Once a year, towards the end of October or the beginning of November, something amazing happens all across India, Malaysia and Singapore. A unification of Hindu and Sikh followers gather in various locations and begin to celebrate Diwali, the festival of lights.
The festival dates back thousands of years, originally set as a festival after the summer harvest in the Hindu calendar month of Kartika, the festival was to symbolize the purification of the darkness and the triumph of good over evil. The lamps often seen as a symbol with the celebration are to represent the sun and the light it provides to the earth as a source of energy and life.
The festival is celebrated by the Hindu, Sikh and Jain religions which mark important historical events, legends and myths. The stories vary greatly but they all push the significance of good over evil, knowledge over ignorance, hope over despair and, ultimately, light over darkness. It encourages compassion and love for all things and also embodies the concept of inner light having its ultimate victory over the darkness of the heart.
The festival lasts for five days and many of the most well-known and widely celebrated traditions are broken down over several days. The first day is known for the traditions of cleaning houses and business premises, before hanging huge arrays of lights, lamps and candles. It may even see people buying gold and silver jewellery and products in large numbers to show prosperity in the household. This is followed by Narak Chaturdasi, also known as Choti Diwali, the second day, and sees Rangoli, huge decorations made from coloured flower or flower petals, set up all over towns and villages, even within houses! Often special bathing rituals are held in some regions and women are known to decorate their hands with henna designs.
On the third day, Lakshmi Puja, people wear new clothes or their best outfits and offerings are made to Lakshmi, Genesha, Saraswati and/or Kubera, various gods and goddesses of differing faiths. These offerings are thought to invoke prosperity and wealth for the coming year and it is said that Lakshmi herself roams Earth on this night, so many will open their doors and windows and place lights in any opening to the house that they can. Most famously, candles are placed on small rafts in large numbers and are sent down rivers or into the ocean, and a large variety of fireworks are released.
A day later, Padwa is celebrated, this is the day for couples to show their devotion to one-another and a variety of meals takes place where the extended family is invited to eat with their relatives. In many ways, the day is also treated like a global anniversary for couples. The last day of the festival, Bhai Dooj, celebrates the relationship between siblings and sees praying for the well-being of others, food-sharing, gift-giving and long conversations.
If you’d like to take part in Diwali, then you’d better practice your greetings! If you’d like to tell your friends Happy Diwali, the greeting “Shubh Diwali” is used and literally translates perfectly. Also, why not check out SeekTeachers’ teaching jobs in India, Malaysia and Singapore if you’d like to take part for next year?