October 23rd 2014
Perhaps the best known Hindu festival, Diwali is an ancient and joyful celebration of the triumph of light over dark, knowledge over ignorance and good over evil. Diwali is a festival of peace and hope and in certain parts of India, signifies the New Year. The festival is also celebrated by Sikhs and Jains.
Legend has it, that Diwali began after the great battle between the Evil King of Sri Lanka -Ravana – the 10 headed, 10 armed demon and the good King Rama. Ravana, kidnapped Sita, the beautiful wife of King Rama, after 14 years in exile and a long and terrifying battle, Rama killed Ravana, rescuing his wife and returning to Ayodhya for his coronation. On the dark night of their return, the King and Queen could not find their way and so to help them, the people lit their path with candles and diyas, beginning the festival of lights.
Traditionally, Diwali falls on the New Moon between the Hindu months of Asvina and Kartika. On the darkest night of Autumn, usually around late October, the night sky comes alive with candles, lanterns and diyas – (small oil lamps), as people decorate their homes to welcome in Lakshmi the Goddess of Wealth. Whilst the origins of Diwali vary slightly depending on the region, across India, Nepal and Sri Lanka, it is a major celebration that sees people coming together to share gifts and food.
The festival is typically a 5 day affair and begins with:
Dhanteras, day 1: traditionally people clean, renovate and decorate their homes in preparation, with internal and external decorations. Today signifies the birthdays of Lakshmi, Goddess of Wealth and Dhanvantari, Goddess of Health, diyas are kept burning all night in their honor.
Naraka Chaturdasi, day 2: beautiful Rangoli (typically lotus flowers) are drawn on the floors of homes, Henna is drawn on hands and homemade sweets are prepared for the main day of Diwali.
Diwali, day 3: this is the main day of the festival, people dress in new clothes and meet with relatives to exchange gifts and sweets. Lakshmi is rumoured to wander the earth on Diwali night, people often leave their windows and doors open and help light her way with diyas and perform pujas (prayer rituals) to gain her blessing for the coming year. As night falls, fireworks light the sky to chase away evil spirits, and people celebrate with food and festivities.
Padwa Balipratipada, day 4: today celebrates the return of the demon King Bali to earth, people celebrate the love and devotion between husbands and wives and gifts are often exchanged.
Bhai Duj, day 5: According to legend, the God of Death, Yamraj visited Yami, his sister on this day, she fed him special dishes and garlanded him. Today, women and girls perform pujas for the goodwill of their brothers to emphasize the love and lifelong bond between siblings.
India is a land of fabulous festivals, from the decorating of camels at the bizarre Bikaner Camel Festival to Holi, the world’s largest festival of colours. Why not head over there on one of our incredible Charity Challenges, cycle or run through Rajasthan, trek Little Tibet, Summit Stok Kangri or Hike the Himalaya…