A star attraction on the Indian festival stage is Diwali – a joyous celebration that, generally, celebrates the triumph of excellent over evil. The festival's name roughly interprets to 'row of lamps / lights' – that is why Diwali is broadly called the festival of Lights.
It takes place over a period of five days on auspicious dates throughout the end of Ashvin / start of Kartika – the Hindu calendar months that equate to the Gregorian calendar months of October / November.
Diwali is a national Hindu festival that's additionally embroidered by different religious denominations together with the Sikhs and Jains. As such, it entitles religious and regional variations within the way it's celebrated. For Jains, Diwali signifies the attainment of moksha (liberation from the cycle of life and death) by Mahavira (the sixth century BC founder of Jainism's central tenets). For Sikhs, Diwali large denotes the 1619 release of Guru Hargobind (the sixth of Sikhism's ten gurus), alongside fifty two others, who had been eliminated in the Gwalior Fort by the Mughal emperor Jehangir.
When it involves India's major religious community, the Hindus, Diwali commemorates the victory of Lord Rama over Ravana and his triumphant come back to the kingdom after a period of exile. Keen to create Lord Rama's homecoming as swift and safe as possible, his jubilant subjects lighted the way with plenty of twinkling diyas (earthenware oil lamps). It's for this reason the lighting of diyas has become a key part of the Diwali festival.
It also symbolizes the replacement of darkness with 'inner' light – garnered via the pursuit of knowledge and religious practices. Indeed, spirituality lies at the heart of Diwali, with devotees specifically seeking blessings from two prominent Hindu deities: Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth and Ganesh, the elephant-headed god of good fortune and auspicious beginnings. Worshipers pray for prosperity and well-being for the year that lies ahead, with fireworks and crackers proffering many raucous razzle-dazzle when devotional formalities come to a close.
While the festival undeniably takes center stage, there's a very distinct air of enthusiasm – and fervent preparation – within the lead up to Diwali. homes and shops are given a rigorous spring clean before being fondly decorated with fairy lights, patterned lanterns and colorful rangolis / kolams (propitious rice-paste / powder / chalk styles adorning thresholds). The streets teem with shoppers keenly stocking up on everything from fancy new clothes and festive house decorations, to gifts for family, friends and business acquaintances.
The most well-liked gift, by a long shot, is mithai (Indian sweets), with ornately packaged dried fruits and nuts also a hot seller. Shops are full of a spectacular array of mithai specifically ready for this festival, from thickly cut squares of barfi – previous favorites include pista and kaaju- to soft syrupy gulab jamuns and spongy rasgullas. Indeed, if there's ever a time to experience India at its sweet – and convivial – best, it's through Diwali.