During a visit to India in October 2011, we were most fortunate to arrive in Jaipur, Rajasthan just in time for Diwali, the Hindu festival of lights. The origin of this festival can be traced back to the ancient Hindu epic Ramayana, when Rama and Sita return to the kingdom Ayodhya after 14 years of exile.
The festival of Diwali extends between 4-5 days, depending on which region in India. The fourth day – the main Diwali festival day – marks the beginning of the new year according to the Vikrama calendar.
Merchants perform religious ceremonies and open new account books. Diwali marks the end of the harvest season in most of India. Farmers give thanks for their harvest and pray for a good one for the year to come. Traditionally this marked the closing of accounts for businesses dependent on the agrarian cycle and is the last major celebration before winter. Lakshmi symbolizes wealth and prosperity, and her blessings are invoked for a good year ahead.
Diwali is the time for visiting and exchanging gifts. Traditionally sweets and dried fruit are very common gifts to exchange. In Jaipur, sweets such as like Mawa Kachori, Til Ke Laddo, Gonth ke Laddu, Piste ke Launj, Moti Pak, Pheeni, Sohan Papdi, Besan Barfi, Jalebi and Shakarpara can be found in most sweet shops during Diwali.
Diwali is also traditionally a time to redecorate homes and buy new clothes.
The name of the festival comes from the Sanskrit word dipavali, meaning row of lights. Diwali is known as the ‘festival of lights’ because houses, shops and public places are decorated with small earthenware oil lamps called diyas. These lamps, traditionally fueled by mustard oil or ghee (clarified butter), are placed in rows in windows, doors and outside buildings to decorate them.
The lamps celebrate the return of Rama after his exile. To welcome his return, diyas were lit in rows of 20. They are also believed to help Lakshmi – the goddess of wealth and prosperity – find her way into people’s homes.
Fireworks are a huge part of the Diwali celebrations. The illumination of homes with lights and the skies with fireworks is an expression of paying respect to the deities for the attainment of health, wealth, knowledge, peace and prosperity.
For more information about the festival of Diwali, see Wikipedia.