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What is Diwali?

Mary McMahon
Updated Feb 22, 2024
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Diwali is a festival which is celebrated in India and Nepal. While it is particularly sacred to Hindus, practitioners of other Indian religions also celebrate it, and Jainist, Hindu, and Sikh communities all over the world commemorate the holiday with smaller festivals of their own. The timing of this holiday varies, since it is based on the Hindu lunar calendar, but it is generally celebrated in the fall. Diwali festivities in India involve everyone, not just the religious faithful, and the holiday is a major event in the Indian year.

The festival celebrates the triumph of good over evil; in Hindi, Diwali means “festival of lights,” and people light rows of lights to commemorate heroic figures in Indian mythology who triumphed over the forces of evil. It is also a propitious time for new endeavors, and many people clean their homes and open all their windows and doors to welcome luck and good fortune during Diwali. The exchange of gifts is also traditional during this holiday, and many people host dinners and parties.

Regional traditions vary immensely when it comes to celebrating Diwali, because each community has developed its own unique way of celebrating this holiday. Technically, the holiday is actually five days long, with each day representing a different facet of the festival of lights. In many communities, people pick one day of Diwali in particular to celebrate, often with fireworks and other large public festivities.

Numerous myths and stories are associated with Diwali. Many of these myths center around the defeat of evil demons, or the exoneration and freedom of wrongfully oppressed people. The holiday celebrates religious elevation and enlightenment as well. Many festivals also honor specific Hindu gods like Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth, and Ganesha, the god of auspicious or new beginnings. In many regions of India, people also exchange traditional Diwali greetings when they encounter each other on the street; these greetings express a mutual desire for good luck and fortune in the coming year.

If a person happens to be visiting India during Diwali, he or she should be prepared to be swept up in the festivities. Many communities essentially shut down for the celebrations, and it's a great opportunity to learn about Indian history and culture first hand. Many people are happy to share their religious and cultural traditions with curious and respectful visitors. Diwali is also quite fun, with fireworks, performances, dinners, and other events for celebrants. In other regions of the world, people can visit Indian communities to see the festivals on a smaller scale.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a WiseGeek researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments

By anon346701 — On Aug 30, 2013

It is a great post and precisely informs about Diwali. Diwali is followed by the Bhaidooj festival, too.

I appreciate the efforts made to clarify most of the things about this Indian festival.

By SteamLouis — On Oct 28, 2012

I'm Indian and my family celebrates Diwali every year. My favorite part about Diwali is the Diwali diyas (candles) and the Diwali sweets. I usually decorate our home with diyas on Diwali and my mom makes laddoos, a kind of Indian sweet.

It's definitely an important religious holiday, but it's also a major social event. This is the only time of year that I get to see my distant relatives like my cousins who live far away.

By turquoise — On Oct 27, 2012

@alisha-- You don't have to go to India to learn about and experience Diwali. Anywhere there are considerable Indian populations will host some kind of Diwali celebration and anyone can attend.

I used to attend Diwali celebrations every year in college because I had several Indian friends. It was so much fun! We would prepare the day before by putting mehndi (henna) designs on our hands and wear nice, traditional Indian attire for the celebrations. It usually involved having dinner, watching dance performances and dancing and watching fireworks. There is also usually a Diwali puja before the event where people pray.

I just love Diwali, it's such a colorful and fun holiday, it brings joy to so many people. It really is the holiday of lights. Anyone who gets an opportunity to attend a Diwali event shouldn't miss it.

By discographer — On Oct 26, 2012

I will be making a trip to India in December. I'm really sad because I will miss Diwali. Diwali is usually in November and this year it will also be mid-November.

By googie98 — On Oct 20, 2010

Some more interesting facts about Diwali:

People often dress in new clothes during Diwali. Since Diwali celebrates the Hindu New Year, it is considered customary to buy some item of new clothing. Fireworks are a big part of the celebration.

Another way of decorating homes during Diwali is to draw patterns on the ground. These patterns are called Rangoli. They are typically made of a mixture of water and rice flour. They also use colored powder similar to sand.

By dill1971 — On Oct 20, 2010

There is a tradition of gambling on Diwali. The legend behind it is that on that day, the Goddess Parvati was playing dice with her husband Lord Shiva. She decreed that anyone who gambled on Diwali night would prosper throughout the rest of the ensuing year.

By dudla — On Nov 05, 2009

While Diwali doesn't match up with a particular date on the Western calendar -- the date Diwali is celebrated is based on a lunar calendar -- it typically falls in late October or early November on the Gregorian calendar.

Mary McMahon

Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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