Diwali (or Deepawali, the “festival of lights”) is an ancient Hindu festival celebrated in autumn (northern hemisphere) or spring (southern hemisphere) every year. Diwali is one of the largest and brightest festivals in India. The festival spiritually signifies the victory of good over evil. The preparations and rituals typically extend over a five-day period, but the main festival night of Diwali coincides with the darkest, new moon night of the Hindu Lunisolar month Kartika. In the Gregorian calendar, Diwali falls between mid-October and mid-November.
Before Diwali night, people clean, renovate, and decorate their homes and offices. On Diwali night, Hindus dress up in new clothes or their best outfit, light up diyas (lamps and candles) inside and outside their home, participate in family puja (prayers) typically to Lakshmi – the goddess of wealth and prosperity. After puja, fireworks follow, then a family feast including mithai (sweets), and an exchange of gifts between family members and close friends. Deepavali also marks a major shopping period in nations where it is celebrated.
The five-day festival originated in the Indian subcontinent and is likely a fusion of harvest festivals in ancient India. It is mentioned in Sanskrit texts such as the Padma Purana, the Skanda Purana both of which were completed in the second half of the 1st millennium CE. The diyas (lamps) are mentioned in Skanda Purana as symbolising parts of the sun, describing it as the cosmic giver of light and energy to all life and which seasonally transitions in the Hindu calendar month of Kartik. King Harsha refers to Deepavali, in the 7th century Sanskrit play Nagananda, as Dīpapratipadotsava (dīpa = light, pratipadā = first day, utsava = festival), where lamps were lit and newly engaged brides and grooms received gifts. Rajasekhara referred to Deepavali as Dipamalika in his 9th century Kavyamimamsa, wherein he mentions the tradition of homes being whitewashed and oil lamps decorated homes, streets and markets in the night.
Diwali was also described by numerous travellers from outside India. In his 11th century memoir on India, the Persian traveller and historian Al Biruni wrote of Deepavali being celebrated by Hindus on the day of the New Moon in the month of Kartika. The Venetian merchant and traveller Niccolò de’ Conti visited India in the early 15th-century and wrote in his memoir, “on another of these festivals they fix up within their temples, and on the outside of the roofs, an innumerable number of oil lamps… which are kept burning day and night” and that the families would gather, “clothe themselves in new garments”, sing, dance and feast. The 16th-century Portuguese traveler Domingo Paes wrote of his visit to the Hindu Vijayanagara Empire, where Dipavali was celebrated in October with householders illuminating their homes, and their temples, with lamps. Islamic historians of the Delhi Sultanate and the Mughal Empire era also mentioned Diwali and other Hindu festivals. A few, notably the Mughal emperor Akbar, welcomed and participated in the festivities, whereas others banned such festivals as Diwali and Holi, as Aurangzeb did in 1665.
Publications from the British colonial era also mention Diwali. Sir William Jones, a philologist known for his early observations on Sanskrit and Indo-European languages published a paper on The Lunar Year of the Hindus in 1799 and noted four of the five days of Diwali in the autumn months of Aswina-Cartica as the following: Bhutachaturdasi Yamaterpanam (2nd day), Lacshmipuja dipanwita (the day of Diwali), Dyuta pratipat Belipuja (4th day), and Bhratri dwitiya (5th day). The Lacshmipuja dipanwita, remarked Jones, was a “great festival at night, in honor of Lakshmi, with illuminations on trees and houses”.
The names of the festive days of Diwali, as well as the rituals, vary by region. Diwali is usually celebrated eighteen days after the Dussehra (Dasara, Dasain) festival with Dhanteras, or the regional equivalent, marking the first day of the festival when celebrants prepare by cleaning their homes and making decorations on the floor, such as rangoli. The second day is Choti Diwali, or equivalent in north India, while for Hindus in the south of India it is Diwali proper. Western, central, eastern and northern Indian communities observe Diwali on the third day and the darkest night of the traditional month. In some parts of India, the day after Diwali is marked with the Govardhan Puja and Diwali Padva, which is dedicated to the relationship between wife and husband. Some Hindu communities mark the last day as Bhai Dooj, which is dedicated to the bond between sister and brother, while other Hindu and Sikh craftsmen communities mark this day as Vishwakarma Puja and observe it by performing maintenance in their work spaces and offering prayers.
Diwali is an important festival for Hindus. The name of festive days as well as the rituals of Diwali vary significantly among Hindus, based on the region of India. In many parts of India, the festivities start with Dhanteras (in Northern & Western part of India), followed by Naraka Chaturdasi on second day, Deepavali on the third day, Diwali Padva dedicated to wife–husband relationship on the fourth day, and festivities end with Bhau-beej dedicated to sister–brother bond on the fifth day. Dhanteras usually falls eighteen days after Dussehra. On the same night that Hindus celebrate Diwali, Jains celebrate a festival of lights to mark the attainment of moksha by Mahavira, Sikhs celebrate Bandi Chhor Divas and some Buddhists also celebrate Diwali remembering Ashoka’s conversion to Buddhism. Diwali is an official holiday in Nepal, India, Sri Lanka, Mauritius, Guyana, Trinidad and Tobago, Suriname, Malaysia, Singapore and Fiji.
Some other faiths in India also celebrate their respective festivals alongside Diwali. The Jains observe their own Diwali, which marks the final liberation of Mahavira, the Sikhs celebrate Bandi Chhor Divas to mark the release of Guru Hargobind from a Mughal Empire prison, while Newar Buddhists, unlike other Buddhists, celebrate Diwali by worshiping Lakshmi.The festival of Diwali is an official holiday in Fiji, Guyana, India, Malaysia (except Sarawak), Mauritius, Myanmar, Nepal, Singapore, Sri Lanka, Suriname, and Trinidad and Tobago.