
  • In Southern India and in Nepal, Diwali commemorates the victory of Lord Krishna over the demon king Narakaasura
  • In Western India, the festival honours Laxmi, the goddess of wealth
  • In Eastern India, it is associated with prayer for the goddess Kali

 Despite these differences, Diwali invariably celebrates the victory of good over evil, light over darkness and knowledge over ignorance, and symbolizes the dispelling of the bitterness of the past and renewal of friendship for the future.

In Jainism, Diwali marks the attainment of moksha by Mahavira in 527 BC. In Sikhism, Diwali commemorates the return of Guru Har Gobind SinghJi to Amritsar after freeing several kings imprisoned in by the Emperor, Jahangir. For some, Diwali is the day on which Emperor Vikramaditya ascended the throne, and when many Hindu start their New Year (Samvat – 2070).

The key message of this festival is spreading love and acceptance through: giving and forgiving, rising and shining, uniting, prospering and helping each other, and dropping the regrets of the past and the worries of the future to live in the present. 

With this explanation, I wish everyone a very Happy Diwali. May the light of lights enlighten our understanding as we strive to attain the spiritual wealth while enjoying our time on this material plane!”