India’s biggest and most important annual holiday is also one of the best times to visit the country.
Ancient civilizations the world over celebrate lunar cycles, the harvest, and the power of light. India’s version of this universal theme is Diwali, and the festival brings centuries of rich tradition alive.
Every year over five days in October or November, communities and families around the entire country – and millions of Indians around the world - celebrate.
Here are 12 reasons why you’ll want to travel to India during Diwali celebrations.
A Sanskrit word ‘deepavali’ is composed of the words for lamps (deepa or diva) and row (avali). Today Diwali is India’s festival of lights for the row of clay lamps celebrants traditionally lit outside homes to symbolize light triumphing over darkness, reflecting a practice that has been documented as far back as the 7th century.
It’s easy to understand a harvest festival celebrating the light that nurtured the crops that ensured survival of the community. Diwali follows the lunar calendar, and takes place during autumn’s new moon – the darkest night - in October or November. In agrarian India, it was natural to pray for the blessing of Lakshmi, goddess of wealth, during the last harvest before winter.
Legends grew up around Diwali, including the marriage of Lakshmi to Lord Krishna. And Diwali began to be associated not just with light, but with new beginnings.
The first day of Diwali features two tasks: thorough cleaning of homes and businesses, a symbol of purification and renewal; and shopping for kitchen tools, and precious metals, especially gold.
Now that homes and businesses are purified and cleansed, comes decorating. People set out clay oil lamps (or modern versions), and make special designs using colored powders, rice, even flower petals on floors and pavements. Oil, flowers, and sandalwood are included in rituals carried out on the second day of Diwali.
Diwali peaks on the third day, when families gather to pray to the goddess Lakshmi, as well as Ganesh (with an elephant head), the god of wisdom, and the lord of wealth, Kuber. Music, feasting, and fireworks follow the prayers on the third day of Diwali.
This day marks the first day of the new year, even for businesses throughout India, who mark the fourth day of Diwali as the first day of the next fiscal year.
It’s also a day for love. Family and friends visit with gifts and best wishes, and husbands present their wives with gifts.
The final day of Diwali extends the themes of festivities, food and gifts – this time between siblings, celebrating the bonds between brothers and sisters also with prayer.
Themes of Diwali’s celebrations run through the days leading up to the 5-day festival: light in many forms, including traditional clay lamps and also candles lining the sacred Ganges and other lakes and rivers, fireworks, electric lights illuminating temples and historic buildings, and bonfires; celebrating Lakshmi, goddess of wealth through prayer, gold, shopping, new clothes and jewelry; colorful patterns on the floor, henna designs painted on hands, especially of lotus flowers, which Lakshmi is often depicted sitting on or holding; cleaning, purifying, gift giving and feasting.
With one of the richest culinary traditions in the world, India celebrates its biggest festival of the year with an extravagant array of cuisine, both sweet and savory, in an incredible range of colors and visual presentations. Sweets in particular are given to family and friends.
Diwali is the festival celebrating Lakshmi, goddess of wealth, so it’s considered an auspicious time for spending and investing. It’s the biggest shopping event on India’s calendar, with spending nearing $4billion during the festival on clothing, gifts, and especially gold and gold jewelry. The precious metal is believed to attract more wealth to its bearer.
Diwali may be a Hindu festival, but like India, the festival is a big tent that has expanded to become a national celebration including the entire country’s Sikhs, Buddhists and Jains, who mark Diwali by celebrating not Lakshmi, but deities of their own faiths. A common theme runs through all the celebrations regardless of faith: the triumph of light over darkness.
You can do more than observe Diwali when you’re visiting India. Wish people an ‘Auspicious Diwali’ with the words ‘Shubh Deepavali’. Or dress up for the occasion; ladies can add some sparkling gold jewelry or even don a salwar kameez to feel part of the festivities.
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