• Diwali is India's biggest and most important holiday of the year. The festival gets its name from the row (avali) of clay lamps (diya or deepa) that Indians light outside their homes to symbolize the inner light that protects us from spiritual darkness. 
     
    Diwali, also called Dipawali or Deepavali, is celebrated every autumn, around the new moon between the Hindu months of Asvina and Kartika. The holiday is celebrated on different days every year, because the Hindu religious calendar is a lunar calendar, while the secular calendar used by most civic and national organizations is a solar calendar. Diwali usually falls in October or November. 
     
    Diwali originated as a festival that marked the last harvest before winter. India was an agricultural society where people would seek the divine blessing of Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth, as they closed their accounting books and prayed for success in the new financial year. Today, this practice extends to businesses all over the Indian subcontinent, which mark the fourth day of Diwali as the first day of the new financial year.
     
    Indians celebrate with family gatherings, glittering clay lamps, festive fireworks, strings of electric lights, bonfires, flowers, sharing of sweets, and worship to Lakshmi, the Hindu goddess of wealth, fortune, and prosperity. Some believe that Lakshmi wanders the Earth looking for homes where she will be welcomed. People open their doors and windows and light lamps to invite Lakshmi in.
     
    Over the centuries, Diwali has become a national festival that is enjoyed by most Indians regardless of faith: Hindus, Jains, Buddhists, and Sikhs.
     
    The Hindu Diwali story has variations across India, all involving deities and demons, kings and karma. In all interpretations, one common thread rings true—the festival marks the victory of good over evil. 
    • In North India, people celebrate the story of Rama's return to the ancient city of Ayodhya after he defeated Ravana by lighting rows of clay lamps.
    • In South India, people celebrate Diwali as the day Krishna defeated Narakasura.
    • In western India, the festival marks the day that Vishnu sent Bali to rule the netherworld
    Non-Hindu communities have other reasons for celebrating the holiday:
    • In Jainism, it marks the nirvana or spiritual awakening of the spiritual leader Mahavira in 527 BCE.
    • In Sikhism it marks the day that Guru Hargobind Ji, the Sixth Sikh Guru, was freed from imprisonment.
    Five Days of Diwali
     
    The first day of Diwali (sometimes called Dhanteras) is celebrated by cleaning and renovating homes and businesses. It’s considered good luck to purchase gold or silver items, and at least one or two new kitchen utensils.  
     
    On the second day of Diwali (sometimes called Chhoti Diwali), people decorate their homes. The most common decorations are clay lamps (diyas) and designs called rangoli. Rangoli are created on floors and pavements, usually using colored powders, sand, flour, rice, or flower petals.
     
    The third day of Diwali is the main day of the festival. This is when families gather together for Lakshmi puja, a prayer to the goddess. The Lakshmi puja is actually a celebration of three deities: Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth; Ganesh, the elephant-headed god of wisdom; and Kuber, the lord of wealth. The Lakshmi puja is followed by music, mouthwatering feasts, and fireworks festivities.
     
    The fourth day of Diwali (sometimes called Padwa), is the first day of the new year. On this day, friends and relatives visit with gifts and best wishes for the season.
     
    The fifth and last day of Diwali (sometimes called Bahu-dooj) honors siblings. Brothers and sisters celebrate with food, gifts, and parties.
    1. Diwali originated as a festival that marked the last harvest of the year before winter. Why would people celebrate the end of the harvest season, and why would they do so with a “festival of lights”?

      People celebrate the end of a harvest for two major reasons, both tied to agriculture.

      • In ancient agricultural societies, the end of the season traditionally meant less need for the backbreaking work of harvesting crops. If the harvest was successful, the end of the season also meant the community had abundant food for the winter. Less work, more food—those are both good reasons to celebrate!
      • A festival of lights is perfectly timed as autumn turns to winter. Days start getting shorter and nights start getting longer as the winter solstice approaches.
    2. Can you think of any other autumn harvest festivals?

      • Thanksgiving is probably the most familiar.
      • Mehregan is a Persian festival associated with the end of the harvest and financial seasons—just like Diwali.
      • The Mid-Autumn Festival is considered “intangible cultural heritage” in China, and is also celebrated in Vietnam.
      • Oktoberfest is a harvest festival associated with the autumn grain harvest in Germany.
      • Sukkot is a Jewish festival associated with the autumn harvest.
      • Samhain is an ancient Celtic celebration of the end of the autumn harvest season.
      • Chuseok is a three-day harvest festival celebrated in the Koreas.
      • Onam is another Indian harvest festival, this one celebrated largely by the people in the state of Kerala, honoring the traditional end of the rice harvest.
      • Crop Over is a little-known festival on Barbados tracing its roots to the sugar cane harvest.
    3. Can you think of any other autumn or winter “festivals of light” celebrated in the Northern Hemisphere?

      • Hanukkah, the Jewish festival of light, is probably the most familiar.
      • Christmas is often associated with bright lights.
      • Tazaungdaing is an ancient Buddhist festival that is a national holiday in Burma (Myanmar).
  • As Indians have emigrated from the Indian subcontinent, they have taken their culture with them. Today, Diwali has gone global!
  • Term Part of Speech Definition Encyclopedic Entry
    accounting Noun

    management of financial information. 

    agriculture Noun

    the art and science of cultivating the land for growing crops (farming) or raising livestock (ranching).

    Encyclopedic Entry: agriculture
    ancient Adjective

    very old.

    autumn Noun

    season between summer and winter. Also called fall.

    Buddhist Noun

    person who follows the teachings of Siddhartha Gautama (Buddha).

    celebrate Verb

    to observe or mark an important event with public and private ceremonies or festivities.

    decorate Verb

    to design, garnish, or adorn with festive additions.

    deity Noun

    very holy or spiritual being.

    demon Noun

    evil spirit or magical creature.

    divine Adjective

    having to do with a god.

    Diwali Noun

    Hindu festival of lights, celebrated every autumn throughout India by citizens of all faiths.

    festival Noun

    day or other period of time set to celebrate or commemorate an event, usually with a series of parties, ceremonies, or observances.

    financial Adjective

    having to do with money.

    fireworks Plural Noun

    controlled explosive devices that produce a striking display of light and loud noise, used for signaling or as part of a celebration.

    guru Noun

    most elevated title in the Sikh religion, applied to only 10 Sikh leaders who have provided divine guidance to humanity. The eleventh guru is the Sikh book of holy scriptures.

    harvest Noun

    the gathering and collection of crops, including both plants and animals.

    Hindu Noun

    religion of the Indian subcontinent with many different sub-types, most based around the idea of "daily morality."

    holiday Noun

    period of celebration or honor.

    Indian subcontinent Noun

    landmass in south-central Asia carried by the Indian tectonic plate, including the peninsula of India.

    interpretation Noun

    way of understanding an event or set of facts.

    Jain Noun

    follower of the religion of Jainism, which supports nonviolence toward all living things.

    karma Noun

    spiritual principle mostly associated with Hinduism and Buddhism, in which the intentions and actions of an individual influence the future of that individual.

    lunar Adjective

    having to do with Earth's moon or the moons of other planets.

    netherworld Noun

    spiritual or mythological world and culture that exists beyond death.

    new moon Noun

    dark phase of the lunar cycle when the moon is invisible or barely visible, occurring when the moon passes between the sun and earth.

    nirvana Noun

    in the Buddhist religion, an end to personal reincarnations, achieved by the highest enlightenment and freedom from personal passion, hatred, and delusion.

    originate Verb

    to begin or start.

    pavement Noun

    hard-surfaced road or path created with asphalt, concrete, brick, or rocks.

    puja Noun

    ritual worship of a particular Hindu god.

    purchase Verb

    to buy.

    rangoli Noun

    folk art in which colorful and intricate designs are created on floors using colored sand, powder, flour, or flower petals.

    renovate Verb

    to restore or make better.

    secular Adjective

    not having to do with religion or spirituality.

    sibling Noun

    brother or sister.

    Sikh adjective, noun

    people and culture that believe in one God, equality, freedom of religion, and community service 

    solar Adjective

    having to do with the sun.

    symbolize Verb

    to represent an object, idea, organization, or geographical region.

    utensil Noun

    tool or instrument for preparing or eating food.

    variation Noun

    difference.

    worship Noun

    honor, adoration, or glorification, usually to a religious god.