One of the most celebrated Indian festivals for ages now is Diwali. It is also known as the festival of lights, derived from the Sanskrit dipavali, which means “row of lights". This is quite true since every corner of the major cities and homes is drenched in lights, either with diyas (small earthen oil lamps) or rangolis. But this is just a tiny part of the entire festival. Diwali also includes feasting, cleaning, shopping, re-decorating and revelry.
Home to such vast cultures and religions, Diwali in India is celebrated differently in every region. Mainly, the festivities take place over 5 long days and revolve around the worship of Goddess Lakshmi. Here are the different places around the country where Diwali means something different for everyone and is yet celebrated at its best.
In several North Indian states, people follow the Indian epic of The Ramayana, according to which the day of Diwali marks the return of Rama (a manifestation of Lord Vishnu). His joyous return came after spending 14 years in exile, and he was accompanied by his wife, Sita, and his brother, Laxman. He had also defeated evil by his victory over the demon Ravana, who had captured his wife. They returned victorious to the town of Ayodhya, where his citizens and his subjects welcomed their King by illuminating the entire city with diyas and firecrackers.
This tradition is upheld even today and carried out in most parts of Northern and Central India. The days leading up to Diwali from Dussehra (the day Rama defeated Ravana) are all celebrated with great zeal. In many parts of the country that associate Diwali with this significance, a Ramalila is generally held, which is the journey of Rama enacted by actors according to the Indian epic. The Ramalila goes on for several evenings and ends with the defeat of Evil (Ravana) by the Good (Rama).
The city of Ayodhya in Uttar Pradesh, the so-called hometown of Rama, celebrates a pre-Diwali before the actual Diwali, taking huge pride in their heritage. As part of a 3 day event, the people have deepotsav or the lighting of diyas at every household in the city to mark the beginning of the festival. It started only a few years ago and got bigger each year, until over 5.5 lakh diyas were lit in 2019.
Other events that are also organized are shobha yatra (a parade of numerous Ramalila performances), Maha Aarti (grand prayer) at one of the banks or Ghats of the Saryu River, and a 'light and sound' show on the Saryu river. The banks of the river Saryu are also lit up, making for a magnificent sight.
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In the thula month of the Tamil calendar (also referred to as aippasi), Diwali, or Deepavali as said in Southern India, falls the day before amavasya (the no moon or new moon day). The foremost day of Deepavali is referred to as Naraka Chaturdashi, celebrated to mark Lord Krishna defeating the demon Narakasura. People begin the day of Deepavali with an oil bath, then proceeding to clean their entire house and adorn them with colorful kolam rangolis (patterned art form on floors) made with either wet or dry powdered rice. Kolam rangoli signifies the welcoming of Goddess Laxmi into the household to bring wealth and good luck.
In the evenings, the corners of the houses are lit with earthen lamps or candles to illuminate the buildings. Kanchipuram's Kamakshi temple, Madurai's Meenakshi temple and Tiruchirappalli's Ranganathaswamy temple are some of the few places where crowds gather to offer prayers on such an auspicious day. In order to control air pollution levels and still enjoy the delight of bursting crackers, the Government of Tamil Nadu allotts 2 hours to burst eco-friendly crackers that are less hazardous.
Bursting of crackers, wearing new clothes and a feast of South Indian delicacies (like variety of polis, ukkarai, vella appam and jangir) is a part of the celebrations after the oil bath. In South India, the lamps are mainly lit on a kuthu vilakku (traditional lampstand made out of brass). A distinct custom that's followed on Diwali is the Thalai Deepavali. As a practice, newly married couples spend their first ever Diwali at the natal home of the bride. A type of pooja called Pithru Tharpanam Puja is performed for their ancestors.
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Defined by its partying and sleepless nights, Goa also has an abundant amount of culture incorporated and preserved to date. On an occasion like Diwali, Goa is a rare sight to behold with the entire region turning ethnic and sacred. The festival of Diwali is observed as 'Narak Chaturdashi'. The Hindu mythology of Lord Krishna defeating the demon Narakasur is commemorated on this day.
The local people of Goa come together to build effigies several feet long of the demon Narakasur days before Diwali. As a custom, on the day of Diwali, these effigies are burnt to ash signifying the destruction of the evil on this holy day. Some folks bring home the same oil that was used to burn the effigy to get massages from their mothers or wives as part of a ritual called utnem. After the burning of the effigies, relatives are visited to share and feast upon several delicacies that include local sweets like foav.
Now for the fun time after all the rituals; many hit the famous casinos to gamble. Although, this is seen more among the tourists since residents of Goa can't enter the casinos themselves. Gambling on Diwali is regarded as auspicious in several places in India, and in a place filled with casinos, why wouldn't they embrace it? Other than that, various hotels and cottages for tourists put up a display of fireworks to mark an end to a loud and colorful night. On the other hand, people gather to set lanterns afloat on either boats or rafts and watch them rapt as they flow along the rivers.
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On the day of Diwali, people are encouraged to take part in gambling as it's considered auspicious for the night. Punjabi Hindus take part in Diwali, however, it isn't a part of the Sikh culture. Diwali also brings the winter season in Punjab. The base stone of the renowned Golden Temple in Amritsar is said to be established in 1577 on Diwali. Devotees from every corner of Punjab visit this famous temple to offer prayers as well as witness the decors of the temple. It's generally bathed in lights, and the edge of the lake around the temple is embellished with numerous oil lamps that are set alight by the visitors. There's also a firework show by the lake that people come to witness every year.
The festival of Diwali in Punjab is celebrated harmoniously along with the Sikh festival, Bandi Chhor Diwas, which falls right around that time. In the year 1619, Guru Hargobind Sahib, who was also the sixth Sikh guru, was confined and then released from prison on that day. Thus, the Sikh commemorate the occasion by illuminating the gurudwaras with various lights like diyas and candles. It's celebrated in almost the same manner as Diwali - by feasting, enjoying crackers and bearing gifts for loved ones.
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In the state of Maharashtra, Diwali is celebrated over 4 days and with great gusto. According to mythology, during the 14 year exile of Rama, he stayed close to Nasik in Panchvati, in Maharashtra. It's thus quite understandable how much this festival means to the inhabitants of the state. The first day is called Vasubaras where prayers are offered to cows, signifying a mother's love for her children. The second day is referred to as Dhanteras which is celebrated in the same manner as in every other state.
The third day or Narak Chaturdashi (also known as choti Diwali) has a customary oil bath followed by visiting the temples. After this, a feast of delicacies known as Faral is prepared, comprising things like sev, karanji, chakli and laddoo. The final day is the main day of Diwali where prayers are offered to Goddess Lakshmi and items denoting wealth, like jewellery, are honored. Rituals like Bhav bin and the Tusli Vivah are also practiced on the last day, and the love between married couples is commemorated with Diwali Cha Padwa.
Apart from customary rituals, the jewel of Mumbai that is Marine Drive turns colorful as firecrackers are burst and enjoyed. The entire ambiance of the place is striking, loud and exalted, and all of it reflected on the bay of the city. The Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Terminus is also adorned in Diwali-themed decorations.
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Amidst the focus on Goddess Lakshmi on Diwali in the various states of India, certain Eastern states (like West Bengal, Odisha, Assam and Tripura) celebrate Kali Puja. Kali Puja is a festival that's dedicated to Goddess Kali, another manifestation of Goddess Durga. She is regarded as the banisher of illusions and egos. She is often depicted to be unnerving, fearsome and an embodiment of feminine power.
In various parts of the state of West Bengal, pandals (temporary sheds made out of decorative clothes and bamboo) with idols of Goddess Kali are organized to celebrate this festival with fervor. The major Kali temples in the state like Dakhineshwar, Belur Math and Kalighat attract devotees from all around the state and country. These temples organize the Shayma Puja in the evening where hibiscus flowers and meats are offered to the idol.
Apart from Kali Puja in the state, people also indulge in firecrackers, lighting their houses with diyas and feasts. A custom similar to one in Tamil Nadu is followed where a prayer to the ancestors is offered called Pitripurush. This is to guide their souls to heaven by lighting diyas on elongated pillars. The streets of Kolkata are truly bathed in both the festivities.
Rangolis are an essential part of the celebration in the state of Gujarat. Theyre beautifully drawn with small footprints indicating Goddess Lakshmi entering the household. Gujratis consider Diwali an auspicious occasion, marking a New Year or Bestu Varas. They go forth with buying something new like a house, or even plan marriages. The entire area is lit with diyas and the mood is light and joyous. Later, on the next day, the collected black grease on the oil lamps are worn as kajal by women, which supposedly brings prosperity the entire year.
But in case you wish to get away from the loud atmosphere of Diwali to celebrate a rejuvenating one, head to remote villages in Dangs, located about 270kms from the city of Vadodara in Gujarat. Here you get a tribal experience of the festivities of Diwali. The tribal communities cooperate with local tourism, giving you a first-hand experience of the day-to-day life of the tribal people. You can enjoy their dishes prepared by them, their various art performances, and go trekking in the nearby areas.
How Do Indians Celebrate Diwali?
Diwali in India is celebrated with great fervor across the country, yet different regions have markedly different celebrations. A common feature among all is the people’s devotion, diyas and other lights, bursting firecrackers, decorating houses and visiting relatives.
Where Is Diwali Most Celebrated In India?
There’s no singular place in India where Diwali is most celebrated, and each state or region has its own celebration. But some of the places that are frequently visited for people to experience Diwali are Ayodhya, Maharashtra, Gujarat and the South of India.
Is Diwali A Good Time To Visit India?
Yes, Diwali is a great time to visit India. It gives visitors a great opportunity to experience Indian culture firsthand, and to participate in one of India’s biggest festivals.
Why Is Diwali Celebrated?
According to mythology, Diwali is the day when Lord Ram, along with his brother Lakshman, came back from a 14 year-long exile to the kingdom of Ayodhya.
What Food Is Eaten During Diwali?
In terms of meals, the delicacies during this time consist of puris and different types of curries. However, the snacks and other dishes are a different ballgame altogether. Things like chivda, laddoos, and jalebis are prepared to be munched on throughout the day.
What Are The 5 Days Of Diwali?
The five days of Diwali are Dhanteras, Naraka Chaturdasi, Lakshmi Puja, Govardhan Puja and Bhai Dooj.
Which Is The Most Important Day Of Diwali?
The most important day of Diwali is the third day, which is called Diwali, Deepawali, or Lakshmi Puja. This is when people visit each other's houses, exhange gifts, and pray to Goddess Lakshmi for prosperity and happiness.
What Is The Most Well-Known Tradition Of Diwali?
One of the most well-known traditions of Diwali is to light candles, diyas, and oil lamps all around the house.