In this part of the world, we’re used to the New Year beginning in January. However, in other cultures, such as Chinese or Hindu culture, you will see that it occurs on another date. In the latter case, in India, the festival of Diwali is held in mid-November. An event full of light that celebrates the victory of good over evil and the beginning of the year according to its calendar.
What is the Diwali Festival and when is it held?
Diwali, or the Festival of Lights is an event full of magic and meaning for Hindu culture and is also one of the best known throughout Asia. The origin of the word Diwali comes from Sanskrit, as it descends from Dipivall, and its meaning is “row or series of lights”. Its name alone gives us an idea of what it is.
The celebration of this day does not have a specific date, as it varies from year to year. This date can be found on the Hindu calendar itself and the phases of the moon. During the month of Kartika, on the thirteenth lunar day of the fourth waning or Krishna Paksha, the first day of celebration, called Dhanteras, takes place. It finishes on the second lunar day of the crescent quarter or Shukla Paksha. This is usually eighteen days after the festival of Navrati.
On our Gregorian calendar, Diwali is held sometime between October 23 and November 15. It lasts for five days, including different celebrations, such as the first day of the new year.
The origins of the Diwali Festival
It seems that in ancient times, Diwali celebrated harvests. However, there are many celebrations that are also associated with this date and that vary in each region. The marriage of Lakshmi and Vishnu; the worship of Kali, the dark goddess of force in Bengal, or the worship of Ganesha, the elephant with the head of a god who symbolises wisdom and good omen.
In Jainism, one of the doctrines of India, Diwali also celebrates another very important event: Mahavira, one of the masters who presented the teachings of this religion, achieving nirvana (eternal happiness) on the same date.
In addition to all these celebrations, there is also room to commemorate the return of Rama, Sita and Laskhmana. After defeating the demon Ravana and spending 14 years in exile, this king returned to his homeland. Oil lamps, or diyas, have been, and still are, one of the most characteristic features.
How is this festival of lights celebrated?
Diwali consists of five days of celebrations, during which families follow tradition. On the first day, House cleaning takes place, consisting of thoroughly cleaning and tidying the houses and getting rid of unnecessary items.
On the second day, when the house is clean, the popular oil lamps are set and prepared for the third and biggest day. This is when the New Year’s Eve party takes place, accompanied by prayers to the goddess Lakshmi and fireworks. On the fourth day, the first day of the new year, gifts and good wishes are exchanged between family and friends. On the fifth and final day, brothers visit their sisters and enjoy traditional meals.
In the West, during Diwali, houses and streets are decorated with lights, which are turned on at dusk. When a home has been cleaned and lit up, the goddess may come in to bless the family with luck for the coming year. Fairs are set up in the larger towns and firecrackers and fireworks are also thrown.
In addition, during this festival everyone shows off new clothes after having thrown away the old ones during the house cleaning. Copious meals and desserts are not lacking in this tradition either, as good food is a custom that crosses all borders.
Similar to Christmas, people come together regardless of their faith or race. Conflicts that may have arisen over the previous year are resolved over this week and the arrival of a new year is celebrated in harmony.
Diwali is one of India’s most important cultural legacies. A country in which you can enjoy not just cultural festivals, but also beautiful palaces and architectural works of art. For the more adventurous, even national parks inhabited by tigers. What a great way to start a year!