Halloween lights are becoming more popular these days. But before the strings of purple or orange fairy lights lit up bushes around my neighborhood, we often had green, yellow, red, and white holiday lights in October. For a while, I assumed it was people getting into the Christmas spirit REALLY early. But then I heard about an Indian celebration called Diwali—The Festival of Lights—and realized these lights had an entirely different meaning. Intrigued, I asked a good friend filled in some of the blanks about what the celebration of Diwali means.
The word Diwali means “rows of lighted lamps.” Given how diverse India is, there is rarely a festival that is celebrated all over India, but this is one celebrated by every Indian, including Hindus, Jains, and Sikhs. Diwali is celebrated over a five-day period based on the Lunar calendar. It typically falls after much of India is coming out of a dreary season of rainy monsoons, so in addition to the traditional reasons for this celebration, this festival of lights brightens up the mood and signifies the start of the harvest season with everyone celebrating their bounty.
Each day of Diwali has its own tale, legend, and myth. There are several interpretations of the reasons and origins of celebrations, but in all explanations, one common thread rings true—the festival marks the victory of good over evil. Light signifies goodness in Hinduism, so lamps, candles, and Diyas (or the modern equivalents) are burned throughout the day and night.
There are special sweets made for Diwali and often gifts are exchanged. Much like the Western holiday-season frenzy, many families use the Diwali holidays as a time for cleaning and fixing up their homes. Families decorate the outsides of their homes with lights and Rongolis—a decorative pattern created with colored rice, dry flour, colored sand, or even flower petals.
In India, fireworks are a common way to celebrate Diwali. In addition to representing light and color, the sound of fireworks is an indication of the joy of the people living on earth, making the gods aware of their plentiful state. Additionally, the smoke and fumes from the fireworks kill insects and mosquitos, which come in abundance after the rains in the season prior to Diwali.
This year, Diwali Day is Oct 30, so if you take your children trick-or-treating to homes with colored lights that don’t appear to be Halloween themed, make sure you say “Happy Diwali!”
Editor’s Note: And check out the attached article, “Holiday Just for Dogs!” all about Kukar Tihar, a special day during Diwali that recognizes the many joys dogs bring to people. This articles appears in the current issue of FACES Magazine. For more articles like this one, be sure to subscribe to FACES.