Diwali (or Deepavali, the “festival of light”) is an annual Indian festival celebrated in the autumn. It is by far the biggest and the brightest festival in India. It’s as important to Indians as Christmas is to to the west. The occasion literally illumines the entire nation with its brilliance, and dazzles all with its delight!
Diwali originated as a harvest festival that signified the final harvest of the year before winter. The festival, which coincides with the Hindu New Year, celebrates new beginnings and the victory of light over darkness.
Diwali is celebrated by Hindus, Jains, and Sikhs to honour various historical events, stories and myths – yet they all symbolize the victory of light over darkness, Truth over ignorance, good over evil, and hope over despair.
The festival gets its name from the row (avali) of clay lamps (or deepa) that Indians light outside their homes to embody the inner light that protects us from darkness.
The Yoga, Vedanta and Samkhya schools denote that there is something beyond the physical body and mind, which is pure, infinite, and eternal, called Satya (Truth/Pure Awareness). Diwali’s commemoration of the victory of good over evil refers to the light of higher knowledge dispelling all ignorance – the ignorance that veils one’s true nature, not as the body, but as the unchanging, infinite, limitless and supreme reality. With this awakening comes compassion and the awareness of the oneness of all things, and knowledge overcomes ignorance. As such, Diwali is the celebration of this inner light over spiritual darkness.
The festival arrangements and ceremonies typically take place over five days, with the main festival night of Diwali meeting with the darkest, new moon night of the Hindu Lunisolar month Kartika.
On the eve of Diwali, people clean and decorate their homes and offices. On Diwali night, Indians dress up in new clothes or their best outfit, light up diyas (lamps and candles) both inside and outside their home, participate in family puja (prayers) typically to Lakshmi – the goddess of wealth and prosperity. (Some believe that Lakshmi wanders the Earth looking for homes where she will be welcomed. People open their doors and windows and light lamps to invite Lakshmi in.) Following puja, fireworks take place, and then a family feast is enjoyed including mithai (sweets). There is also an exchange of gifts between family members and close friends.
On the night of Diwali (October 30) light a candle, sit quietly, close your eyes, withdraw the senses, and concentrate on the supreme light that you are.
This article was originally published for Salt Spring Malas.