Diwali 2018 – Here's why Hindus celebrate the festival of lights and a little about the origins of the day

The festival of light sees Hindu homes decorated with candles and lights and people sharing gifts – but what's the celebration all about?

How is Diwali celebrated and why does the date change?

Diwali, also known as Deepavali, is the Hindu Festival of Lights and is celebrated  every year as the spiritual "victory of light over darkness".

The date of the festival is calculated according to the position of the moon and the Hindu lunar calendar and is usually in October or November.

In 2018, Diwali will be celebrated on Wednesday, November 7 – and the festivities will last five days.

Diwali is observed by Hindus, Sikhs and Jains around the world and is often marked by street parties, fireworks, new clothes and of course, delicious food.

Traditional earthen diyas or candles are lit, and houses are decorated with colourful rangoli artworks – patterns created on the floor using coloured rice or powder.

During the festival, families and friends share sweets and gifts and there is also a strong belief in giving to those in need.

It is also traditional for homes to be cleaned and new clothes to be worn.

Indian sweets which come in a range of colours and flavours are also eaten during the celebrations, as well as various rich savoury and sweet dishes.

What do the different dates of Diwali mean?

  • DAY ONE: Dhanteras 'Dhan' means wealth – and this day is dedicated to celebrating prosperity. On this day, images of goddess Lakshmi, the goddess of fortune, are worshipped. Fortune does not just mean wealth, it refers to  general well-being and prosperity as well as money and material valuables. On this day, homes and businesses are thoroughly cleaned, and small clay oil lamps are dotted around the home to mark the beginning of the festival.
  • DAY TWO: Naraka Chaturdasi or Chhoti Diwali Known as 'small Diwali', this day marks the slaying of demon Narakasura by Lord Krishna, who then rescused 16,000 captive princesses. The day and its rituals are interpreted as ways to liberate any souls from their suffering in "Naraka", or hell, as well as a reminder of spiritual auspiciousness. In parts of India, the day is also called 'Kali Chaudas', and idols of the goddess Kali are worshipped.
  • DAY THREE: Diwali and Laksmi Puja The new moon day, and the darkest day of the month, is the most significant day of Diwali. This is the day that all Hindu, Sikh and Jain temples are lit up with hundreds of candles and oil lamps – giving the day its name – the festival of lights. Fireworks will also be lit to mark the highest point of celebrations. Diwali is also seen as the last day of the Hindu year in many Indian regions, when businesses close their old accounts. Traditionally, it is believed that on this day, Lord Rama rescued his wife from the demon Ravana following an epic battle. On his return home, his followers lit up his path home so he could return in the dark. Today, the lighting of candles and lamps show the triumph of good over evil.
  • DAY FOUR: Annakut This is the day of the Hindu New Year, and sees temples piled high with food offerings to the Lord Krishna during the Govardhan Puja – a symbolic reference to  Govardhan Hill – it is believed that Lord Krishna lifted the hill to shelter villagers from a flood caused by the vengeful Indra, King of Heaven. The day's activities are designed to remind Hindus to be humble in the face of the Lord and Divine. This day also ritually celebrates the bond between the wife and husband. Other interpretations of the day surround the Lord Vishnu, Lord Shiva, Parvati and the masculine and feminine energies they brought to the world.
  • DAY FIVE: Bhai Dooj The last day of the festival is literally "Brothers Day". It celebrates the bond between brothers and sisters, similar to Raksha Bandhan festival. However, on this day, it is the brother who travels to spend time with his sister and her family. Traditionally, Bhai Dooj was seen as one of the few days when brothers could visit their married sisters' homes, to ensure they were being well cared for.

Why is Diwali celebrated by Hindus?

The five-day festival, which coincides with Hindu New Year, is seen to be one of the most significant in the Indian culture.

Many people celebrate the legend of Hindu God Rama and his wife Sita's returning to their kingdom in northern India after being exiled following the defeat of demon king Ravanna.

The word itself means "series of lights" and during the festival houses and shops are decorated with candles and lights.

This is meant to represent light over darkness and the Hindu belief that good will always triumph over evil.

For many Indians, Diwali honours Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth and people will start the new business year at Diwali and some will say prayers to the goddess for a prosperous year ahead.


What are the most popular foods eaten during Diwali?

Indian sweetmeats – known as mithai – take centre stage during the festivities.

They are nibbled throughout the day as a sweet snack, and are later served alongside a savoury dinner or snacks like samosas.

Barfi – or coconut fudge – is also a popular sweet treat during Diwali and is served in solid squares.

Other popular items served during the five day festival include:

  • Chirote – light and flaky dessert pastries stuffed with a sugary filling, deep fried, and usually served drizzled with syrup
  • Karanji – small pastry pockets stuffed with poppy seeds, grated coconut, sugar, nuts and cardamom, they are crescent shaped and take a lot of time to prepare, so are often reserved for special occasions like Diwali
  • Aloo Tikki – made with potatoes that are shredded and formed into small patties before being fried, they are served with mint sauce and tamarind chutney
  • Laddoos – ball shaped sweets made with chickpea flour, wheat semolina and coconut. they are cooked with ghee, and are sometimes stuffed with pistachios or almonds
  • Kaju Katli –  a sweet cut into diamond shapes and decorated with edible silver leaf, it is made with cream, sugar and ground cashews, which are made into a smooth paste and then cooked on a flat tray or dish
  • Gathiya – small and light brown sticks that look like hardened spaghetti – they are in fact very light in density and are lightly spiced with black pepper and carom seeds
  • Sohan Papdi – Most commonly found in the northern states of India, sohan papdi is made with chickpea flour, sugar and milk, and has a flaky texture when eaten
  • Dahi Bhalla – light fried dumplings with added green chillies and raisins, served smothered with yogurt and tamarind chutney
  • Mathiya – Light and crispy snacks flavoured with chilli powder, these are common in Gujarat and are made by kneading a light dough with water and ghee along with the chilli powder before frying, and are sometimes sprinkled with more chilli after cooking.

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