Diwali or the “festival of lights” is a celebration of the inner light that exists in all humankind. The holiday is as important to Hindus as Christmas is to Christians. This year, the festival will begin on October 26 and will continue for five days. It is very much a family celebration with traditional activities including preparing colorful entrances to homes and businesses, baking special foods including sweets, wearing new clothes and jewels, lighting candles and incense sticks, and setting off lots of (not so eco-friendly) fireworks.
There are wonderful variations of Diwali celebrations within India too.
- In Southern India, some areas host local stage storytelling called Hari Katha while other areas arrange grand feasts and fairs.
- In Tamil Nadu, people make traditional visits to the Temple and host grand firework displays (especially since the region has the world’s largest fireworks manufacturing unit).
- In Karnataka, celebrations occur mainly in the early morning and late at night to take advantage of the dawn and dusk darkness. Houses are spotlessly cleaned and new clothes are purchased for the entire family.
- In Andhra Pradesh, festivities begin at dawn and continue into the night. People clean or paint their homes to welcome the goddess of wealth and prosperity as well as decorate their homes with paper figures. The area festival is full of subtle messages depicting one or more aspects of human life, relationships, and ancient traditions.
- In Maharashtra, Diwali starts before the official first day of celebration by performing an Aarti (religious ritual including songs) of the cow and its calf. The Aarti is symbolic of love between a mother and her baby. The following days incorporate a number of rituals to ensure an auspicious year including elaborate bathing, Aarti performed by a mother or wife, and strengthening of sibling relationships.
- In Orissa, rows of oil lamps and candles adorn the thresholds of all houses and celebrations are mostly centered at home.
- In Bengal and Assam, people light candles in memory of the souls of departed ancestors and youth burn many sparklers and firecrackers throughout the night.
- In Goa and Konkan, houses are cleaned and decorated with Kandil, lamps, mango leaves, and marigold flowers. Paper-made effigies symbolizing evil are made and burned early in the morning. Then, after fireworks, people return home to take a scented oil bath. Women of the house perform Aarti of the men, gifts are exchanged and markets become events complete with rides, puppet shows and performance by jugglers, acrobats, and fortune tellers.