Celebrating Diwali, the Festival of Lights

As Fall sets in North America, my home is filled with traditional Indian festive vibes. India is known for its colourful festivals, cultural traditions and religious rituals. Growing up in State of Gujarat in Western India, festivals were a large part of my life. When I moved to Canada a decade ago, I kept that festive side of me alive.

Sonali and her son Aarav performing

Meaning

Diwali is the biggest and most celebrated festival throughout India. The word Diwali is derived from the Sanskrit word Deepavali meaning rows of lights. Celebrations differ for regions and religions throughout India. 

In my region, Diwali celebrations last for five-days, with different ceremonies performed each day. Diwali falls on a moonless night in the middle of the five days of celebration, on the last day of the Hindu calendar, usually in October or November. This year Diwali falls on November 4.

According to a story my grandmother would tell, the world’s first Diwali was celebrated when Lord Ram (the 7th incarnation of Hindu God Vishnu) defeated Ravan in war. When he returned to his kingdom in Ayodhya, the people of his kingdom lit clay lamps to welcome and celebrate the return of their king.

Ram’s victory in the war is celebrated to represent the victory of good over evil. The lighting of the clay lamps also signifies light over darkness. As Diwali falls on a moonless day, lighting the lamps brightens the night and is meant to guide Goddess Lakshmi, the Goddess of Wealth, into our homes.

Rituals and ceremonies in my home

Beginning the first day of the five-day celebrations, we perform prayers and rituals for Goddess Lakshmi. The ceremony is known as Lakshmi Pooja (meaning worship).

Lakshmi Pooja

The day after this is known as Kali Chaudas. We observe the day as cleansing of negative energy and bringing positivity into our home.

On Diwali, Chopda Pooja is the main ritual where we prepare the new year’s book of accounts. We woship Goddess Saraswati, Goddess of Knowledge, Wisdom, Art, Music & Speech, as well as offer prayers to Lord Kuber, God of Wealth.

Lord Ganesh, the Elephant God, is worshiped every day and no ceremony can commence without prayers to Ganesh who is known to bring good luck and fortune to our homes.

The day after Diwali, we celebrate Hindu New Year. My family and I visit the temple and offer prayers for the new year. Delicious delicacies with a variety of sweets and desserts are a part of the new year’s feast.

Celebrations continue the next day when we celebrate Bhai Beej, when brother(s) are invited to sister’s home for family lunch or dinner. The fifth day in the New Year known as Labh Pancham is when businesses re-open and it marks the end of Diwali celebrations.

Preparation and decorations

In the days leading up to the festivities, I prepare snacks and sweets, buy new clothes and gather items including fresh flowers, vermilion, red cloth, etc. We buy a metal item made of either gold, silver, copper or steel. The metal item forms part of the Lakshmi Pooja ritual.

Hand-made lanterns

My favourite part is decorating our home, putting up lights, lighting traditional clay lamps with handmade cotton wick every night and drawing rangolis. Rangolis are designs drawn on the floor with coloured sand or powder. It is usually done at the front entrance of the home and/or in the home temple. Designs are made freehand and are decorated with clay lamps or candles.

Rangoli designs by Sonali and her family using coloured sand2

Rangoli designs by Sonali and her family using coloured sand1

The day of Diwali is a day of celebration! I dress in a traditional Indian outfit like a saree or dress and wear jewellery and go to the temple. It is also customary to exchange gifts. Elderly members of the family are known to gift cash as good luck on the occasion. I burst firecrackers on Diwali night with my son which has been part of the modern celebrations.

Culture and tradition

I am proud to keep our traditions! I love to celebrate all festivals at home to educate my son about where we come from and pass traditions on to the next generation.


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