What Is Diwali? Everything To Know About India's Festival of Lights

How much do you know about Diwali, one of the biggest holidays celebrated in India? While another popular Indian holiday, Holi, is known as the “festival of colors,” Diwali is known as the “festival of lights” thanks to the practice of lighting oil lamps and decorating homes and cities with strings of twinkling lights to symbolize the victory of light over darkness. While many Hindus celebrate Diwali, people of various faiths mark the five-day festival in India and other countries. In fact, while Diwali is rooted in religious tradition, the festival has also become a secular holiday in India, similar to how Christmas has come to be celebrated by many Christians and non-Christians alike in the U.S. We’re taking a look at answers to some questions you may have about this holiday, including “What is Diwali?” and “When is Diwali 2022?”

What is Diwali?

Diwali, also known as Divali or Deepawali, is a major festival celebrated over five days in many parts of India by people of different faiths including many Hindus, Jains, Sikhs, Muslims and some Buddhists. It is sometimes referred to as "the festival of lights."

Many Hindus observe Diwali by lighting small oil lamps known as ‘diyas’ in honor of Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth and good fortune. The lamps symbolize the triumph of light over darkness and evil, according to Britannica.

Related: 25 Diwali Facts

When is Diwali 2022?

Diwali is a five-day religious festival. The main festival day falls on a different date each autumn, timed to the Hindu lunar calendar, but it usually falls in October or November. In 2022, Diwali falls on Monday, Oct. 24.

How is Diwali celebrated?

The Diwali festival takes place over five days. The first day, Dhanteras, is for celebrating Lakshmi, the Hindu goddess of wealth, prosperity, youth and beauty. On this first day, people buy new items such as jewelry, clothing and utensils and light lamps to welcome Lakshmi, according to India Today

The second day, known as Chhoti Diwali, Naraka Chaturdasi or Kali Chaudas, focuses on a story from Hindu mythology about the god Krishna and his defeat of the demon god Narakasura. On this day, some people put up twinkling lights to celebrate his victory.

The third day, known as Diwali, Deepawali, or Lakshmi Puja, is the most important day of the Diwali festival. On this day, people visit family and friends to feast and exchange sweets and gifts. People also continue to light lamps and candles to welcome light and prosperity from the goddess Lakshmi.

Related: Best Diwali Gifts

On the fourth day, known as Govardhan Puja or Padva, some people in northern India build small piles of cow dung as a symbol of how Krishna defeated the king of the Hindu gods, Indra, by lifting up a mountain. 

The fifth day, known as Bhai Dooj or Yama Dwitiva, is a day for brothers and sisters to honor one another. Siblings perform a ceremony called tilak and pray for one another. 

On this final day of Diwali, many people also set off fireworks. In 2017, India’s supreme court banned the sale of fireworks for Diwali in the capital, Delhi, citing concerns about pollution and air quality, according to the BBC.

What is the meaning of Diwali?

Diwali has ties to multiple religious stories across several faiths, so the meanings that people associate with Diwali may vary. In broad terms, it often represents the triumph of light over darkness.

In parts of northern India, many people associate Diwali with the ancient story of King Rama, an incarnation of the Hindu god Vishnu, according to History.com. According to the legend, Rama rescued his wife, Sita, from the evil king, Lanka, by building a bridge from India to Sri Lanka. 

Meanwhile, in Gujarat, a state in western India, the fourth day of Diwali coincides with New Year’s Day according to a Hindu calendar observed in that region. People celebrate by decorating their homes with lights and flowers, according to DiwaliFestival.org.

For non-Hindus, Diwali may have a different significance. For followers of Jainism, a non-theistic religion in India, Diwali “marks the nirvana or spiritual awakening of the spiritual leader Mahavira in 527 BCE,” according to National Geographic. Meanwhile, for followers of Sikhism, Diwali marks the day that the sixth of the ten Sikh gurus, Guru Hargobind Ji, was freed from imprisonment in the 17th century.

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Who celebrates Diwali?

Diwali is celebrated by people across different faiths in India, including Hindus, Jains, Sikhs, and some Muslims and Buddhists. Many people with South Asian heritage in other parts of the world also celebrate Diwali.

While Diwali is a religious festival, it has also become a secular national holiday celebrated widely across India, much like Christmas has become a holiday celebrated by Christians and non-Christians alike in the U.S., according to History.com

Related: Happy Chinese New Year 2022! The History of Chinese New Year

What do people eat during Diwali?

Diwali is a time for feasting with family and enjoying plenty of sweet treats. One popular delicacy is kaju katli, a fudge-like sweet made with ground cashews and sugar, and sometimes flavored with a touch of rose water. Another popular treat in northern India is besan burfi, another kind of fudge-like bar made from flour, sugar and cardamom and sprinkled with almonds or pistachios. Jalebi, a kind of sweet fried bread, is also a popular choice. Basically, it isn’t Diwali without dessert!

Next up, here are 10 Indian chicken recipes you must try at least once!

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