For people of Indian descent across that country and the world, Diwali is one of the most widely celebrated festivals, according to The Hindu American Foundation. The festival, whose name comes from the Sanskrit word Deepavali, meaning “row of lights,” serves as a beacon of brightness every year, celebrating the victory of light over darkness, good over evil, and knowledge over ignorance. It’s a time to gather with friends and family and bask in the light of each other’s company while preparing for a fruitful year ahead.
Like so many other cultural and religious holidays, people mark Diwali (sometimes also spelled Divali) in different ways across the culturally diverse regions of India and throughout the global diaspora. Celebrated by people of Hindu, Buddhist, Jain, and Sikh beliefs, as well as those of Indian and non-Indian descent, the festival lasts for five days, starting on the 13th day of the dark half of the lunar month Ashvina to the second day of the light half of the lunar month Karttika. This year, the third day of Diwali, often the most prominent celebration, fell on Nov. 4, 2021.
What is Diwali?
Diwali typically commemorates the return of Prince Rama of Ayodhya, his wife Sita, and brother Lakshman after 14 years of exile, The Hindu American Foundation explains. In the Hindu tradition, Prince Rama is seen as an incarnation of Lord Vishnu and an embodiment of dharma or righteousness. Sita is an incarnation of Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth and prosperity. The residents of Ayodhya were so glad the rightful king and queen had returned, they lit lamps in their honor, an element of the festivities that's still an important part of the festivities today.
Other traditions recognize Diwali as the day Lord Krishna defeated the demon king Narakasura and for some regions of India, it also coincides with the Hindu New Year. But many people celebrate more generally as a time to gather with friends and family, feasting, and looking forward to the year ahead.
“I’ve always known that Diwali was the Festival of Lights and a major holiday for many South Asians, but I didn’t really understand the origins of the holiday and how diversely it’s celebrated across cultures, religions and regions until I started researching it,” explains Sonya Lalli, author of A Holly Jolly Diwali. “Diwali can mean so many things to so many people, but at its core, for me it’s about celebrating the light in this world over the darkness, being with the people I love.”