From Indonesia to the Southern Caribbean, Indians around the world are finishing off their garlands and decorations to celebrate Diwali, the Hindu festival of lights. In addition to being one of the holiest dates on the Hindu calendar, the date is also commemorated by Sikhs, Buddhists, and Jains—and has grown into one of the most representative community celebrations for the Indian diaspora worldwide.
The Triumph Of Good Versus Evil
As in most of Hindu lore, the story behind Diwali is a thrilling tale that combines battle, ideals, wit, and the sacred symbolism attached to the passage of time. For Hindus, Diwali celebrates the triumph of the god Rama over the demon king Ravana, who had kidnapped Rama's wife Sita, and taken her to the island of Lanka.
The festival also coincides with the time of year devoted to both Kali, the goddess of power, and Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth. In India, this is taken as a good way to multiply the celebrations, since most stores will make their biggest yearly sales events. It is also considered an auspicious time for business or to ask the blessings of the gods. Which is why Diwali is often preceded by weeks of fasting and additional prayers by devout Hindus.
However, the most easily recognizable symbol of Diwali are the small clay pots used to light candles or burn aromatic oils. Most Diwali decorations are centered around entire rows of these little lights, which are said to illuminate the way for Rama to return safely from Lanka.
Other Diwali traditions include large fireworks displays, the exchange of homemade sweets or marigold garlands, and elaborate prayer rituals known as puja.
For Sikhs, Diwali commemorates the date in which one of their early gurus broke out of prison, and for Jains, the date on which one if its founders first achieved nirvana.
A Celebration of All Things India
For the millions of Indians and people of Indian descent who now live across the world, Diwali has grown into a way to celebrate their heritage as well. Hindu temples in England often center many of their community engagement events around Diwali, and in Leicester, even the city council is involved in their annual switch on.
In Australia, the Hindu council organizes large scale celebrations in both Melbourne and Sidney. Diwali-themed fanfare and sales are easy to spot in Durban, Johannesburg, Dubai, and Bali. In Trinidad and Tobago, the feast is even recognized as a bank holiday, while in Guyana, an annual motorcade is set up for it.