The central idea of Diwali is the triumph of good over evil, reflected in its rituals like diyas and rangoli.
This year, Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists and Jains around the world will celebrate Diwali on November 12. The five-day festivities are characterized by bright lights, burning incense and sumptuous meals, including sweets. Families otherwise separated by distance or discord come together.
Here’s what you need to know about some of the rituals performed during Diwali:
The word Diwali comes from the Sanskrit roots “deepa” (lights) and “avali” (row). The word, in turn, translates to row of lights. The festival is characterized by different light decorations such as fireworks and candles.
The decorations most closely associated with the festival are earthen oil lamps called diyas.
The meaning of diyas is rooted in the Hindu legend of the Ramayana. It is the story of Prince Rama, whose wife Sita was kidnapped. When Rama and Sita returned to their kingdom, Ayodhya, the people welcomed them with diyas.
This legend is not the only one behind Diwali. Other religious and regional communities associate different mythologies with it. What unites them is the fundamental idea that Diwali celebrates the victory of good over evil, which the diyas symbolize.
“People are trying to light up the dark places, not only in their homes but also in their souls,” Manpreet Arora, a senior assistant professor at the Central University of Himachal Pradesh, India, told Al Jazeera.
Arora wrote about the central role women play in Hindu festivals in memory of her late mother during a Diwali season. She remembers Diwali as a child, when she enthusiastically helped her mother prepare the house for the festivities.
A few days before Diwali, people start cleaning their houses. “Someone buys new curtains, someone gets their house painted,” Arora added. People make sure that their homes are clean and spotless in preparation to welcome Goddess Lakshmi into their homes.
In Dhanteras, on the first of five days of festivities – November 10 this year – the markets are bustling. Arora said that on Dhanteras, people’s purchases range from small items such as diyas to luxury goods. However, silver jewelry and utensils are particularly sought after on this day. A silver coin is believed to bring “good luck and fortune,” she said.
The date of Diwali is actually the third day of festivities, which falls on the new moon. In the evening of this day, the lamps are lit and Goddess Lakshmi is worshipped.
Noise is usually created using drums and firecrackers to chase away Alakshmi, the negative shadow of Lakshmi in front. However, in recent years, fireworks have sparked concerns about increasing air pollution.
Arora said the government was urging people not to use firecrackers, prompting them to practice ‘Green Diwali’ to minimize pollution, Arora said. Green Diwali also involves “promoting local diyas handmade by artisans rather than buying online from big companies”.
Different patterns are drawn on floors and surfaces with materials like colored sand, rice flour or limestone powder. This art form is called rangoli and is also performed to welcome Lakshmi.
Although some rangoli designs are geometric designs, different rangoli designs have different meanings such as:
- THE Lotus flower six-petaled is a common motif as it is associated with Lakshmi and also signifies wealth and fertility. Lotuses grow in the mud to bloom as vibrant flowers, reinforcing the theme of light over darkness.
- Owls are associated with auspiciousness in Bengal where they are considered the vehicle of Lakshmi, making them an important motif of the alpana, which is the rangoli practiced in Bengal, created during Lakshmi pooja.
- Fingerprints, also called paglia point towards the house to invoke Lakshmi. Footprints pointing in the opposite direction are considered inauspicious and are associated with Alakshmi.