That’s right, another festival! It’s holiday season in India, and this week is Diwali – The Festival of Lights. It is also called Deepavali, which literally translates to a row of lights in Sanskrit. Diwali Festival means lots of decorations in the streets, light decorations on houses, flower garlands, poojas (prayers/blessings) and of course, crackers (fireworks). Different states celebrate Diwali on different days. In Karnataka it is tomorrow (Thursday) but other regions celebrate various days throughout the week. There are many common traditions associated with Diwali, here are a few which you’ll find throughout the country:
Rolling the Dice
As per the Hindu mythology, it is believed that playing dice on the day of Diwali is very good luck. According to the legend, the Goddess Parvati played dice with her husband Lord Shiva and greatly enjoyed it on the day of Diwali. She declared that ‘whosoever plays dice on this day shall be bestowed with a good fortune throughout the year’. Over the years dice games have been replaced by cards and people often organize card games during Diwali, where friends and families get together to indulge in friendly gambling matches.
Lighting Up Fireworks and Lamps
As per Diwali traditions, lighting your house is necessary to invite Lakshmi, the goddess of good fortune, into your home. The traditional way to do so is by lighting handmade earthen lamps called diyas. On the day of Diwali, these multicolored lamps are filled with mustard or coconut oil and wick. Once the prayer ceremonies dedicated to Goddess Lakshmi and Lord Ganesha are completed, these diyas are lit. These ethnic lamps, typically made of clay, are placed on window sills, doorways and in the darkest corners of the house. The pictures on the right are different types of diyas being sold on the streets.
Bursting firecrackers is one of the most popular traditions of Diwali- they can be heard throughout the day and night. It is believed that their sound and light wards off evil spirits. This year, Prime Minister Modi has issued a request to use candles instead of fireworks to welcome Lakshmi to reduce the negative environmental effects these little crackers have.
Cleansing and Home Decor
People from all walks of life begin to clean and refurbish their homes depending on their budget during Diwali. Even the most economically challenged person will participate by keeping his/her home absolutely immaculate during Diwali. This tradition is based on the belief that Lakshmi only visits homes that are completely spotless. Other than cleanliness, people also put in a lot of effort and time in decorating their homes with strings of light bulbs, shimmering streamers, flower garlands and ribbons. Colorful and intricate drawings, known as rangolis, are drawn at the doorways using colored powder or flower petals or powders. Some of these are pictured below which I passed on my walk to work.
Exchanging of Presents
Presenting Diwali gifts to one’s friends, relatives and acquaintances becomes more and more popular during Diwali each year. Traditionally, just boxes of sweets were gifted; however, now people give anything from electronic appliances to jewelry to food baskets. During Diwali, people give gifts to friends, employees and family members. Many people still prepare lots of sweets at home to distribute as well. In the States, I am used to the gifting of chocolate, cookies, candy and jars of jam during the holidays – this is the Indian version! My loves in the US sent me some homemade jam and Halloween candy which arrived yesterday – which coincidentally to fit in quite well with the Diwali celebrations! Good work guys – you planned that well. I bet it was the first time anyone has eaten candy corn for Diwali!
Diwali festival is considered a good time to make financial investments as well. Diwali promotions rival the US Black Friday sales. You will find many people buying gold and silver coins as well as jewelry. People also shop for kitchen items, especially utensils made of gold, silver, steel and copper. Throughout the five days of Diwali festivities, markets are beautifully decorated and filled with all kinds of gadgets, furniture, clothes, etc. which people which people buy for themselves or to give as gifts. In addition, people buy more property and more vehicles during Diwali than other times of the year.
Happy Diwali to all! Below are some of the decorations I’ve spotted around Bangalore.
This bus is ready for the festivities…but I’m not sure how it is possible to navigate the Bangalore traffic while your windshield is covered in flowers…
My neighbors have decorated their motorcycle. The splatters you see all over the bike is a type of Hindu holy water used to bless different things during pooja.
The next four pictures are some of the Rangolis I passed on my walk to work. These drawings are made with flower petals, rice flour and/or vermilion powder. They are made on doorsteps to welcome gods and goddesses into the home. Some people make different versions of these each morning, but during festivals they are everywhere. It’s so pretty.