Happy Diwali! (Wait, what is Diwali?)

Nov 14, 2020

India’s festive season kicked off several weeks ago. While there is a huge variety of religions and cultures in India, the Hindu holiday Diwali is considered the peak of the festive season. The “festival of lights” means many things to different people. We heard from several children from different backgrounds telling us how their families mark the special day.

Early in the festive season comes Ganpati, or the Ganesh festival in Mumbai, then the Durga Puja in Kolkata before Diwali, which is the biggest in terms of the amount of people celebrating it. These are festivals that are centered around a Hindu god or goddess, like the elephant god Ganesh or the super powerful goddess Durga.  

But India is a huge and diverse country with not just Hindus, but Muslims, Sikhs, Christians, Buddhists, Parsis, Jains and more religions practiced by hundreds of millions of people here (there are 1.3 billion people in India, after all!) and dozens of different language and customs to boot.

While Islam’s big festival, Eid, occurred in the summer this year, it often happens in autumn and then the Christian holiday Christmas comes at the end of the year. So when people talk about the Indian festival season, it usually means many different religions or sects.

But, Diwali, is – by the sheer number of people marking it – considered the biggest festival in India.

Diwali is the “Festival of Lights”  

So that might beg the question for our listeners and readers who don’t know – what is Diwali? First of all, it’s actually pronounced de-val-ee. So that “W” is pronounced as a “V.”  And most simply put, Diwali is the festival of lights. It’s celebrated either in October or November, depending on the cycle of the moon. In north India, Hindus believe lamps, called diyas, were lit to guide the return of Lord Ram (also spelt Rama) and his wife Sita back home, after being in exile for 14 years and winning a big battle.

Many Hindus also believe the lights, or diyas, are lit so that the goddess of prosperity, Lakshmi, will find you and bless you and your home. But only if it’s clean and you’ve been well behaved! Although in different parts of the country, other Hindus associate Diwali with Lord Krishna or other gods. Regardless, simply put: Diwali is the victoryof light over darkness!

But don’t take our word for it. Have a listen to our special Diwali episode and hear our adorable reporters – twins Adyant and Nirbhya Singh Chauhan, Saadhana Nagaraj and Reyaansh Zaveri – sharing what Diwali means to them and how their family celebrates.

Here are a few pictures taken from our reporters…