Today is the Hindu festival of Diwali, which literally translates as ‘rows of lighted lamps’ and is popularly known as the Festival of Lights as houses, shops and public places are traditionally decorated with small earthenware oil lamps called diyas.
Diwali is one of the most important festivals in the Hindu calendar. People start the new business year at Diwali, and some Hindus will say prayers to the goddess for a successful year.
This festival has different meanings to different Hindus. For many Indians, Diwali is a five day festival honouring Lakshmi, the Goddess of Wealth. In Northern India Diwali celebrates the story of Rama returning to Ayodhya after fourteen years of exile and his coronation as King. In Nepal, Diwali commemorates another legend: the victory of Lord Krishna over the demon King Narakaasura.
In India lamps are lit to help Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth, find her way into people’s homes. Hindus will leave the windows and doors of their houses open so that Lakshmi can come in. Rangoli are drawn on the floors – rangoli are patterns and the most popular subject is the lotus flower.
For all Hindus, the festival celebrates the victory of good over evil, light over darkness and knowledge over ignorance.
Regardless of the mythological explanation one prefers, what the festival of lights really stands for today is a reaffirmation of hope, a renewed commitment to friendship and goodwill, and a religiously sanctioned celebration of the simple – and some not so simple – joys of life.
Times of India editorial
In Britain, as in India, the festival is seen as a time for:
- spring-cleaning the home
- wearing new clothes
- exchanging gifts (often sweets and dried fruits) and preparing festive meals
- decorating buildings with fancy lights
- and, for many, enjoying huge firework displays.