What is Diwali?
Discover the meaning of this festival.
With the entire global community learning more and more about the cultures of the world, many people are beginning to get exposed to the beautiful Indian festival of Diwali. If you want to do more than simply enjoy the lovely costumes, witness the breathtaking light displays and listen to the unique Indian music, take a few moments to learn "What is Diwali?"
What is Diwali?
The term "Diwali" actually comes from the Hindu term "Deepawali," which means light that comes out of a tiny "diya," or paper lantern, in India. Diwali is known as the Festival of Lights because on that day there is light everywhere in celebration. The Festival is held on the day of "Amavasyaa," or the day when there is no moon and a deep darkness, at the end of the Hindu month of Ashwayuja. It is one of the most anticipated festivals in India and occurs during the months of October or November.
Since darkness is often thought to symbolize evil, the Festival of Lights is a celebration of conquering the darkness of this time of the month with light. People will often place lights of all kinds and colors everywhere, all over their homes and communities, as a way to show a symbol of hope in a dark world. It is a time for fellowship with family members and friends and strengthening community relationships. Diwali is also the beginning of the new year in some Hindu calendars.
The Five Days of Diwali
To actually answer the question "what is Diwali?" we need to look at the five days of the festival:
Day One: Dhan Teras. The term "dhan" means wealth, so this day is a day when the most common way to celebrate is to shop, shop, shop. Even the most Americanized celebrant can understand the pure joy that can come with spending a day praising the joys of spending money, right?
Day Two: Naraka Chaturdasi. This is the day where the triumph of light over darkness, or good over evil, is celebrated. Often, participants will wake up before daylight—sometimes as early as 2 a.m.—or bathe while the stars are still visible in the sky. It is also a time where people will make offerings and worship some of the religious gods and goddesses who are praised as having driven the demons from the earth. Some people will also offer special tarpana—water and sesame seeds—to their ancestors, because this is done during a period of no moon, as well.
Day Three: Diwali. This is the actual day of Diwali, when the moon completely disappears, and there is total darkness in the night sky. This is also a time when the most beautiful diyas appear.
Day Four: Annakut. On this day, worshippers remember the triumph of the compassionate gods and goddesses over the evil ones. Mountains of food are decorated, and on this day, husbands will also give presents to their wives.
Day Five: Bhayiduj. For the strengthening of family relationships, brothers and sisters will get together on this day to express their appreciation and love for each other. This is an ancient tradition and is especially meaningful for married brothers and sisters, who do not see each other often.
For many people who enjoy learning about other cultures, answering the question "what is Diwali?" does provide some intellectual satisfaction; however, the best way to learn more about the Festival of Lights is to participate in some of the festivities. Once you have seen colorful dancers move to traditional (or contemporary) Indian music as decorative lights fill up every corner of the room, you will begin to get some sense of the feeling behind this traditional Indian celebration.