Tonight marks the beginning of the five day long festival of lights, the biggest celebration by our Hindu neighbors. Over a billion people around the world have started their yearly celebrations.
Diwali, also known as the festival of lights, is celebrated in October or November of each year depending on the Hindu lunar calendar. The celebration marks the start of the new year for Indians of all faiths including Jains, Buddhists and Sikhs.
The celebration honors Rama-chandra, the seventh avatar (incarnation of the god Vishnu). It’s believed that on this day Rama returned to his people after 14 years of exile. He is said to have come back after he fought and won a battle against the demons and the demon king, Ravana. Residents celebrated his return by lighting rows of clay lamps.
The five day celebration is marked with candles, firecrackers, and clay lamps known as diyas, which are lit to signify the triumph of light over darkness and food over evil. Food is a major part of the holiday, with traditional sweets and savory items eaten.
Each day is a new celebration:
- Day one is known as Dhanteras or worship of wealth. It’s customary to purchase something precious.
- Day two is known as Naraka Chaturdashi or Choti Diwali. This day people wake up early, apply aromatic oils and then bathe. This is supposed to remove all sins and impurities. People dress in new clothes and light diyas.
- Day three is known as Lakshmi Puja and this is the main day of the Diwali festival. The Goddess Lakshmi is believed to enter homes and bless people with good fortune. Families exchange gifts and gather together, while lights fill the houses.
- Day four is known as Govardhan Puja or Padva. Those celebrating will make a small hillock, usually of cow dung and worship it.
- Day five and the final day of celebration is known as Bhai Dooj. Siblings celebrate with a lavish meal and tilak ceremony. The sisters pray for a long and happy life for their brothers, while the brothers give gifts to their sisters.
Many celebrations happen around New York for Diwali, but this year they have been canceled because of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic and celebrations have gone mostly virtual.