Diwali, the Festival of Lights, is one of the most vibrant and exciting Hindu celebrations. It is full of color and reverie, representing the philosophy behind it.
The festival celebrates the triumph of good over evil and awareness of one’s own inner light against a backdrop of fireworks, sweets, new clothes, decorating and cleaning homes, lighting lanterns and diyas (small oil lamps made of clay), exchanging gifts and drawing henna designs on hands. Diwali is associated with different Gods and Goddesses depending on the region but the underlying philosophy of Diwali–a renewal of life–is universal.
Diwali spans five days. The first day, Dhanteras, is used to shop and prepare for the celebration. The second day, Choti Diwali (Narak Chaturdasi), marks the beginning of lamp lighting and fireworks to celebrate the defeat of demon Naraksura by Lord Krishna. It is a day when many fast. The third day, Lakshmi Puja/Diwali, is the actual day of Diwali and the highlight of the celebration. It is believed that Goddess Lakshmi (the symbol of wealth and prosperity) visits all homes on this day, starting with the cleanest first so all people clean their homes to perfection in preparation. Goddess Lakshmi proffers the blessings of wealth and prosperity, the triumph of good over evil and light over darkness. Diyas are lit to help Goddess Lakshmi find her way to people’s homes and it is customary to wear new clothes to mark the renewal of life. On the fourth day, Padwa and Govardhan Puja, old business accounts are settled and people focus on ridding their lives of anger, hate and jealousy.
Finally, the last day, Bhaj Duj, encourages siblings to strengthen their relationships with each other and all people to see the good in others, including their enemies. It marks the Hindu New Year.
The festival is celebrated largely in Hinduism but also in Sikhism and Jainism and is an official holiday in India, Guyana, Trinidad & Tobago, Mauritius, Malaysia, Nepal, Singapore, Sri Lanka, Myanmar, Fiji and Surinam.