This weekend Hindus, Jains, Sikhs, and some Buddhists are all celebrating Diwali. This is a 5-day festival, often called the ‘Festival of Lights’, because in Sanskrit Diwali means “a row of lights”.
One of the most popular Hindu festivals, Diwali symbolises the spiritual victory of light over darkness, good over evil, and knowledge over ignorance. In the Indian subcontinent, Diwali is also a post-harvest festival celebrating the bounty following the arrival of the monsoon.
In common with festivals in many major faiths, the date generally changes by about 7-10 days every year. This is because Hindu calendars are lunisolar, meaning they take into effect both the movements of the sun and the moon. Diwali falls on the new moon makes it the darkest night in the month, when the nights are cold, long, and dark – All the lights make that darkness easier to bear.
In the lead-up to Diwali, celebrants prepare by cleaning, renovating, and decorating their homes and workplaces. During the celebration, temples, homes, shops and office buildings are brightly illuminated. One ritual for Hindus in particular, is to have a ritual oil bath at dawn on each day of the festival.
On the holiest day, the 3rd of the 5 days, revellers adorn themselves in their finest clothes, and illuminate both the inside and outside of their homes, temples and workspaces with oil lamps (diyas), candles or lanterns. The floors are decorated with rangoli designs. They offer worship (puja) to Lakshmi, the goddess of prosperity and wealth, before lighting fireworks, and enjoying family feasts, where sweets called mithai and other gifts are shared
Food is a major focus with families, and Diwali is an annual homecoming and bonding period not only for families, but also for communities and associations. Those in urban areas often organise activities and events, such as parades, fairs, and music/dance performances. These are often a showcase for Indian culture, music, dance, fashion, food, crafts, and fireworks. Some Hindus, Jains and Sikhs send Diwali greeting cards to family near and far during the festive season, occasionally with boxes of Indian confectionery.
Sikhs celebrate Diwali since Guru Hargobind, the sixth Guru, was released from Gwalior prison on this day. The Golden Temple in Amritsar is illuminated and firework displays take place there. It is a time for new clothes, presents and sweets.
As well as a faith festival, Diwali is also a major cultural event for the Hindu, Sikh, Jain, and Buddhist diaspora from the Indian subcontinent. The incredible amount of fireworks and firecrackers set off during the five days of Diwali have become an issue in many Indian cities, to the point that ambient air and noise during the festival are considered somewhat of a health hazard. The city of Leicester, here in the UK, holds the largest Diwali celebrations outside of India.