How to enjoy the Festival of Lights
DIWALI MEANS “rows of lighted lamps” and it is also called the Festival of Light. It is the most enthusiastically celebrated festival in India — which is saying a lot! Diwali is the equivalent of Christmas — a big, festive celebration that brings families together and is the highlight of the holiday season. There are five days of festivities, each marked with different pujas (prayers) and rituals.
I love Diwali, and though I have only spent one Diwali in India, I remember it fondly (about to spend Diwali number two in India). I went shopping with Ajay’s mother for gifts, decorations, flowers and sweets a few days before, and on the morning of Diwali she had me decorating the family mandir before my eyes were completely open. Later, I helped fill hundreds of small diyas with oil and wicks, and then place and light them around the terrace and down the stairs, etc. In the early evening we had a puja in the mandir, which was my favourite part of the entire day. And at night, we joined the millions of other Delhi-ites blasting fireworks and firecrackers into the night sky. It was deafening and created hazardous smog, but I appreciated the gusto with which people were celebrating.
There are lots of other places to celebrate Diwali in India; read on for some suggestions culled from Breathedreamgo Twitter and Facebook friends.
The meaning of Diwali
The festival celebrates the triumph of good over ill, and the ascendancy of light over dark. The diyas symbolize this, and also help light the way for Rama’s return from exile, after rescuing his wife Sita and vanquishing the demon Ravana, with the help of Hanuman. This is the drama played out in the Hindu epic, The Ramayana, which is one of the major texts underpinning Hinduism and Indian culture (along with the Vedas, the Upanishads and the Mahabharat).
Where to go to celebrate Diwali in India
I have only celebrated Diwali in Delhi, but I know festivities occur all over the country. I asked my Twitter followers and Facebook friends where to go to celebrate Diwali, and this is what they came back with.
All the ghats in Varanasi are decorated and lit up with oil lamps, its a spectacular sight. A night to remember in the ancient town.
Home is where the heart is, and also the best place to celebrate Diwali.
A link to About India’s Diwali in Goa post.
Roma: Jaipur is awesome during Diwali as the different markets and plaza compete for the “Best Decorated” award. I have also visited Golden Temple, Sri Harmandir Sahib, in Amritsar, which is again a treasure of a Diwali memory as they put out thousands of earthen pots.
Deepa Krishnan of Delhi Magic and Mumbai Magic: It’s not a ‘public’ festival. There are places where you can get glimpses if you are tourist; like for example in Mumbai if you go to Shivaji Park in the evening you will see people of the neighbourhood bursting crackers. But that’s about it. The celebration is mostly indoors. I put my guests in homestays, if they come for Diwali or Holi; that way they can experience the festival.
Photographer Sunil Vaidyanathan: In the potters village of Kumbhar Wada in Dharavi, Mumbai.
Ram Vakkalanka: Indian festivals have deep spiritual significance, apart from the celebratory/fun aspect. They almost always involve performing Puja to one of the Deities. Most of the time, they are celebrated at home with family and friends in a Satsang-type of celebration. Of course, India is also catching up with US, with retailers celebrating the festivals more vigorously than people themselves.
Lachman Balanai: After the puja (prayer) to Goddess Lakshmi (to bless your home with wealth and prosperity) or Ganesh, it is always good to get together with your extended family and have fun. Gifts are exchanged and love is shared. It’s all very cool. Everyone shares their interpretation of the Ramayana. Diwali is the festival that unites all of India, like New Year’s unites all of the world. It is in fact our New Year, where old account books are closed and new ones opened. Fireworks are lit. Warm feelings all around.
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