Diwali - Indian New Year and Festival of Lights


Author: Grace Carter
Last update: 09/10/2008


Celebrated by:

Hindus in Northern India. [Note to the reader: As with many of the New Year's festivals mentioned on this site, it would be ambitious to try to explain the differing customs of all Diwali celebrations around the globe. Diwali is the New Year in the North but not the South of India. For this reason, we will discuss only the history and traditions of Northern Indian Hindus on this page, although versions of Diwali are celebrated in the South, in Bengal, and in Guyana, Trinidad, Tobago and England, among other places.


The precise day of Diwali fluctuates on a Gregorian calendar. In 2005, it will arrive on November 1. The date is determined by the Hindu lunar calendar, which consists of twelve moon cycles kept in sync with the seasons by the insertion of an extra month every seven years. Diwali always commences on a new moon (the 14th day of the "dark half" of the Hindu month Asvina), which means the Gregorian date changes depending on where in the world you are. In fact, Diwali is but one of five festival days-the middle one-so this year, the New Year festival in Northern India will run from October 30 to November 3.

How to say Happy New Year:

Naya saal mubarak means "Happy New Year"


For centuries India has been an agrarian society. Given Diwali's calendar placement between two cropping seasons, it seems likely that its history is linked to harvest festivals. But more poetically, Diwali is celebrated in the North as the day Lord Rama and his stunner of a wife, Sita, returned home to Ayodhya to rule the kingdom, after 14 long years of exile and a gruesome war in which he killed the demon Ravana. Their people lit the way with little oil lamps called diye or diya.

Values and traditions:

Cleaning up shop for the New Year is a standard practice before countless New Year's celebrations (for example, Norooz, Chinese New Year and Hogmanay and Songkran among others). Diwali is no exception. On dhan teres , the first of five festival days, rich and poor alike clean their homes and fill them with fresh flowers. Doorsteps are adorned with rangoli, intricate displays of colored rice flour. Dhan teres, also known as Dhantvari Triodasi, is a day to worship wealth, especially for the affluent mercantile classes. It's an auspicious day to renovate buildings, and a great time to fork out for some bling for the wife-jewelry bought today will bring good luck.

Day two, narak Chatrudashi or choti Diwal, is Diwali's Eve, if you will. If you're someone who likes to wake up with a cold shower, you'll do well today. It's customary to rise and bathe before sunrise. If that sounds awful, you'll be pleased to hear that bathers receive a tasty meal of puffed rice with curd. Later in the day, sweets, like the milk-based burfi, are served with lunch. Post sunset, people hasten to good viewing spots to take in the massive fireworks displays that blaze through the sky on this evening.

Diwali is the most important day of the festival, and is also known as Lakshmi-Puja or the day to worship Lakshmi, the Goddess of Wealth and Good Fortune, in all her many incarnations. If Santa can spot which houses contain the good kids, Lakshmi can sure as heck see who's treating her with the appropriate respect. She appreciates a well-kept home, so any dusty corners missed during dhan teres better be sparkling by the time she arrives, or else no good luck for that household. And she won't even see a household if it doesn't have enough lamps burning, so those people hoping for a prosperous year best git a'lightin'! Lamps are placed all over houses: on windowsills, doorsteps, and even the roof. In the evening, the streets transform into aisles of soft floating lights-it's a marvelous site to behold. To add to the magical atmosphere, the air is full of the sounds of bells and music as men pray to Lakshmi from the local temple.

Padava, or anakuu ta, is the first day of the New Year, and a great time for a fresh start. Sins are forgiven, broken friendships restored, and lovers wooed. Those unlucky in love are encouraged to start a relationship on padava -it's bound to work out better than the one with the girl who stole your car and eloped with your best friend. For the business people, it marks the beginning of a new financial year. All Hindus gather at the temple to pray, share their thoughts, offer sweet mandir to the gods, and to wish each other a hearty "naya saal mubarak."

During the final day of the festival, bhai duuj or bhai tika, Hindu families must honor their siblings. Just as in the famous legend of the death god Yamraj, (who visits his sister, Yami), brothers must visit their sisters, eat with their families, and exchange gifts. This becomes complicated when a man has more than one sister-usually then, the brother takes turns, visiting different sisters each year, kind of like you might rotate Thanksgiving dinners with the in-laws and your own parents, though hopefully not as grudgingly. ;p

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