Diwali, Hinduism’s most important celebration, begins Oct. 19. The five-day “Festival of Lights” draws its name from the climax of the week, the third day of Diwali, which is Oct. 21. Most days begin with an early morning oil bath and the performance of tributes to the deities. The origins of Diwali differ depending on the region of India, but many are stories of good conquering evil. Locally, the newly formed Hindu Temple at 2006 Holly Ave. will hold Diwali celebrations on Oct. 21, and the Cultural Association of India will celebrate the holiday on Nov. 4 at Brady Commons.
Five days of celebration
The first day of the celebration, called Dhanteras, begins with the decoration of homes, especially the entrance, in honor of the Goddess of Wealth, Laxmi. The entire house is cleaned and renovated. Devotional songs are sung throughout the week, and rice and vermilion flour footprints or lotus flower designs are placed in the house in honor of Laxmi. Small clay pots that hold oil lamps, called diyas, are lit throughout the night in houses, gardens and on rooftops. Larger candles are placed in temples. The brilliance of the hundreds of candles lit throughout the towns is meant to drive away ignorance, or darkness. The lights also create a path for Laxmi, so she will visit her followers and bless the families and businesses with prosperity and luck. Shopping is an important part of the day’s traditions.
On the second day, Choti Diwali, families celebrate with small fireworks displays, but the majority of the day is spent preparing for the third day, Diwali.
The climax of the week, Diwali marks the new business year in India. New account books are opened, and the old books are blessed. Music and huge fireworks displays bring families and especially children into the streets. The loud sound of the exploding fireworks is believed to ward away evil spirits. Families dress in their finest clothes, exchange gifts and enjoy the night together.
Padwa, the fourth day, is the first day of the Hindu new year and commemorates love and family. Wives bestow blessings on their husbands, and huge feasts are prepared. Some people will cook the whole night before in order to offer mountains of food in the temples.
The fifth day, Bhai Duj, emphasizes the relationship between brothers and sisters. A sister performs blessings on her brother and receives gifts in return. On the last day, people are encouraged to resolve arguments they may have had with one another during the year.
Fairs are an attraction throughout the week, especially the hand-puppet shows and henna tattoo booths. Dancing, singing and other arts are also performed.