One of the beauties of travelling is the opportunity to learn about and embrace cultural elements you may or may not have heard of before.
A significant cultural event in the months of October and November is Diwali which is celebrated all over the world to some extent by the Hindus, Jains, Sikhs and some Buddhists as well.
It is an official holiday in Fiji, Guyana, India, Pakistan, Malaysia, Mauritius, Myanmar, Nepal, Singapore, Sri Lanka, Suriname and Trinidad and Tobago and marks the beginning of a new year according to the Hindu Calendar.
Diwali (Dīvali, or Dīpāwali) is a contraction of the word “Deepavali” which translates into “row of lamps”. It is the Festival of Lights, celebrated every year in autumn (in the northern hemisphere and spring in the southern hemisphere) and more particularly on the 15th day of the month of Kartika in the Hindu Calendar.
The significance of the festival revolves around the triumph of good over evil (light over darkness). As such Diwali is celebrated to honour Rama-chandra, the seventh avatar (incarnation of the god Vishnu). It is believed that this day marks his return from his fourteen year-long exile fighting and vanquishing the demons and the demon-king Ravana, explaining the significance of light while celebrating this victory over darkness.
Furthermore, the marriage of Goddess of Happiness and Fortune, Lakshmi with Lord Vishnu is also celebrated and it is believed she roams the Earth on this day, entering houses that are “pure”.
While celebrations may vary slightly across the globe, the spiritual meaning of Diwali is generally “the awareness of the inner light”.
How it is celebrated
Diwali is a five-day festival which means there will be plenty for you to experience if you want to participate to this celebration.
You will experience the beauty and visual delights of the organised firework displays and the various light lanterns and candles that are lit at gatherings but also in and around celebrants’ houses.
If culinary experiences are what you are after, you will find tasting the range of sweets, savories and herbs from the food stalls that populate each event to be a real treat.
Dancing and music are also part of this celebration and as such, you will have the opportunity to marvel at the array of performances organised for the occasion.
To properly celebrate this event though, you will want to wear your finest silk clothes and for women, your most beautiful jewellery, on top of mehendi (henna paintings) which you can have done for you on-site.
You will also want to participate to the burning of effigies representing the demon-king Ravana, which is a main element of the celebration and illustrates the victory of good against evil.
While not being a public holiday in many countries that do have a Hindu population, you will be able to celebrate Diwali at events and gatherings held in public places around the world, and will notice some Indian businesses closing early on Diwali to attend.
Although the festival is celebrated not only by Hindus but also Jains, Sihks and some Buddhists to mark different historical events for each, the symbolism behind it remains the same: celebrating the victory of light over darkness, knowledge over ignorance, good over evil, hope over despair.
This is also true about the way it is celebrated with lamps, fireworks and bonfires, which remains the same across the different groups of celebrants.
It is one of the happiest festivals in India and Nepal with significant preparations and family activities tied-in as well and is one of the most visually exciting festivals around the world for you to experience.