Diwali: India’s biggest festival celebrated by Hindus, Jains, Sikhs and others around the world

Illustration generated by AI via DALL-E 2

MONDAY, OCTOBER 24—Today begins Diwali, the ancient Hindu festival of lights. In recognition of the triumph of light over darkness, Diwali bears great significance for Hindus, Jains and Sikhs alike; as awareness of Indian culture spreads, major celebrations now are hosted around the world.

NOTES: English spellings of “Diwali” vary as do the dates of regional celebrations around the world. Sometimes, it’s referred to as Deepavali or Dipavali. ALSO: Some communities plan special gatherings in the U.S. on weekends, for example. If you are looking for public festivals near you, search for schedules in your area.

Typically, more than 1 billion people across the globe celebrate Diwali.

NEWS: From San Francisco to Northampton to Dubai, celebrations are getting into full swing for Diwali 2022. Interested in the puja timings for each of the five days of Deepavali? Check out the Hindustan Times, which also has tips on Diwali cleaning. Cooking for Dipavali? Try recipes from Epicurious, and Food Network.

DIWALI: PREPARATIONS, DIYAS AND GIFT-GIVING

Preparations for Diwali begin weeks in advance. In a shopping extravaganza, gold jewelry, fine clothing, sweet treats and household goods fly off racks in marketplaces across India. At home, surfaces are scrubbed clean, women and children decorate entrances with Rangoli and men string strands of lights. Official celebrations begin two days before Diwali, and end two days after Diwali—spanning a total of five days. During this five-day period, the old year closes and a new year is rung in.

In the two days prior to Diwali, celebrants wrap up their shopping, bake sweets and bathe with fragrant oils. On Diwali, excitement builds as evening approaches. While donning new clothing, diyas (earthen lamps, filled with oil) are lit, prayers are offered to deities and many households welcome Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth and prosperity who is believed to roam the earth on Diwali night. To receive the blessings of Lakshmi tonight means a good year ahead. And, families gather for a feast of sweets and desserts.

The day following Diwali is Padwa, honoring the mutual love between husbands and wives. The next day, Bhai Duj, celebrates the sister-brother bond. On Bhai Duj, women and girls gather to perform puja and prayers for the well-being of their brothers, and siblings engage in gift-giving and the sharing of a meal.

DIWALI: AMONG JAINS AND SIKHS

On the night of Diwali, Jains celebrate light for yet another reason: to mark the attainment of moksha, or nirvana, by Mahavira. As the final Jain Tirthankar of this era, Mahavira’s attainment is celebrated with much fervor. It’s believed that many gods were present on the night when Mahavira reached moksha, and that their presence illuminated the darkness.

Sikhs mark the Bandi Chhor Divas on Diwali, when Guru Har Gobind Ji freed himself and the Hindu kings from Fort Gwalior and arrived at the Golden Temple in Amritsar. Today, Bandi Chhor Divas is commemorated with the lighting of the Golden Temple and more.

Interested in coloring pages, crafts, printables and a how-to video of the Jai Ho dance? Find it all and more at Activity Village.

Dussehra, Vijayadashami: Hindu festival reveres victory of good over evil

Ravana efficiges, Vijayadashami

Ravana effigies, for Vijayadashami. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

WEDNESDAY, OCTOBER 5: The Hindu festival of Navaratri (a nine-night celebration honoring the goddess Durga, along with other goddesses and deities) culminates today, in the most celebrated holiday of all nine nights: Dasara.

Did you know? While some Hindu texts recognize two to four Navaratris each year, the most celebrated is this, Sharada Navaratri, which falls annually near the autumn equinox.

From the Sanskrit words for “remover of bad fate,” today’s Dussehra (spellings vary) brings towering effigies to the streets of India, along with a host of ancient rituals and marked traditions. Many Hindus recognize the victory of Lord Rama over Ravana, a demon, during an epic battle over Rama’s wife, Sita. It’s believed that Ravana had 10 heads, and thus, 10 unfavorable qualities are rid from households with elaborate Yanga performances today; the unfavorable qualities include lust, anger, delusion, greed and jealousy.

In many parts of India, towering effigies of Ravana and his brothers are filled with firecrackers and exploded. Citizens cheer at the blast and dance, sing and feast. The burning effigies are also seen as a cleansing ritual, as they encourage onlookers to burn inner evil and follow the path of righteousness. In northern India, a chariot holding devotees costumed as Lord Rama and Sita rolls down the streets; in southern India, homes are decorated with lamps and flowers.

IN THE NEWS: According to reports from Sangri Today, Dussehra is now being celebrated in more than 100 cities across the U.S. In addition, several states and cities have declared October Hindu Heritage Month, as it is the birth month of Mahatma Gandhi and the Gregorian month during which important Hindu holidays, such Navratri, Dussehra, Durga Puja and Diwali, often take place. (For more information, as well as instructions on how to submit a Hindu American Awareness and Appreciation Month (HAAAM) resolution to local government, check out the Hindu American Foundation.)

In many regions, Dussehra is also known as Vijayadashami, the celebration of yet another victory involving goodness over evil: Goddess Durga’s defeat of the demon Mahishasura. According to this legend, Mother Goddess Shakti incarnated in the form of Goddess Durga.

Across India, gratitude is expressed for the end of a scorching summer season and the approach of cooler days. The festival also starts the preparations for Diwali, the festival of lights, which is observed 20 days after Vijayadashami.

Paryushan Parva, Das Lakshana: Jains pray and fast during forgiveness festival

Jain Paryushan UK

A Paryushana and Diwali celebration at the Shrimad Rajchandra Jain Spiritual Centre in Bushey, London, UK. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

WEDNESDAY, AUGUST 24 and THURSDAY, SEPTEMBER 1: Observed by Shvetambar Jains for eight days (beginning August 24, this year) and by Digambar Jains for 10 (beginning September 1, this year), Paryushan Parva is the most important Jain religious observance of the year; it means daily fasting, inner reflection and confession. (For Digambar Jains, the festival is also sometimes known as Das Lakshana.) In India, monks and nuns take up residence in Jain centers during this period, providing guidance to the laity; the custom is now practiced in the United States, too.

Each evening of Paryushana, the laity gather for prayer, meditation and readings from holy texts. Many Jains fast during Paryushan Parva, with some drinking only boiled water between sunrise and sunset. At the end of the festival period, any who have fasted are fed by friends and loved ones. The end of Paryushana also brings the grand day when forgiveness is requested from all living beings, and Jains forgive one another in full. It’s believed that all negative karmic matter attached to the soul is overpowered when total forgiveness is asked, resulting in renewal and self-purification. For Shvetambars, the final day of Paryushana is Samvatsari Pratikraman, the annual confession. The act of asking forgiveness is extended to family and friends, and then to all living beings. This ritual of forgiveness is sometimes called the rite of universal friendship.

Did you know?  The word “Paryushan” has several meanings. One aspect is explained this way: Pari means “all kinds,” or “fully,” and Ushan means “to burn,” so during this time, a devotee “burns” “all kinds” of karma. In another aspect, the entire word “Paryushan” means “abiding,” or “coming together.”

Though known by several different names, Paryushan Parva unites Jains through 10 key virtues: kshama (forgiveness); mardav (humility); arjav (straightforwardness); sauch (contentedness); satya (truth); samyam (control over senses); tappa (austerity); tyaga (renunciation); akinchan (lack of attachment); brahmacharya (celibacy). Together, the 10 virtues represent the ideal characteristics of the soul; by achieving the supreme virtues, the soul has a chance at salvation. Only through these virtues may people realize the sublime trio: “the True, the Good and the Beautiful.” Evil is eradicated, and eternal bliss is realized.

IN THE NEWS: Current diet fads may be promoting the practice of fasting for health reasons, but most world religions have been utilizing this tool for thousands of years—and not just for physical health, but for spiritual health. As is pointed out in an article from Florida International University:

Jain fasting includes complete avoidance of food or eating only a partial meal, eliminating rare or expensive foods and avoiding sexual temptations. The holiday of Paryushan, observed annually around August to September, is the time when Jains connect communally on the core tenets of the faith through fasting and studying.

For eight to 10 days, Jains focus on the values of forgiveness, humility, straightforwardness, truth, contentment, self-restraint, penance, renunciation, nonattachment and celibacy. Fasting is also possible throughout the year by individuals, but this celebration is the common communal embracing of fasting across sects.

 

Raksha Bandhan: Hindus, Indian communities honor brother-sister relationships

Raksha Bandhan plate, bracelet

Photo by Prashant, courtesy of Pixahive

THURSDAY, AUGUST 11: Across India and in Hindu communities worldwide, the sacred bonds between brothers and sisters are honored on Raksha Bandhan. Over many centuries, the rakhi (from Sanskrit, “the tie or knot of affection”) has evolved from simple, handspun threads into bangles adorned in jewels, crystals, cartoon characters and even political figures.

On a broader scale, Raksha Bandhan is a time for harmonious existence and a bond between leaders—teachers, political figures, civil authorities—and those they serve.

IN THE NEWS: The makers of the upcoming movie “Raksha Bandhan” are set to release the song “Done kar do”—  the first Indian film to have a song launch in the UK. Read more here.

RAKSHA BANDHAN: COLORS AND RITUALS

Weeks before the culmination of Raksha Bandhan, Indian usually shops offer a bright palette of threads for women making their own rakhi; shops also are stocked with colorful premade rakhi. Men also shop market stands, searching for a token of love for their sisterly Raksha Bandhan companion.

Gulab Jamun Raksha Bandhan

Gulab Jamun. Photo courtesy of Rawpixel

Did you know? Raksha Bandhan is so popular that nearly every year government officials across India announce some kind of new service or public improvement related to the holiday.

In a normal year, on the morning of the festival, brothers and sisters greet one another in, if possible, the presence of other family members. The sister ties a rakhi on her brother’s wrist, reciting prayers for his well-being and applying a colorful tilak mark to his forehead. The brother responds with thanks and a renewal of his sibling commitment, and the two indulge in sweet foods. The brother presents the sister with a gift, and everyone present rejoices in the gladness of family—often with a festive meal.

Some of the most popular Indian treats enjoyed on Raksha Bandhan may be surprisingly sweet to Westerners unaccustomed to Indian cuisine. A prime example is gulab jamun. Think of a donut hole soaked in syrup! India-based NDTV’s Food channel already has published tips for home-made gulab Jamun.

Interested in making your own rakhi? Find 15 kid- and adult-friendly ideas at the blog Artsy Craftsy Mom, which features simple to complex DIY rakhi instructions.

For an eco-friendly rakhi DIY, check out this article, from The Better India.

Vasant Panchami: Hindus and Sikhs celebrate ‘fifth day of spring’

Vasant Panchami Hindu

A celebration and decorations for Vasant Panchami. Photo by Adam Jones, courtesy of Flickr

SATURDAY, FEBRUARY 5: Welcome the approaching season of spring and don the color yellow, as Hindus and Sikhs in India and beyond celebrate the festival of Vasant Panchami (spellings vary).

Literally the fifth day of spring, Vasant Panchami honors Saraswati, the Hindu goddess of music, art, culture, learning and knowledge. Today begins the spring cycle that will end with Holi, the massive spring festival that is now celebrated internationally.

Did you know? Saraswati is often depicted seated on a white lotus, with four hands. The four hands symbolize the aspects of learning: manas (mind, sense), buddhi (intellect, reasoning), citta (imagination, creativity) and ahamkāra (self consciousness, ego).

For Sikhs, Vasant Panchami marks the day in Amritsar when musicians begin singing the Basant Raga, a practice that will continue until the first day of Vaisakh. In some regions of India, kites fill the sky, and the festival is better known as the Basant Festival of Kites.

VASANT PANCHAMI: HONORING SARASWATI, KNOWLEDGE AND SPRING

An ancient celebration stretching back thousands of years, Vasant Panchami reveres Kamadeva, the god of love, and his friend Vasant (the personification of spring). In modern times, however, rituals for the goddess Saraswati have taken precedence over Kamadeva. Hindus treat Vasant Panchami as Saraswati’s birthday, worshiping the goddess and filling her temples with food. Figures of Saraswati are often draped in yellow clothing, and as the deity is considered supreme in many types of knowledge, students ask for her blessings. It is traditional that children begin learning the alphabet or their first words on Vasant Panchami, believing it auspicious to do so. While donning yellow clothing, Hindus often make and distribute yellow foods and treats to neighbors, family and friends.

A log with a figure of the demoness Holika is placed in a public area on Vasant Panchami, and for 40 days, devotees will add twigs and sticks to form an enormous pile. The pyre is lit on Holi.

Diwali (Deepavali): Hindus, Jains, Sikhs and more celebrate festival of lights

Diwali lights diya

Girls light diya lamps for Diwali. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

THURSDAY, NOVEMBER 4: Today begins Diwali, the ancient Hindu festival of lights. In recognition of the triumph of light over darkness, Diwali bears great significance for Hindus, Jains and Sikhs alike; as awareness of Indian culture spreads, major celebrations now are hosted around the world.

In recent (non-pandemic) years, more than 1 billion people across the globe celebrate Diwali. This year, in addition to restrictions being in place, many festivals will be seeing some changes. (For example, Leicester’s massive Diwali festival will, this year, host three screens of pre-recorded programming in place of a stage, and a “Fire Garden” will be set up in place of fireworks. Read more from the BBC.)

(Please note: Dates and spellings of Diwali may vary by country and region. This festival is also called Deepavali, or Dipavali.)

A Diwali diya lamp. Photo by Abhinaba Basu, courtesy of Flickr

DIWALI PREPARATIONS: A MULTI-DAY CELEBRATION

Preparations for Diwali begin weeks in advance. In a shopping extravaganza, gold jewelry, fine clothing, sweet treats and household goods fly off racks in marketplaces across India. At home, surfaces are scrubbed clean, women and children decorate entrances with Rangoli and men string strands of lights. Official celebrations begin two days before Diwali, and end two days after Diwali—spanning a total of five days. During this five-day period, the old year closes and a new year is rung in.

In the two days prior to Diwali, celebrants wrap up their shopping, bake sweets and bathe with fragrant oils. On Diwali, excitement builds as evening approaches. While donning new clothing, diyas (earthen lamps, filled with oil) are lit, prayers are offered to deities and many households welcome Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth and prosperity who is believed to roam the earth on Diwali night. To receive the blessings of Lakshmi tonight means a good year ahead. And, families gather for a feast of sweets and desserts.

The day following Diwali is Padwa, honoring the mutual love between husbands and wives. The next day, Bhai Duj, celebrates the sister-brother bond. On Bhai Duj, women and girls gather to perform puja and prayers for the well-being of their brothers, and siblings engage in gift-giving and the sharing of a meal.

ATMAN: PURE AND INFINITE

Several Hindu schools of philosophy teach the existence of something beyond the physical body and mind: something pure and infinite, known as atman. Diwali revels in the victory of good over evil, in the deeper meaning of higher knowledge dissipating ignorance and hope prevailing over despair. When truth is realized, one can see past ignorance and into the oneness of all things.

DIWALI AMONG JAINS AND SIKHS

On the night of Diwali, Jains celebrate light for yet another reason: to mark the attainment of moksha, or nirvana, by Mahavira. As the final Jain Tirthankar of this era, Mahavira’s attainment is celebrated with much fervor. It’s believed that many gods were present on the night when Mahavira reached moksha, and that their presence illuminated the darkness.

Sikhs mark the Bandi Chhor Divas on Diwali, when Guru Har Gobind Ji freed himself and the Hindu kings from Fort Gwalior and arrived at the Golden Temple in Amritsar. Today, Bandi Chhor Divas is commemorated with the lighting of the Golden Temple and more.

Interested in coloring pages, crafts, printables and a how-to video of the Jai Ho dance? Find it all and more at Activity Village.

Krishna Janmashtami: Hindus across the globe celebrate Lord Krishna

Krishna Janmashtami dress up

A girl is dressed up for Krishna Janmashtami. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

MONDAY, AUGUST 30: Millions of Hindus worldwide revel in the spirit of Lord Krishna, fasting, chanting, indulging in sweets and celebrating for the grand festival of Krishna Janmashtami. An observance that lasts eight days in some regions, Krishna Janmashtami honors the birth of the Hindu deity Krishna, the eighth avatar of Vishnu. To devotees, Krishna is the epitome of many characteristics: according to ancient texts, he is a mischievous and fun-loving child, a romantic lover and an empathetic friend.

Did you know? According to legend, Lord Krishna reciprocates devotions in ways unique for each devotee.

On this, Krishna’s birthday, events begin before sunrise and last through midnight. Public and private prayer can include chanting, singing and more. Feasts of many dishes are often prepared, and dances and dramas depicting the life and ways of Krishna are watched with fanfare. Some devotees dress or decorate statues of Krishna, while others string garlands across temples or in their homes.

Many Hindus fast until midnight—the official birth time of Krishna. At midnight, those at the temple watch a priest pull apart curtains to reveal a fully dressed figure of Krishna.

ACROSS INDIA: KRISHNA JANMASHTAMI

Spanning the country of India, Krishna’s birthday is commemorated with regional variations. (Due to continuing COVID-19 pandemic restrictions, many events will be altered in different ways, this year.)

In Mumbai, Pune and in other regions, boys traditionally form human pyramids in hopes of having the highest boy break an earthen pot (called a handi) filled with buttermilk, which is tied to a string strung high above the streets. If the pot is broken, buttermilk spills over the group and the boys win prize money. Various groups of boys compete in Dahi Handi, in impersonation of a favorite pastime of the child Krishna: stealing butter.

In several regions, it has been announced that Dahi Handi events will resume this year, and political figures, wealthy individuals and even Bollywood actors often contribute to prize money for the Dahi Handi. In some regions of India, younger boys—typically the youngest male in a family—are dressed up like Lord Krishna. Hindus across Nepal, the U.S., the Caribbean and more revel in festivities for Krishna Janmashtami, offering fruit, flowers and coins to the deity and chanting together.