What is Diwali or Deepavali (Festival of Lights)?

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What is it?

Diwali, or Deepawali, is India’s biggest and most important festival of the year.

Diwali is a 5-day holiday celebrated by Hindus, Sikhs, Jains, and some Buddhists.

The festival gets its name from the row (avali) of clay lamps (deepa) that Indians light outside their homes to symbolize the inner light that protects from spiritual darkness.

Row of lights
Traditional Deepavali Lights

It is referred to often as the Indian festival of lights, usually lasting five days and celebrated during the Hindu Lunisolar month Kartika (between mid-October and mid-November).

Deepavali – row (avali) of clay lamps (deepa)

One of the most popular festivals of Hinduism, Diwali symbolizes the spiritual “victory of light over darkness, good over evil, and knowledge over ignorance”.

The main day of the festival of Diwali (the day of Lakshmi puja) is an official holiday in Fiji, Guyana, India, Malaysia (except Sarawak), Mauritius, Myanmar, Nepal, Singapore, Sri Lanka, Suriname, and Trinidad and Tobago.

The festival is celebrated by millions across the world. (Source)

(Featured image at the top of the post – Photo by Udayaditya Barua on Unsplash)

When is it?

Diwali/Deepavali 2023 Sun, Nov 12, 2023

Diwali/Deepavali 2024 Fri, Nov 1, 2024 – 9 countries – Thu, Oct 31, 2024 – 5 countries

Click to find the date for the current year (if you are from the future)

Why is it on a different date each year?

Diwali falls in either October or November each year, depending on the cycle of the moon. It’s observed on the 15th day of Kartik, the holiest month in the Hindu lunar calendar. (Source)

What does Diwali or Deepavali mean?

The word Diwali comes from the Sanskrit word Deepavali, meaning “rows of lighted lamps”. (Deepa – Light/lamp Avali – row)

Row of Lights
Deepavali or Diwali lights or lamps

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Significance of the Lights

In the grand tapestry of Diwali or Deepavali, the tradition of lighting lamps, known as ‘diyas’, is not just a visually stunning aspect but a deeply rooted practice, intertwining religious and traditional layers.

Goddess Lakshmi Worshiped during Deepavali
Goddess Lakshmi and Lakshmi Pooja

Diwali is synonymous with the worship of Goddess Lakshmi. Lighting lamps during this festival is intricately connected to Lakshmi Pooja (puja or pooja means worship), where homes are illuminated to welcome the goddess of wealth and prosperity. The glow of the lamps signifies the auspicious presence of Goddess Lakshmi, bringing blessings and abundance to households.

The Return of Rama

Another layer of significance comes from the epic Ramayana. Diwali celebrates the return of Lord Rama, along with his wife Sita and loyal companion Lakshmana, after 14 years of exile. The lamps lit during Diwali symbolize the triumph of light (good) over darkness (evil) as Lord Rama vanquished the demon king Ravana.

Pitru Paksha and Its Relevance

Adding a nuanced dimension, Diwali occurs during Pitru Paksha, a period of remembering and honoring ancestors. Lighting lamps during this time is a gesture of respect and homage to departed ancestors. The warm glow represents the eternal light of their memories.

How is it celebrated?

Diwali is part of a five-day festival celebrated with music, lights, fireworks and traditional sweets.

BhooChakram – a firework which spins
Flower pot
Flower pot –

Samples of traditional fireworks or crackers as they are referred to in India.

Figurine of Goddess Lakshmi

Many prepare for the festival by cleaning and decorating their home, donning new clothes to take part in the family puja, in which prayers of devotion are offered to Lakshmi. (Source)

Legend also has it that Goddess Lakshmi was born from the churning of the ocean on this day, and she is welcomed with a special puja (ritual). She is the Goddess of Wealth and Prosperity.

Gold and other metals (including kitchen utensils) are traditionally purchased.

For some, these days also coincide with harvest and new year celebrations, is a festival of new beginnings and the triumph of good over evil, and light over darkness. (Source)

Wait, it’s not just on one day? No. It is celebrated over 5 days.

The first day (November 12, 2020) is known as Dhanteras, or Dhanatrayodashi. “Dhan” means wealth and “teras” refers to the 13th day of a lunar fortnight on the Hindu calendar.

Learn more about DhanterasImage source

Lord Dhanvantari, the Hindu god of medicine and an incarnation of Lord Vishnu, is said to have brought Ayurveda and Amrit, the nectar of immortality to mankind on this day and he is traditionally also worshipped in some parts of the country.

There are a number of temples in Kerala and Tamil Nadu dedicated to Dhanvantari and Ayurveda.

Lord Dhanvantari - God of Medicine
Churning of the Ocean

Interestingly, both Goddess Lakshmi and God Dhanvantari emerged during the Churning of the Ocean of Milk (Perhaps a reference to the milky way) by The Devas (Gods) and the Asuras (the Anti Gods) in the effort to obtain Amrit (the nectar of immortality).

Sagara Manthana (Sanskrit for the Churning of the Ocean) is important in the Hindu stories of origin and are widely depicted in temples in India and Asia. The largest bas relief in the world about this story can be found in Angkor Wat in Cambodia – the largest known Hindu temple (this one is dedicated to Lord Vishnu) in the world.


The second day (November 13, 2020) is known as Naraka Chaturdasi or Chhoti Diwali (small Diwali). “Naraka” refers to the Rakshasa Narakasura who was vanquished on this day and “Chaturdashi” means 14th day of a lunar fortnight on the Hindu calendar.

Satyabhama fights off the Asura armies
Satyabhama fighting off Narakasura

Lord Krishna defeated and killed Narakasura on this day thus bringing peace to the worlds.(Story)

In 2020, Naraka Chaturdasi overlaps with Amavasya and falls on the same day, on November 14.

One tradition links the festival to Ramayana, where Diwali is the day Rama, Sita, Lakshman and Hanuman reached Ayodhya after a period of 14 years in exile. Learn more about the Ellora temple and it’s carvings here.

Goddess Kali is also usually worshiped on this day in West Bengal, Odisha and Assam (although Kali Puja sometimes falls a day earlier depending on the lunar cycle). The south Indian Deepavali festival is also celebrated on this day in 2020.

Lord Krishna Holds up Goverdhana Mountain to protect people from the wrath of Lord Indra (Vietnam) – (By Daderot – Own work, CC0,)

The fourth day Annakut, Balipratipada (Padwa), Govardhan Puja (November 15, 2020) has various meanings across India.

Lord Krishna holds up the Goverdhana Mountain

In north India, Govardhan Puja is celebrated as the day when Lord Krishna defeated Indra, the King of the Gods and the God of thunder and rain. In Gujarat, it’s celebrated as the start of a new year.

Learn more here

In Maharashtra, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu, the victory of Lord Vishnu as Vamana over King Bali is celebrated as Bali Pratipada or Bali Padyami.

Learn more here.

In Gujarat, Annakut is the first day of the new year and celebrated through the purchase of essentials, or sabras (literally, “good things in life”), such as salt, offering prayers to Krishna and visiting temples.

Trade and merchant families and others also offer prayers to Goddess Saraswati, who embodies music, literature and learning and Kubera, who symbolizes book-keeping, treasury and wealth management.

In western states such as Gujarat, and certain northern Hindu communities of India, the festival of Diwali signifies the start of a new year and a new Financial year.

The fifth day Bhai Duj, Bhau-Beej, Vishwakarma Puja is known as Bhai Duj. It’s dedicated to celebrating sisters, in a similar way that Raksha Bandhan is dedicated to brothers. Brothers and sisters get together and share food, to honor the bond between them.


Diwali has a very special significance in Jainism.

It marks the anniversary of Nirvana (final release) or liberation of Mahavira‘s soul, the twenty fourth and last Jain Tirthankara of present cosmic age.

It is celebrated at the same time as the Hindu festival of Diwali. (Source)

Mahavira – (By Dayodaya – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0)

SikhismBandi Chhor Divas

Guru Hargobind (By Sikhi6999 – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0)

For Sikhs, Diwali is particularly important because it celebrates the release from prison of the sixth guru, Guru Hargobind, and 52 other princes with him, in 1619.

Sikhs celebrated the return of Guru Hargobind by lighting the Golden Temple and this tradition continues today.Oct 20, 2011 (Source)

Newar Buddhists

This group from Nepal celebrate Diwali by praying to Goddess Lakshmi.


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How old is Diwali?

Diwali, or Deepavali—is a festival of lights that stretches back more than 2,500 years. (Source)

What is the proper greeting for Diwali?

A simple ‘Happy Diwali’ or ‘Happy Deepavali’ will do the trick, but there are other Diwali wishes you can say to anyone celebrating the festival. A traditional Diwali greeting is to say ‘Wishing you a Diwali that brings happiness prosperity and joy to you and all your family. ‘

To greet someone in Hindi for Diwali it’s best to say ‘Diwali ki Shubhkamnayein’ or ‘Shubh Deepavali’. These both mean Happy Diwali. Meanwhile in Punjabi it would be ‘Tuhanu Diwali diyan boht both vadhaiyan’ and in Marathi ‘Shubh Diwali’ or ‘Diwalichya hard Shubhechha’. Deepavali Nalvazhthukal is the best way to greet someone in Tamil. (Source)

Fresh sweets and savory items
Deepavali Sweets

Well, it differs from region to region. Cuisines and customs vary from region to region as do the the staple diets. But, here goes.

Deepavali Sweets
Deepavali Sweets

There are so many from so many regions

Deepavali Sweets – Laddu

so adding some links…

10 Diwali Foods to Try

20 Best Diwali Recipes

Need more?


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Did someone say, BTW, what is curry?

Featured Photo by Siyuan on Unsplash

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