Diwali: Hindus, Jains, Sikhs celebrate festival of lights

Small lamps in leaf shapes filled with oil and lit with wick on one side

Diya, earthen lamps filled with oil, are lit for Diwali. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

WEDNESDAY, NOVEMBER 11—The festival of lights—marked by Hindus, Jains, Sikhs and friends of Indian culture—falls in October or November each year and lasts for five days. Check local news sources for Diwali celebrations near you, because American groups often move events to weekends.

“Delicious food and firecrackers are the hallmarks of Diwali,” says Anjali Charankar-Vale in this FeedTheSpirit column about Diwali. “We make a variety of sweet and spicy snack food items. Traditionally relatives and friends visit each other distributing sweets and wishing everyone best wishes for Diwali and the coming new year.” And, the story about Anjali’s holiday traditions includes a recipe for a tasty Diwali snack called shankarpali, a simple fried-flour treat.

Preparations for Diwali begin weeks in advance, so a flurry of pre-Diwali activity can be seen in most cities of India. In a shopping extravaganza comparable to the Western Christmas season, 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. (Wikipedia has details.) During this five-day period, the old year closes and a new year is rung in.

Did you know? Diwali is derived from the Sanskrit fusion of dipa (“light,” or “lamp”) and avali (“series,” “line,” or “row”). For Diwali, rows of lamps are lit in homes and temples.

Each day of Diwali signifies a principal story in Hindu legend, with rituals that follow. The breakdown goes something like this:

Day 1: Homes are cleaned; devotees shop for gold
Day 2
: Hindus display clay lamps; rangoli created with colored powders and sand
Day 3
: The main day of the festival, familes gather to perform Lakshmi Puja, a prayer for the goddess of wealth; the prayer is followed by feasts and fireworks
Day 4
: The first day of the New Year
Day 5
: Brother-sister relationships are strengthened when married sisters welcome their brothers into their homes, often with a lavish meal.

Diwali may be India’s biggest festival, but that doesn’t mean it’s limited to Indian borders—Diwali, or Deepavali, is also an official holiday in countries including Nepal, Sri Lanka, Trinidad, Fiji, Malaysia and Singapore, just to name a few.

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, fireworks and more.

DIWALI IN THE NEWS

Amazon_The_Great_Indian_Diwali_Sale__26__27__28_October_-_YouTubeA lot of pre-Diwali news stories focus on the retail bonanza. Tech in Asia magazine carried one of the best Diwali overviews of commerce, reported by India-based Paloma Ganguly:

India’s ecommerce giants are reaching out of their seamless virtual world to lure in new online shoppers using the realm of old media – advertisements in newspapers and magazine, and lively ads on TV and radio. This huge blitz by the likes of Amazon, Snapdeal, Flipkart, Jabong, and Urban Ladder comes ahead of people celebrating Diwali next week.

This is one festival that Indians wait for the whole year through, and the one time when they loosen their purse strings. From jewelry to clothes to cooking utensils to consumer durables, they are willing to splurge on anything.

To catch that generous Diwali shopping spirit, many ecommerce startups and titans alike have rolled out glittering print and TV ads that pack the power of celebrities and seasonal sentimentality. India has 350 million active web users out of a population of nearly 1.3 billion, so the festive ads on traditional media like TV are a way to lure in brand-new online shoppers – as well as a chance to dazzle ecommerce converts.

Check out this Amazon video advertisement for Diwali …

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