Diwali or Deepwali is one of the most important Hindu festivals. The word diwali comes from the Sanskrit word deepwali. The word deepwali can be split in two - “dīpa ” (light) and “āwali” (row or line). So, if literally translated word deepwali means a “line of light”.

Diwali is known as the “festival of lights”. The festival represents symbolic victory of good over evil. The lamps lit during this festival celebrate humanity and hope.

The origins of the festival are in the classic Indian epic Ramayana. The festival celebrates the return of Lord Rama after killing Ravana the demon during his 14 years long exile. The day when Ravana was killed is celebrated among Hindu as the holiday called Dussehra. This holiday is celebrated 19 to 21 days before Diwali. In many parts of India there are big fireworks.

Vardhamana (Mahavira)
Vardhamana (Mahavira)

Diwali is very important for the Jains too. They are the followers of Jainism. It has its roots in 24 Jinas ("those who overcome" or conqueror) who according to belief existed in the ancient East India. The first Jina was a giant who lived 8.4 million years ago. The last Jina was Vardhamana (Mahavira) or "The Great Hero". He was the founder of Jain community. Nowadays majority of about 4 million Jains live in India. Jainism has lot of similarities with Hinduism and Buddhism.

For the Jains Diwali represents the start of Jain year. They celebrate Diwali because Lord Mahavira (Vardhamana) achieved Moksha. Moksha or Mukti (from Sanskrit root "muc" - "to let loose, let go") means being free from “samsara”, the cycle of death and rebirth or reincarnation and all of the suffering of earthly life.

Guru Har Gobind Ji
Guru Har Gobind Ji

Sikhs also celebrate the Diwali. For Sikhs the festival became important since the illumination of the town of Amritsar commemorating the return of Guru Har Gobind Ji (1595-1644), the sixth Guru of Sikhism. He and 53 Hindu kings were imprisoned by Emperor Jahangir at Fort Gwalior. After becoming free again, he went to the Darbar Sahib (Golden Temple) in the holy city of Amritsar. There he was welcomed by the people who lit candles and divas to greet him. That is why today the Diwali is also called Bandi Chhorh Divas or "the day of release of detainees."

Diwali is celebrated for five days which is on 15th day of the dark fortnight in the auspicious Hindu month of Kartik. According to the western calendar it is sometime in October or November. In 2012 it is on the 13th of November. Except the Diwali itself all other days are named according to Hindu calendar.

Dhanteras is the first day of the festival. In its root there is word “Dhan” which means wealth. Dhanteras is also known as Dhantrayodashi or Dhanwantari Triodasi. It is held on the thirteenth lunar day of Krishna Paksha in the Hindu month of Kartik (October/November).

goddess Lakshmi
Goddess Lakshmi

On Dhanteras people worship the Goddess Lakshmi (Laxmi). She is the goddess of wealth, prosperity, light, wisdom, fortune, fertility, generosity and courage. She is also the embodiment of beauty, grace and charm.

Rangoli with lights
Rangoli with lights

To prepare for Dhanteras homes and business buildings are renovated and decorated. Traditional Rangoli designs are made on the entrance of the building to welcome the Goddess Lakshmi. To show that she really arrived people use rice flour and vermilion powder to draw little footprints all over the house. Lamps are kept burning during whole night.

On Dhanteras Hindus buy gold and silver objects or if not possible at least one or two new utensils for the household. People believe that new “Dhan” or some form of precious metal is a sign of good luck.

Diwali Diya
Diwali Diya

In the evening of Dhanteras Lakshmi Puja is performed. Diyas are lighted to drive away the shadows of evil spirits. Diya (divaa, deepam, deepak) is a lamp, usually made of clay. The wick is made of cotton. It is dipped in ghee or vegetable oils. In the evening people also sing devotional songs called “Bajans”.

“Naivedya" of traditional sweets is offered to the Goddess. Naivedya are type of religious offerings which are eaten after the ritual. In Maharashtra, the state in the west of India, lightly pound dry coriander seeds with jaggery are offered as Naivedya.

cattle decorated on Diwali
cattle decorated on Diwali

On Dhanteras many farmers worship cattle. In south of India people believe that cattle is the incarnation of Goddess Lakshmi.

The second day of the Diwali festivities is called Chhoti Diwali (Narak Chaturdasi) or “small Diwali”. A ritual puja is held to Goddess Lakshmi and the one dedicated to Rama in the evening of that day. People sing songs honouring the god. Aarti (ãrti, arathi, aarthi, or ãrati) is performed. Aarti is ritual in which the light from wicks soaked in ghee (purified butter) or camphor is offered to one or more gods.

In the south of India people have a special tradition held on Chhoti Diwali. They wake up very early, before the sunrise. They prepare a paste by mixing kumkum in oil. This paste symbolizes blood. What follows is breaking a bitter fruit that represents the head of the demon King that was smashed by Krishna. Then people apply the mixture on their foreheads. The ritual finishes with an oil bath using sandalwood paste.

In the Indian state of Maharashtra there are traditional baths early baths with oil and "Uptan" (paste). The paste is made of gram flour and fragrant powders. To bring additional joy during bath there are lot of firecrackers and fireworks. After that people eat steamed vermicelli with milk and sugar or puffed rice with curd.

Lakshmi Puja on the third day of the Diwali festivities is the most important. It is completely devoted to the propitiation of Goddess Lakshmi. On this day sun enters its second course and passes Libra. which is represented by the balance or scale. The balancing of account books and their closing is done.

Despite the fact that this day falls on the dark night of Amavasya it is believed to be a very lucky one. The temples are full of light, sounds of bells and drums.

It is believed that it is important to keep your house very clean on the Diwali. Goddess Lakshmi likes clean places and she is going to visit the clean house first. That is why, with offerings of of haldi and kumkum (turmeric and vermilion), a broom is worshipped. In the evening people light lamps to welcome the goddess. These lamps should light her way in the night.

What goes on the fourth day of the festival is Govardhan Puja. Govardhan Puja or Annakut is celebrated as the day when Krishna defeated Indra. Lord Krishna taught people to do their duty or “karma” and take care of nature. People should take care of nature and nature would take care of them. On the Govardhan Puja people decorate hillocks of food. Such a hillock symbolizes the mountain lifted by Lord Krishna.

In the Indian state of Maharashtra it is celebrated as Padva or BaliPratipada. The day commemorates King Bali. On this day men give presents to their wives.

Bhaiya Dooj
Bhaiya Dooj

The fifth and final day of Diwali festival is called Bhaiya Dooj or Bhai Dooj. There are several myths behind this day. One of them is that after killing Narakasur, Lord Krishna, went to his sister Subhadra who welcomed him in the traditional way by showing him a light and putting on his forehead a tilak of her sisterly protection. That is way Bahiya Dooj is a day when brothers and sisters meet to express their love for each other.

On Bhaiya Dooj people also organize different singing and dancing competitions, present items and sweets are made etc. It is a very happy occasion for everyone.

As kind of extra event to the Diwali festival people organize fairs or “melas” all over India. Lot of food is offered. There are many jugglers, acrobats, snake charmers etc. Puppet shows are held.