What is Diwali?
Lighting Diwali candles.
Diwali, from the Sanskrit word Dīpãvali, meaning "row of lights" is a Hindu festival of lights lasting five days. For many Hindus, Diwali is also New Year's Eve. Diwali is held on the final day of the Vikram calendar, a type of Hindu calendar followed by North Indians. The next day, called Annakut, is New Year's Day for North Indians. Diwali is in October and Novemeber on the Gregorian Calendar. (See Hinduism Beliefs here.)
Diwali in the East and West
The Hindu calendar is lunar, with most years consisting of 12 lunar cycles and an extra month inserted about every seven years to resynchronize the calendar. Diwali is celebrated for five days from the 13th day of the dark half of the lunar month Ashvina, to the second day of the light half of Karttika. On the Gregorian calendar, Diwali falls in October or November, and always on a new moon day. Since the new moon falls on different Gregorian dates depending on geographical location, the date of Diwali can also depend on one's location. (See exact dates below.)
Dates for Diwali
- October 23, 2014
- November 11, 2015
- October 30, 2016
- October 19, 2017
- November 7, 2018
Meaning and Rituals of Diwali
Diwali is celebrated with a variety of rituals, which depend in large part on one's location, but they center on the lighting of candles, electric lights and fireworks. The “row of lights” for which the festival is named are lit on the new-moon night to welcome Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth. But in Bengal, it is the goddess Kali who is so honored, and in North India the festival also celebrates the return of Rama, Sita, Lakshmana, and Hanuman to the city of Ayodhya, where Rama's rule of righteousness was inaugurated.
Throughout the five-day festival, small earthenware lamps filled with oil are lighted and placed in rows along the tops of temples and houses and set adrift on rivers and streams.
Gambling is encouraged during the Diwali season as a way of ensuring good luck for the coming year and in remembrance of the games of dice played by the Lord Shiva and Parvati on Mount Kailasa or between Radha and Krishna. In honour of Lakshmi, the female player always wins during Diwali.
The fourth day — the main day of Diwali and the beginning of the lunar month of Karttika — marks the beginning of the new year according to the Vikrama calendar. On this day, merchants perform religious ceremonies and open new account books. It is generally a time for visiting, exchanging gifts, cleaning and decorating houses, feasting, setting off fireworks displays, and wearing new clothes.
In South India, which uses the Shalivahana calendar, Diwali does not coincide with the beginning of a new year. In South India, the new year (Ugadi), is followed by persons in Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka. Vishu and Varsha Pirappu are celebrated in Kerala and Tamil Nadu respectively. These festivals occur at about the same time, generally during April.  
In England, the days are Dhanteras, Narak Chatrudashi, Lakshmi-Puja, the most important day, Padwa or Varshapratipanda and Bhaiya Dooj or the Teeka Ceremony . In Trinidad and Tobago, the day of Divali is a public holiday and celebrations precede the Lakshmi-Puja day for almost two weeks. This event is one of the foremost religious observances for the country.
Diwali in Other Religions
The Diwali season is also significant to Sikhs. During the festival time in 1620, the sixth Guru, Hargobind Singh, gained the release of 52 Hindu princes who had been falsely imprisoned in Gwallior Fort by the rulers of the area, the Mughals. The Golden Temple of Amritsar was lit with many lights to welcome the release of Guru Hargobind; Sikhs have continued the tradition. (See Sikhism here.)
Jains also celebrate Diwali, as a celebration of the establishment of the dharma by Lord Mahavira. The festival's lights symbolizes the light of holy knowledge that was extinguished with Mahavira's passing. (Learn more about Jainism here.)Recommended:
- Hinduism FAQ
- Hinduism Fast Facts
- Hinduism overview
- Hindu beliefs
- Hindu deities
- Hindu ethics
- Hindu holidays
- Hindu history
- Hindu symbols
- Hindu texts
- Tamil New Year Celebrations - hindutemple.org
- City of Leicester website
- "festivals." John Bowker, ed., Oxford Concise Dictionary of World Religions (Oxford UP, 2000), p. 193.
- Hindu Festivals 2031.
- Diwali - Encyclopedia Britannica Online (2007)