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What is Diwali?
Diwali is a major festival celebrated by Hindus, Sikhs and Jains. The name is derived from the Sanskrit term Deepavali, meaning “row of lights” and generally symbolises the victory of light over darkness.
Who celebrates Diwali and why?
Diwali typically commemorates the return of Prince Rama of Ayodhya, his wife Sita and brother Lakshman after 14 years of exile. In the Hindu tradition, Prince Rama is seen as an incarnation of Lord Vishnu and an embodiment of dharma or righteousness. Sita is an incarnation of Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth and prosperity.
The residents of Ayodhya were so glad the rightful king and queen had returned, they lit lamps in their honour, an element of the festivities that’s still an important part of the festivities today.
For Sikhs, Diwali is a story of the struggle for freedom. It celebrates the victory of the sixth guru, Guru Hargobind, from the designs of Emperor Jahangir, who had imprisoned him and 52 other princes with him in 1619.
Diwali has a significance in Jainism. It marks the anniversary of Nirvana (final release) or liberation of Mahavira’s soul, the twenty fourth and last Jain Tirthankara of present cosmic age.
Although not a primary festival of Buddhism, Diwali is celebrated by some Buddhists as a commemoration of the day when Emperor Ashoka converted to Buddhism in the 3rd century BCE.
When is Diwali?
Diwali’s date is determined by the India calendar and changes every year, ranging from October to November. It is observed on the 15th day of the 8th month (the month of Kartik) in India’s calendar.
The day is an Amavasya or ‘new moon day’. Amavasya Tithi (the period when the moon opposes the sun’s light by up to 12°) is from 5:27pm on October 24th to 4:18pm on October 25th. This means Diwali will be celebrated on Monday 24th October 2022.
How is Diwali celebrated?
The Diwali festival takes place over five days. The first day, Dhanteras, is for celebrating Lakshmi, the Hindu goddess of wealth, prosperity, youth, and beauty. On this first day, people buy new items such as jewellery, clothing and utensils and light lamps to welcome Lakshmi.
The second day, known as Chhoti Diwali, Naraka Chaturdasi or Kali Chaudas, focuses on a story from Hindu mythology about the God Krishna and his defeat of the demon god Narakasura. On this day, some people put up twinkling lights to celebrate his victory.
The third day, known as Diwali, Deepawali, or Lakshmi Puja, is the most important day of the Diwali festival. On this day, people visit family and friends to feast and exchange sweets and gifts. People also continue to light lamps and candles to welcome light and prosperity from the goddess Lakshmi.
On the fourth day, known as Govardhan Puja or Padva, some people in northern India build small piles of cow dung as a symbol of how Krishna defeated the king of the Hindu gods, Indra, by lifting up a mountain.
The fifth day, known as Bhai Dooj or Yama Dwitiva, is a day for brothers and sisters to honour one another. Siblings perform a ceremony called tilak and pray for one another.
The symbolic foods eaten during Diwali
Diwali is a time where a number of traditional dishes are enjoyed and many people also are vegetarian during this period. Some of these foods include:
- Mithai – Asian sweets i.e. gulab jamun and barfi
- Lapsi Halwa – This sweet dish is often eaten on the very first day of Diwali and is made from large-grain cracked wheat, which is then cooked with ghee and sweetened with sugar and cardamom powder
- Samosa – Though they’re eaten all year round, samosas peak in popularity around Diwali. The fried pockets of pastry usually come in the shape of a triangle and are stuffed with either mincemeat, lentils or vegetables
- Because Diwali is all about celebrating the sweetness of life, special sweet versions are often made to mark the festival, containing ingredients such as coconut, cardamom and of course, sugar
- Chai – Indian tea with spices served throughout the meal
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