What You Need to Know About Diwali

India By Christine Wardlaw Oct 14, 2016

If you aren’t familiar with Diwali, it’s a five-day festival of lights that’s one of the most visually stunning and significant festivals in Hindu culture. This beautiful festival symbolizes how good (light) wins over evil (darkness), and generally falls around the end of October, this year on October 30th. To introduce you to this important festival on the Indian calendar, Western Union (WU) has composed this guide to what you need to know about Diwali.

Origins of Diwali

The origins of the word “Diwali” come from the Sanskrit word “Deepavali,” with “deepa” meaning “light” and “avali” meaning “a row.” Thus, Diwali is a festival of lights, where people line up rows of lights in celebration.

There are a number of origin stories and legends surrounding Diwali, including that it’s a celebration of the marriage of the goddess Lakshmi with Lord Vishnu, and that it’s dedicated to the return of Lord Rama after his exile and his vanquishing of the demon-king Ravana.

Girl making Rangoli and decorating with Oil lamps for Diwali

How Diwali is Celebrated

Around the world, Diwali is celebrated by people decorating and lighting up their residences, both inside and out. People light ‘diyas’ – small oil lamps –and place them inside their homes, and elaborately decorate the exteriors with electric lights. Several cities in India also set off impressive fireworks displays.

In addition to diyas, people celebrating Diwali often construct elaborate, colorful displays using traditional designs, with lights, bells, flowers, mirrors, and other ceremonial objects to welcome the goddess of wealth and prosperity into their homes. People will often clean their homes and buy new clothing to prepare for Diwali, and also make or buy sweets and dried fruits to share with family and friends to honor the occasion. Diwali is also a time offer charity to those in need.

Diwali India

Where to Celebrate Diwali

In India, one of the most famous celebrations is in the city of Varanasi, where one can enjoy a boat ride at sunset, taking in the spectacular illuminated homes and buildings all along the shore, as well as a stunning fireworks display. The city of Amritsar in India is a photographer’s dream during Diwali, as the city’s Golden Temple is bathed in light.

In contrast, on the island nation of Sri Lanka, the festivities are on the quieter side, with colorful rituals and ceremonies performed by locals in their homes and along the ocean shore. In Nepal, they celebrate a bit differently, by dedicating each of the five days of the holiday to sacred animals, gods, and goddesses.

Other unique celebrations are held in countries around the world, including in the UK, Malaysia, Indonesia, and Guyana.

If you’ve been lucky enough to see or be a part of a Diwali celebration, it was likely an unforgettable experience. Have you had a chance to experience Diwali? What was your most cherished part of the celebrations? Share your favorite Diwali memories with us in the comments!