Diwali- The Indian New Year

Diwali, (festival of lights) a popular Hindu festival which celebrates the triumph of good over evil is celebrated in conjunction with the Hindu New Year all over the world. 

By Nimra Ahmed 

‘Diwali’ or the ‘festival of lights’ is a religious festival for Hindus and ties in with the Hindu New Year. It is celebrated by Hindus, Jains and Sikhs. Diwali means ‘row of lights’ in Sanskrit. It is a five day festival between October and November depending on the moon sighting. Diwali is generally a time for visiting family and friends, exchanging gifts, wearing new clothes, feasting, feeding the poor, and setting off fireworks. Diwali represents the triumph of good over evil, light over darkness and wisdom over ignorance.

For the Hindus, it stands for different traditions in various area. In the north of India, it symbolizes the victorious return of Prince Rama with his wife, Sita, and brother, Lakshman, from a 14-year-long exile and war. People of Ayodhya lit lamps along the way to light their path in the darkness. In the south, it is the day Lord Krishna defeated the demon king Narakasura. In western India, the festival is the day that Lord Vishnu, the Preserver (one of the main gods of the Hindu trinity) sent the demon King Bali to rule hell.

For the Jains, Diwali is the day when the last of the Jain Tirthankaras, Lord Mahavira, reached nirvana, also known as complete knowledge and enlightenment.

For the Sikhs, Diwali is a story of the struggle of freedom because  it celebrates Guru Hargobind’s, (the sixth guru) victory from Emperor Jahangir, who had him imprisoned and 52 other princes with him, in 1619. Guru Hargobind did not leave the prison for freedom until he was able to take the princes with him.

Diwali- by Nimra Ahmed.

Many consider Diwali to be a fresh start, similar to the Lunar New Year in January. Many people clean, renovate, decorate their homes and buy new clothes in preparation for the upcoming year.

The ‘Tilak ceremony’ is where the hosts apply a red ‘Tilak’ (made of red paste) on the forehead to welcome and honour guests. 

The colours for Diwali are: Red, Yellow Magenta, Blue . Rangoli’, which means “an array of colours” in Sanskrit. Rangoli is a tradition that dates back nearly 5,000 years to the Aryans. 

Rangoli has different names depending on the  Indian state and culture. They are usually made outside the main entrance, in the early mornings after cleaning the area as a welcoming gesture to the Gods for good luck. Rangoli designs are bright, colourful and beautiful made using rice, flower petals or coloured sand. Rangoli is intended to welcome Lakshmi (the goddess of wealth and good luck) into their homes and lives. It represents the happiness, positivity and liveliness of a household.   

During Annakut,  people prepare and offer a large variety of vegetarian food to Lord Krishna as a mark of gratitude. There are 56 different dishes. Annakut means ‘mountain of food’. The story behind it is that Lord Krishna saved the people from torrential rain by lifting Govardhan Hill as shelter, so the ‘mountain of food’ represents the hill and the food represents the people’s gratitude towards Lord Krishna. 

The national Indian dress for men is Kurta (shirt) and pajama (bottoms). Kurta is a long loose shirt, which falls below or may be just above the knees. It used to be worn by men but now it is a uni -sex dress. For the women it is the sari. There are many other traditional dresses depending on which area of India you belong to. The word ‘sari’ comes from a Sanskrit word meaning ‘strip of cloth’.  

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