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Lit candles celebrating diwalli

The history of Diwali: The five-day festival of light

Image: Extraordinaryzee.jaipur /

Diwali is the most important annual holiday in India and billions of people around the world, mainly Hindus, celebrate the festival every year. Diwali is a celebration of light triumphing over darkness and, more spiritually, good over evil. Let's explore the history of the festival and some of the most interesting and important facts about this celebration.

The everchanging Festival of Light

Diwali is a five-day festival, and in 2022 it is celebrated between the 22nd and 26th, with the 24th marking the height of the festival. Every year the dates of the festival change as the moon's position determines them. It usually falls between October and November.

Each day of the festival has its own name and significance in which worshippers celebrate and immerse themselves in ancient traditions.

The stories and history behind Diwali

Hindus celebrate Diwali, but it is observed in different religions as well. Jains and Sikhs also have their own traditions, with their own religious significance surrounding the festival. Each religion and some subsects have their own stories at the heart of the celebration.

In one of the key stories in Hindu mythology, Diwali is described as the day Lord Rama, his wife Sita Devi and brother Lakshmana return to their home after fourteen years spent in exile. In the tale, villagers lit a path for the return of Rama and in some areas, re-enacting this pathway is a central part of the celebrations.

Another Hindu story that is often told and at the heart of Diwali is that it marks the day Lord Krishna was triumphant over the demon Narakasura and freed the people of the kingdom. Once the demon was slain, Krishna called for a day of festivities. Some regions of India burn effigies of the demon to celebrate Diwali.

Diwali is closely linked with harvest and the new year for other cultures.


The five days of Diwali

There are many traditions and superstitions closely linked with Diwali. Two days before the main festival day, many people go out and buy a metallic kitchen implement, which is considered a good luck charm.

The day before the main Diwali festival is known as little Diwali (Choti Diwali), and traditionally it is an opportunity to get ready for the big day itself. These days it is more commonly used for last-minute errands and swapping gifts with family. It is also the day when traditional ornate floral and geometrical patterns, known as rangoli, are spread across floors using bright-coloured powders, petals, and rice flour.

The third day is the main Diwali celebration. When the sun sets, prayer time begins, and clay lamps are laid out to signify the lights that the festival is known for. Firework displays are also closely linked to the festival and are common across India and many other nations.

The day after Diwali is a little more subdued, and celebrations differ from area to area. In some regions, such as North India, the morning is dedicated to worshipping the tools of work such as kitchen implements, artist's palettes, pens, and paper.

The final day of Diwali is a chance for sisters to pray for the well-being of their brothers and be rewarded with gifts of sweetmeats in return.

Celebrating Diwali

The weeks leading to Diwali are of great significance to many cultures. It is traditionally a time for redecorating the home, buying new clothes and trinkets, and exchanging trinkets, including food and jewellery. Dinner parties and outdoor food festivals help build up the excitement for the main Diwali festival. Drinks, finger food and parties packed with music and celebrations build fun and a sense of excitement throughout the festival.

Top facts about Diwali

There are many different facts about Diwali as it is honoured across religions, and here are just four facts you may not have known about this special celebration:

1. Diwali occurs on a no-moon night

Diwali falls within the Hindu lunar calendar month of Karthik and is chosen as it falls on Amavasya, which translates to moonless night. Choosing the night of a new moon means the lights, lamps and fireworks are even more vivid, distinguishing between light and darkness.

2. Diwali means "row of lights" in Sanskrit

Diwali translates directly from Sanskrit as "row of lights". It is the celebration of light over darkness and the triumph of good over evil; this name is chosen to signify this. The festival is a celebration of all things luminary and settlements across the world, of all sizes, light up in festivity.

3. Diwali is a celebration of the goddess Lakshmi

The goddess of prosperity, Lakshmi, is the major deity associated with the festival. There are many gods related to the celebration, with many different religions relating to the story, but Lakshmi is the most prominent. Lakshmi is the goddess of prosperity but also beauty and fortune, and many celebrants make tributes and worship her in the hope she will bestow good fortune on them and their loved ones.

4. Diwali is a national holiday in eleven countries

Diwali is mainly considered an Indian holiday, with over 1 billion people in the country celebrating the festival. However, the Indian diaspora is much more widely spread, and Diwali is observed by people of Indian descent in almost every country on the planet. It is celebrated as an official national holiday in these eleven nations: Trinidad and Tobago, Fiji, Mauritius, Guyana, Malaysia, Singapore, Suriname, Nepal, Myanmar, and Sri Lanka.