Diwali / Deepavali
Rangoli decorations, made using coloured powder or sand, are popular during Diwali.
Also called Deepavali
Observed by Hindus, Sikhs, Jains and Newar Buddhists[1]
Type Cultural, seasonal, religious
Celebrations Diya and lighting, home decoration, shopping, fireworks, puja (prayers), gifts, performing religious rituals, feast and sweets
Begins Dhanteras, two days before Diwali
Ends Bhai Dooj, two days after Diwali
Date Varies per Hindu calendar
2018 date 7 November (Wednesday) in India[2]
6 November (Tuesday) in Karnataka, Kerala, Tamil Nadu[2] & Singapore[3]
Related to Kali Puja, Galungan, Diwali (Jainism), Bandi Chhor Divas, Tihar, Swanti

Diwali or Deepavali is a Hindu festival of lights celebrated every year in autumn in the northern hemisphere (spring in southern hemisphere).[4][5] One of the most popular festivals of Hinduism, it spiritually signifies the victory of light over darkness, good over evil and knowledge over ignorance.[6][7][8] Its celebration includes millions of lights shining on housetops, outside doors and windows, around temples and other buildings in the communities where it is observed.[9] The festival preparations and rituals typically extend over a five day period, while the main Diwali is observed on the third day and the darkest night of the Hindu Lunisolar month Kartika. The festival falls between mid-October and mid-November in the Gregorian calendar.[10]

Before Diwali, people clean, renovate, and decorate their homes and offices.[11] For the main Diwali evening, people dress up in new clothes or their best outfits, light up diyas (lamps and candles) inside and outside their home, participate in family puja (prayers) to Lakshmi – the goddess of prosperity, light fireworks, enjoy family feasts, share mithai (sweets), and give gifts. Diwali also marks a major period for cultural bonding and shopping in India, Nepal and for the Indian diaspora elsewhere.[12][13][14]

The festival originated in the Indian subcontinent and is mentioned in early Sanskrit texts. The name of festive days, as well as the rituals of Diwali, vary significantly among Hindus, based on the region of India. The celebrations usually fall eighteen days after the Dussehra. In many parts of India, the festivities start on Dhanteras or equivalent which kicks off home cleaning and floor decorations such as the rangoli.[15] The next day is Choti Diwali or equivalent in north India, while for south Indian Hindus it is the main Diwali. The western, central, eastern and northern Indian communities observe the main Diwali on the third day and the darkest night of the traditional month. The day after Diwali is marked, in some parts of India, with the Goverdhan Puja and Diwali Padva dedicated to the relationship between wife and husband. Some Hindu communities mark the last day as the Bhai Dooj dedicated to the bond between sister and brother,[16] while other Hindu and Sikh craftsmen communities mark this day as Vishwakarma Puja by maintaining their workspace equipment, workshops and offering prayers.[17][18]

On the same night that Hindus celebrate Diwali, Jains too celebrate a festival called Diwali to mark the final liberation of Mahavira.[19][20] Sikhs celebrate Bandi Chhor Divas to mark the release of Guru Hargobind from a Mughal Empire prison,[21] while Newar Buddhists, unlike the majority of Buddhists, celebrate Diwali by worshipping Lakshmi.[22][23] Diwali is an official holiday in Fiji,[24] Guyana,[25] India, Malaysia (except Sarawak),[26] Mauritius, Myanmar,[27] Nepal,[28] Singapore,[29] Sri Lanka, Suriname, Trinidad and Tobago,[30] and Jamaica.[31]

Nomenclature and dates

Diwali celebrations
Indoor Diya decoration on Naraka Chaturdasi night
Diwali lamps
Outdoor Diya decoration on Diwali night
Diwali lanterns before Dhanteras in Maharashtra
As Tihar in Nepal
Diwali night fireworks over a city (Chennai)
Indoor Diwali decorations
Dance events and fairs
Diwali festivities include a celebration of sights, sounds, arts and flavors. The festivities vary between different regions.[9][32][33]

Diwali (English: /dɪˈwɑːl/)[4] or Divali[34] is from the Sanskrit dīpāvali meaning "row or series of lights".[35][36] The conjugated term is derived from the Sanskrit words dīpa which means "lamp, light, lantern, candle, that which glows, shines, illuminates or knowledge"[37] and āvali which means "a row, range, continuous line, series".[38][note 1]

The festival dates extend over five days around the darkest night of the Hindu lunisolar calendar in autumn every year after the summer harvest and marks the new moon, locally called the amāsvasya.[39] This night ends the lunar month of Ashwin and starts the month of Kartika, states Constance Jones – an Indologist with a focus on religious sociology.[40][note 2] The darkest night is the main Diwali night, and it typically falls in the second half of October or first half of November in the Gregorian common era calendar.[40] The full Diwali festivities begin two days before on Dhanteras, and lasts two days after the main Diwali night which is the second day of Kartik month's first-fortnight.[42]

The main Diwali day is an official holiday in about a dozen countries, while the other festive days are regionally observed as either public or optional restricted holidays in India.[43] In Nepal, it is also a multiday festival with different names and rituals, with the main Diwali being called the Tihar festival by the Hindus and Swanti festival by the Buddhists.[44][45]


Diwali dates back to ancient times in India, likely evolved as a fusion of many harvest festivals on the Indian subcontinent.[40] The festival is mentioned in Sanskrit texts such as the Padma Purana, the Skanda Purana both completed in second half of 1st millennium AD. The diyas (lamps) are mentioned in Skanda Purana to symbolically represent 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.[32][46]

One historical reference links Diwali with the legend of Yama and Nachiketa on Kartika amavasya (Diwali night).[47] The Nachiketa story about right versus wrong, true wealth versus transient wealth, knowledge versus ignorance is recorded in Katha Upanishad composed in 1st millennium BC.[48]

King Harsha in the 7th century Sanskrit play Nagananda mentions Deepavali as Deepapratipadutsava (Deepa = light, pratipada = first day, utsava = festival), where lamps were lit and newly engaged brides and grooms were given gifts.[49][50] Rajasekhara referred to Deepavali as Dipamalika in his 9th century Kavyamimamsa, wherein he mentions the tradition of homes being whitewashed and oil lamps decorating homes, streets and markets in the night.[49]

The Persian traveller and historian Al Biruni, in his 11th century memoir on India, wrote of Deepavali being celebrated by Hindus on New Moon day of the month of Kartika.[51] 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.[52][53] The 16th-century Portuguese traveler Domingo Paes wrote of his visit to the Hindu Vijayanagara Empire, that Dipavali was celebrated in October with householders illuminating their homes and their temples with lighted lamps.[53]

Islamic historians of the Delhi Sultanate and the Mughal Empire era mention Diwali and other Hindu festivals. A few, particularly Akbar – the tolerant Mughal emperor, welcomed and participated in festive celebrations.[54][55] However, the Diwali festival along with other festivals such as Holi were banned at other times, such as by Aurangzeb in 1665.[56][57][note 3][note 4]

The British colonial era publications mention Diwali. For example, one such note on the Hindu festivals was published in 1799 by Sir William Jones, the philologist known for his early observations on Sanskrit and Indo-European languages.[60] In his paper on The Lunar Year of the Hindus, Jones based in Bengal, noted four of the five days of Diwali, in the autumn months of Aswina-Cartica [sic], as the following: Bhutachaturdasi Yamaterpanam (2nd day), Lacshmipuja dipanwita (main 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.[60][note 5]


Many Sanskrit stone and copper inscriptions from all over Indian subcontinent mention Diwali, sometimes with other terms such as Dipotsava, Dipavali, Divali and Divalige.[62][note 6] A 10th-century Rashtrakuta empire copper plate inscription of Krsna III (939-967 CE) mentions Dipotsava.[63] Another 12th-century mixed Sanskrit-Kannada Sinda inscription discovered in the Isvara temple of Dharwad, Karnataka calls Diwali festival as a "sacred occasion".[64] According to Lorenz Franz Kielhorn, the German Indologist known for translating many Indic inscriptions, this festival is mentioned as Dipotsavam in verses 6 and 7 of the Ranganatha temple Sanskrit inscription of the 13th-century Kerala Hindu king Ravivarman Samgramadhira. The inscription, translates Kielhorn, amongst other things states "the auspicious festival of lights which disperses the most profound darkness, which in former days was celebrated by the kings Ila, Kartavirya and Sagara, (...) as Sakra (Indra) is of the gods, the universal monarch who knows the duties by the three Vedas, afterwards celebrated here at Ranga for Vishnu, resplendent with Lakshmi resting on his radiant lap."[65][note 7]

The inscriptions of Jainism tradition also mention Dipotsava. For example, the 10th-century Saundatti inscription mentions a donation of oil to Jinendra worship for the Diwali rituals.[66][67] Another early 13th-century Jalore stone inscription in Sanskrit, written in the Devanagari script, has been found in the north end of a mosque pillar in Jalore, Rajasthan evidently built using materials from a demolished Jain temple. The inscription states that Ramachandracharya built and dedicated a drama performance hall with a golden cupola on Diwali.[68][69][note 8]

Religious significance

Diwali is celebrated by Hindus, Jains, Sikhs and Newar Buddhists[22] to mark different historical events and stories, but they all symbolise the victory of light over darkness, knowledge over ignorance, good over evil and hope over despair.[6][7][70]


The religious significance of Deepavali varies regionally within India, with various deities, traditions, and symbolism associated with the festivities.[6][71][36] These variations, states Constance Jones, may reflect diverse local autumn harvest festivals that fused into one pan-Hindu festival with shared spiritual significance and ritual grammar while continuing local traditions.[10]

One religious significance links it to legends in the Hindu epic Ramayana, Diwali being the day Rama, Sita, Lakshmana and Hanuman reached Ayodhya after a long exile where Rama's army of good defeated demon king Ravana's army of evil.[72]

Many Hindus associate the festival with Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth and prosperity and the wife of Vishnu. The start of the 5-day Diwali festival is stated in some popular contemporary sources, states Pintchman, as the day Goddess Lakshmi was born from the churning of cosmic ocean of milk by the Devas (gods) and the Asuras (demons) – a Vedic legend that is also found in several Puranas such as the Padma Purana; while the night of Diwali is the day Lakshmi chose Vishnu as her husband and they were married.[32][73]

In the eastern regions of India, Hindus associate the festival with goddess Durga or her fierce avatar Kali (Shaktism). The goddess is seen as the symbol of victory of good over evil.[74][75][76] Elsewhere, such as the Hindus of the Braj region of north India, parts of Assam and the southern Tamil and Telugu communities, the religious significance links Diwali as the day when the good Krishna symbolizing light and knowledge destroyed the evil demon king Narakasura symbolizing darkness and ignorance.[77][78]

Diwali is the major pan-Hindu festival. Along with goddess Lakshmi of the Vaishnavism tradition, Ganesha – the elephant-headed son of Parvati and Shiva of Shaivism tradition – is remembered who symbolizes ethical beginnings and the remover of obstacles.[72] Trade and merchant families and others also offer prayers to Saraswati, who embodies music, literature and learning and Kubera, who symbolizes book-keeping, treasury and wealth management.[32] In western states such as Gujarat, and certain northern Hindu communities of India, the festival of Diwali signifies the start of a new year.[77]

The mythical stories with their spiritual significance that are recited on Diwali vary regionally and within the traditions of Hinduism.[71] Yet, they all point to joy and the celebration of Diwali with lights to be a reminder of the importance of knowledge, self-inquiry, knowing and seeking the good and the right path. It is a metaphor for resisting evil, for dispelling darkness and for compassion to others.[79][80] The symbolism in the diverse Hindu myths associated with Divali, states Lindsey Harlan – an Indologist and scholar of Religious Studies, is that goodness is the result of knowledge and it is the path of overcoming the "darkness of ignorance".[81] It is a festive restatement of the Hindu belief that the good ultimately triumphs over evil.[81][82][83]


Diwali is observed as "Mahavira Nirvana Divas" in Jainism. It signifies the physical death and final nirvana of Mahavira, states Jeffrey Long –- a scholar of Jain and Hindu studies.[84] According to Long, while Diwali is the biggest single festival for the Hindus, the Jains practices in many parts of India are similar to those of the Hindus. Jains too light lamps, some participate in the prayers to Lakshmi, but the religious significance of the festival is linked to the Mahavira.[84] According to the Jain tradition, the practice of lighting lamps on Diwali started on the day Mahavira died in 527 BCE, when the 18 kings who had gathered to hear Mahavira's last teachings proclaimed that lamps should be lit to remember the "great light, Mahavira".[85][86] This traditional belief of Diwali's origin and significance among Jains is found in their historic artworks such as paintings.[87]


Diwali for Sikhs marks the Bandi Chhor Divas. It is remembered as the occasion when Guru Hargobind was freed by the Mughal emperor, Jahangir from the Gwalior Fort prison, and the day he arrived at the Golden Temple in Amritsar.[88] According to J. S. Grewal – a scholar of Sikhism and Sikh history, Diwali in the Sikh tradition is older than the sixth Guru Hargobind legend. Guru Amar Das, the third Guru of the Sikhs, built a well in Goindwal with eighty-four steps and invited Sikhs to bathe in its sacred waters on Baisakhi and Diwali festivals as a form of community bonding. This Sikh tradition, over time, transformed these spring and autumn festivals as the most important community festivals in Sikh history and the holy sites such as Amritsar evolved as an annual place for Sikh pilgrim gatherings.[89] The festival of Diwali, states Ray Colledge, has signified three events in Sikh history: the founding of the city of Amritsar in 1577, the release of Guru Hargobind from the Mughal prison, and the day of Bhai Mani Singh martyrdom in 1738 for his failure to pay a fine for trying to celebrate Diwali and thereafter refusing to convert to Islam.[90][91][note 9]


Diwali is not a religious festival for most Buddhists. The Newar people of Nepal are exceptions. They are Buddhists and revere various deities in the Vajrayana tradition. They celebrate the Diwali festival by worshipping Lakshmi.[22][23] The Newar Buddhists in Nepalese valleys also celebrate the Diwali festival over five days, in the same way and on the same days as the Nepalese Hindu Diwali-Tihar festival.[94] According to some observers, this traditional celebration by Newar Buddhists in Nepal, involving Lakshmi and Vishnu during Diwali is not syncreticism, rather it reflects the freedom granted in the Mahayana Buddhism tradition to worship any deity for their worldly betterment.[22]


Diwali is a five-day festival with main Diwali celebrated on the third day and the darkest night of the lunar month. Hindus, Jains, and Sikhs light up their homes, temples, shops and offices with diyas, candles and lanterns, with countless little lights illuminating neighborhoods everywhere.[10] Hindus have ritual bath with oil at dawn on each day of the festival.[97] Diwali is also marked with fireworks and floor rangoli designs; the festival is a major celebration of flavors with feasts and numerous mithai (sweets, desserts),[35] as well as homecoming and bonding time that ritually brings family and friends together every year.[33][98] Diwali is also the major festival when social and cultural bonds are annually renewed, particularly in urban areas. Communities and associations organize, invite others to dinners, dance events, rangoli making, temple decoration and parties over food and arts.[99][100] Many towns organize community parades and fairs with parades or music and dance performances in parks.[101] Some Hindus, Jains and Sikhs send Diwali greeting cards to loved ones near and far during the festive season, occasionally with boxes of Indian confectionery.[101]

Regional practices and rituals vary significantly. Diwali is a post-harvest celebration, marking the abundance created by the monsoon crop on the Indian subcontinent.[83] Depending on the region, the celebrations include prayers before one or more Hindu deities, with the most common being Lakshmi.[33][98] According to David Kinsley – an Indologist and a scholar of goddess-related Indian religious traditions, Lakshmi symbolizes three themes: wealth and prosperity, fertility and abundant crops, as well as good fortune.[96] The merchant community seeks Lakshmi's blessings in all their ventures. They ritually close their account year and worship their tools of trade such as the new account book.[96] The fertility motifs appear in the agricultural offerings before Lakshmi by farming families, who thank her for what the recent harvests and seek her blessings for prosperous future crops.[96] A symbolic piece of the traditional fertilizer, a dried piece of cow dung, is included in the ensemble in Odisha and Deccan region villages, which states Kinsley is an agricultural motif. Another aspect of the festival is remembering the ancestors, particularly any recently dead family members.

Rituals and preparations for Diwali begin days or weeks in advance, typically after the festival of Dusshera that precedes Diwali by about 20 days.[72] The festival formally begins two days before the night of Diwali, and ends two days thereafter. Each day has the following rituals and significance:[32]

Dhanteras (Day 1)

Dhanteras starts off the Diwali celebrations with the lighting of diya lamp (left) rows, house cleaning and floor rangoli (right).

Dhanteras, also referred to as Dhanatrayodashi or Yamatrayodashi, starts off the five day Diwali festival.[102] Dhanteras is derived from Dhan (wealth) and teras (thirteenth), and it marks the thirteenth day of the Kartik month's dark fortnight.[102]

Many Hindus clean, renovate and decorate their houses and business premises, either on or by Dhanteras. Little oil earthen lamps called diyas are ritually lit up near Lakshmi and Ganesha iconography and kept illuminated over the next five nights.[102][95] Women and children decorate entrances with Rangoli – creative colourful floor designs made of rice floor, flower petals and colored sand – both inside and in the walkways of their homes or offices.[101] Boys and men decorate the roofs and walls with lights of family homes, markets and temples starting on this day. The day also marks a major shopping day to purchase new utensils, home equipment, jewelry, firecrackers and other items.[95][32][73] On the evening of Dhanteras, families pray (puja) before the Lakshmi and Ganesha icons, with offerings such as puffed rice, candy toys, rice cakes and batashas (hollow sugar cakes).[95]

According to Tracy Pintchman, Dhanteras signifies themes of annual renewal, cleansing and auspicious beginning for the next year.[102] The term "Dhan" for this day also connotes the Ayurvedic icon Dhanvantari, who is believed to have emerged from the "churning of cosmic ocean" on the same day as Lakshmi.[102] Dhanvantari symbolizes healing and health. Some communities, such as those particularly active in Ayurvedic and health-related professions, pray or perform havan rituals to Dhanvantari on the Dhanteras.[102]

Choti Diwali, Naraka Chaturdasi (Day 2)

Choti Diwali is the major shopping day for festive mithai (sweets)

Choti Diwali, also known as Naraka Chaturdasi, is the second day of festivities. The term "choti" means little, while "Naraka" means hell and "Chaturdasi" means "fourteenth". This day is observed on the fourteenth day of the second fortnight of the lunar month.[103] The day and its rituals are interpreted as ways to liberate any souls from their suffering in "Naraka" or hell, as well as a reminder of spiritual auspiciousness. For some Hindus, it is a day to pray for the peace to the manes, or deified souls of one's ancestors and light their way for their journeys in the cyclic afterlife.[104] A mythological interpretation of this festive day is the destruction of the asura (demon) Narakasura by Krishna, a victory that frees 16,000 imprisoned princesses kidnapped by Narakasura.[103]

It is also a major day for purchasing festive foods, particularly sweets. A vast variety of sweets are prepared from flour, semolina, rice, chickpea flour, dry fruit pieces powders or paste, milk solids (mawa or khoya) and clarified butter (ghee).[83] These are, states Goldstein, then shaped into a profusion of different forms such as laddus, barfis, halvah, kachoris, shrikhand, sandesh, rolled and stuffed delicacies, maladu, susiyam, pottukadalai and others. Sometimes these are wrapped with edible silver foil (vark). Confectioners and shops create appealing Diwali-themed decorative displays, sell these in large quantities, while people stock them up for their home celebrations, to welcome guests and as gifts.[83][95] Families also prepare homemade delicacies for the main Diwali day.[83] The Choti Diwali is also a day of visiting friends, business associates and relatives, giving them gifts such as sweets.[95]

This day is commonly celebrated as Diwali in Tamil Nadu, Goa and Karnataka. Some South Indian Hindus get an oil massage and then take a ritual bath.[105] Many visit their favorite Hindu temple.[106]

Main Diwali, Lakshmi Puja (Day 3)

The third day is the main and the most important festive day.[107] It is the last day of the dark fortnight of the lunar month. This is the day when Hindu, Jain and Sikh temples and homes glow in countless little lights, thereby making it the "festival of lights".[108]

The youngsters in the family visit the elders such as grandparents and other senior members of the community. Small business owners give gifts or special bonus payments to their employees between Dhanteras and Diwali.[105][109] Shops either do not open or close early on the main Diwali day to allow everyone to enjoy family time. Shopkeepers and small operations perform puja rituals in their office premises. Unlike some other festivals, the Hindu typically do not fast on Diwali, rather they feast and share the bounties of the season at their workplaces, community centers, temples and homes.[105]

As the evening approaches, people wear new clothes or their best outfits. Teenage girls and women wear saris and jewelry.[110] Then, family members join for the Lakshmi puja at dusk.[110] Some offer prayers to additional deities such as Ganesha, Saraswati, Rama, Lakshmana, Sita, Hanuman, or Kubera.[32] The lamps from the puja ceremony are then used to light up more earthenware lamps, and these are placed in rows along the parapets of temples and houses.[111] Some set diyas adrift on rivers and streams.[8][112][113] After the puja, people go outside and celebrate by lighting up patakhe (fireworks) together and then share a family feast, conversations and mithai (sweets, desserts).[32]

The puja and rituals in the Bengali Hindu community is not around Lakshmi, but focused on the goddess of war Kali.[114][115] According to Rachel Fell McDermott – a scholar of South Asian studies particularly related to Bengal, while the Durga puja is the focus on the Navaratri (Dussehra elsewhere in India) in Bengal, its fitting pair is the focus on goddess Kali puja on Diwali. These two festivals likely developed in tandem over their recent histories, states McDermott.[114] The textual evidence suggests that Bengali Hindus worshipped Lakshmi before the colonial era, and the Kali puja is a more recent phenomenon.[note 10] The contemporary Bengali celebrations mirror those found elsewhere, such as teenaged boys playing with fireworks, festive foods, family bonding and the rest but with the Shaktism goddess Kali as the focus.[116]

The rituals associated in much of India on the main Diwali night centers around Lakshmi. She is welcomed into people's clean homes with lit up paths, midst hopes of a prosperous and happy year ahead.[117] The cleaning, whitewashing or painting the house is in part for goddess Lakshmi, yet it also signifies the ritual "reenactment of the cleansing, purifying action of the monsoon rains" that have concluded in most of the Indian subcontinent.[117] Vaishnava families recite Hindu legends of the victory of good over evil and the return of hope after despair on the Diwali night, where the main characters may include Rama, Krishna, Vamana or one of the avatars of Vishnu – the divine husband of Lakshmi.[117][118] At dusk, lamps placed earlier in the inside and outside of the home are lit up to welcome Lakshmi.[107] Family members light up firecrackers, which some interpret as a way to ward off all that is bad such as evil spirits and the inauspicious, as well as add to the festive mood.[119][120] This ritual, states Pintchman quoting Raghavan, may also be linked to the tradition in some communities of paying respect to ancestors. Earlier in the season's fortnight, some welcome their ancestor's souls to join the entire family for the festivities with the Mahalaya. The Diwali night's lights and firecrackers, in this interpretation, represent a celebratory and symbolic goodbye to the departed ancestral souls.[121]

The celebrations and rituals of the Jains and the Sikhs are similar to those of the Hindus where social and community bonds are renewed. Major temples and homes are decorated with lights, festive foods shared with all, friends and relatives remembered and visited with gifts.[109][84]

Annakut, Padwa, Govardhan puja (Day 4)

The day after Diwali is the first day of the bright fortnight of the luni-solar calendar.[122] It is regionally called as Annakut (heap of grain), Padwa, Goverdhan puja, Bali Pratipada, Bali Padyani, Kartik Shukla Pratipada and other names.[101][122] According to one tradition, the day is rationalized with the story of Bali's defeat by Vishnu.[123][124] In another interpretation, it is considered to reflect the legend of Parvati and her husband Shiva spending time together, playing the game of dyuta (dice) on a board of twelve squares and thirty pieces. Parvati wins and Shiva literally loses his shirt and all adornments to her, and she makes her husband go naked.[122] According to Handelman and Shulman, quotes Pintchman, this legend is a Hindu metaphor for the cosmic process for creation and dissolution of the world through the masculine and feminine, where the twelve reflects the number of months in the cyclic year, while thirty are the number of days in its lunisolar month. The male Shiva reflects the destructive powers, while the female Parvati the procreative powers, each dependent on the other.[122]

Annakut community meals (left), Krishna holding Govardhan ritually made from cow dung, rice and flowers (right).

This day ritually celebrates the love and mutual devotion between the wife and husband.[125] In some Hindu communities, husbands give thoughtful gifts to their spouses. In other regions, parents invite their newly married daughter or son with their spouses to a festive meal and give them gifts.[125]

In some rural communities of the north, west and central regions, the fourth day is celebrated as Govardhan puja. This remembers the legend of Hindu god Krishna saving the cowherd and farming communities from incessant rains and floods triggered by Indra's anger.[125] Krishna does so by lifting the Govardhan mountain, and the ritual practice to build some mountain like miniatures from cow dung.[125] According to Kinsley, this ritual surrounding the traditional cow dung fertilizer is an agricultural motif and a celebration of its significance to annual crop cycles.[96][126][127]

The agricultural motif is also observed on this day by many Hindus as Annakut, literally "mountain of food". The communities prepare over one hundred varieties of meal items from a vast array of ingredients, dedicate it to Krishna before sharing the abundance together. Hindu temples on this day prepare and present "mountains of sweets" to the faithful who throng them for a darshan (visit).[125] In Gujarat, it is the new year day and people buy supplies of essentials such as salt calling it sabras (literally, "good things in life") along with remembering Krishna and visiting temples.[125]

Bhai Duj, Bhaiya Dooj (Day 5)

A sister ritually feeding her brother on Bhai Duj-Diwali (left), a lighted rangoli (right)

The last day of the festival is called Bhai duj (literally "brother's day"[128]) or Bhai tilak. It celebrates the sister-brother bond, in a spirit similar to Raksha Bandhan but where the brother travels to meet the sister and her family. The festive day is interpreted by some to symbolize Yama's sister Yamuna welcoming Yama with a tilaka, by others as the arrival of Krishna to his sister Subhadra's place after defeating Narakasura. Subhadra welcomes him with a tilaka on his forehead.[125][129]

The day ritually emphasizes the love and lifelong bond between siblings. It is a day when women and girls get together, perform a puja with prayers for the well being of their brothers, then return to a ritual of feeding their brothers with their hands and receiving gifts. According to Pintchman, in some Hindu traditions, the women recite tales where sisters protect their brothers from enemies that seek to cause him either bodily or spiritual harm.[129] In historic times, this was a day in autumn when brothers would travel to meet their sisters, or bring over their sister's family to their village homes to celebrate their sister-brother bond with the bounty of seasonal harvests.[32]

The artisan Hindu and Sikh community celebrates the fourth day as the Vishwakarma puja day.[note 11] Vishwakarma is the presiding Hindu deity for all those in the architecture, building, manufacturing, textile work and crafts trade.[17][note 12] The looms, tools of trade, machines and workplaces are cleaned and then prayers offered to these livelihood means.[132]

Other traditions and significance

Diwali season hosts rural and town melas (fairs).[133] A mela in the countryside is where farmers buy and sell produce, artisans offer handicrafts and other products, entertainers offer joy rides and performances in exchange for donations, rural families shop for clothes, utensils and other products. Girls and women dress attractively during the festival. They wear colourful clothing and new jewelry, and their hands are decorated with henna designs. Sikh historical records mention them.[134][note 13] In contemporary times, Indian diasporas in many countries and college campuses organize community cultural events open to everyone and some call these as Diwali mela. These feature music, dance and arts performances, food, crafts and cultural celebrations.[135][136][81]


Diwali marks a major shopping period in India.[12] In terms of consumer purchases and economic activity, it is the equivalent of Christmas holiday season in the West.[137] It is traditionally a time when households purchase new clothing, home refurbishments, gifts, gold and other large purchases. The festival celebrates Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth and prosperity, and investment, spending and purchases are considered auspicious.[138][139] According to Rao, Diwali is one of the major festivals where rural Indians spend a significant portion of their annual income, and is a means for them to renew their relationships and social networks.[140]

Diwali is a peak buying season for gold and jewelry in India.[141][142] It is also a major sweets, candy and fireworks buying season. Producers sold about 2,500 crore (US$360 million) of fireworks in 2013 to merchants for the Diwali season, which was worth about 5,000 crore (US$730 million) at the retail level according to The Times of India.[143][note 14]

ASSOCHAM, a trade organization in India, forecasted that online shopping alone to be over 30,000 crore (US$4.4 billion) over the 2017 Diwali season.[146] About two thirds of the Indian households, forecasted ASSOCHAM, would spend between 5,000 (US$73) and 10,000 (US$150) to observe Diwali in 2017.[147]


Diwali has increasingly attracted cultural exchanges, becoming occasions for politicians and religious leaders worldwide to greet their Hindu or Indian origin citizens, diplomatic staff or neighbors. Many participate in other socio-political events as a symbol of support for diversity and inclusiveness. The Catholic dicastery Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, founded as Secretariat for non-Christians by Pope Paul VI, began sending official greetings and Pope's message to the Hindus on Diwali in the mid-1990s.[148][note 15]

Many governments encourage or sponsor Diwali-related festivities in their jurisdictions. For example, the Singapore's government in association with Hindu Endowment Board of Singapore organizes many cultural events during Diwali every year.[149] National and civic leaders such as Prince Charles have attended Diwali celebrations at some of the UK's prominent Hindu temples, such as the Swaminarayan Temple in Neasden, using the occasion to commend the Hindu community's contributions to British life.[150][151] Since 2009, Diwali has been celebrated every year at 10 Downing Street, the residence of the British Prime Minister.[152]

Diwali was first celebrated in the White House by George W. Bush in 2003 and was given official status by the United States Congress in 2007.[153][154] Barack Obama became the first president to personally attend Diwali at the White House in 2009. On the eve of his first visit to India as the president of United States, Obama released an official statement sharing best wishes with "those celebrating Diwali".[155]

At the international border, every year on Diwali, Indian forces approach Pakistani forces and offer traditional Indian sweets on the occasion of Diwali. The Pakistani soldiers anticipating the gesture, return the goodwill with an assortment of Pakistani sweets.[156][note 16]


Air pollution

The Indian media and newspapers have widely covered autumn and winter air quality issues in Indian cities, with a debate on the role of Diwali fireworks tradition on the air pollution. On 9 October 2017, the Supreme Court of India banned the sale of fireworks in Delhi during the Diwali season, but not their use.[161] The court acted on the belief that banning festive use of fireworks would substantially improve the air quality of Delhi. Critics state that this decision was a judicial overreach and a bias against the Hindu culture, while supporters state it will improve public health.[161]

Scholars state that there are many contributing factors to the poor air quality in Delhi and northern India that accompany the harvest festival of Diwali. According to Jethva and others, the post-monsoon custom is to prepare the crop fields by burning residue stubble with intentional fires between October and November.[162][163] As crop productivity per hectare has increased along with mechanized harvesting, the practice has intensified in the northwestern and northern regions of the Indian subcontinent in the months when Diwali is observed.[162] The seasonable winds carry and colder winds invert and spread this smog over the Gangetic plains for much of the winter. Other sources include the daily vehicular, industrial and biomass burning, state these scholars.[162][163]

According to Shivani and others, the PM2.5 levels in 2015 and 2016 did rise over Diwali in these years, but these higher levels were "a result of contribution from fireworks on the Diwali night, trans-regional movement of pollutants due to crop residue burning, low wind speed, and high humidity". According to them, the differential contribution of Diwali is plausibly a 1.3% increase in non-carcinogenic hazard index from the additional pollutants that the festival fireworks produce.[164] Other studies state that the fireworks of Diwali produce particulates and pollutants with a decay-life of about one day.[note 17]

Burn injuries

There is an increase in burn injuries from fireworks in India during Diwali. A firework called anar (fountain) has been found to cause 65% of the injuries. Adults are the typical victims. Most burns are Group I type burns (minor) requiring outpatient care.[167][168]

Diwali prayers

The prayers vary widely by region of India. An example vedic prayer from Brhadaranyaka Upanishad celebrating lights is:[169][170][171][172]

Asato ma sat gamaya | (असतो मा सद्गमय ।)
Tamaso ma jyotir gamaya | (तमसो मा ज्योतिर्गमय ।)
Mṛtyor ma amṛtam gamaya | (मृत्योर्मा अमृतं गमय ।)
Om shanti shanti shantihi || (ॐ शान्तिः शान्तिः शान्तिः ॥)


From untruth lead us to Truth.
From darkness lead us to Light.
From death lead us to Immortality.
Om Peace, Peace, Peace.

See also


  1. The holiday is known as dipawoli in Assamese: দীপাৱলী, dipaboli or dipali in Bengali: দীপাবলি/দীপালি, divāḷi in Gujarati: દિવાળી, divālī in Hindi: दिवाली, dīpavaḷi in Kannada: ದೀಪಾವಳಿ, Konkani: दिवाळी, Malayalam: ദീപാവലി, Marathi: दिवाळी, dipābali in Odia: ଦିପାବଳୀ, dīvālī in Punjabi: ਦੀਵਾਲੀ, diyārī in Sindhi: दियारी, tīpāvaḷi in Tamil: தீபாவளி, and Telugu: దీపావళి, Galungan in Balinese and Swanti in Nepali: स्वन्ति or tihar in Nepali: तिहार and Thudar Parba in Tulu: ತುಡರ್ ಪರ್ಬ.
  2. Historical records appear inconsistent about the name of the lunar month in which Diwali is observed. One of the earliest reports on this variation was by Wilson in 1847. He explained that though the actual Hindu festival day is the same, it is identified differently in regional calendars because there are two traditions in the Hindu calendar. One tradition starts a new month from the new moon, while the other starts it from the full moon.[41]
  3. According to Audrey Truschke, the Sunni Muslim emperor Aurangzeb did limit "public observation" of many religious holidays such as Hindu Diwali and Holi, but also of Shia observance of Muharram and the Persian holiday of Nauruz. According to Truschke, Aurangzeb did so because he found the festivals "distasteful" and also from "concerns with public safety" lurking in the background.[58] According to Stephen Blake, a part of the reason that led Aurangzeb to ban Diwali was the practice of gambling and drunken celebrations.[57] Truschke states that Aurangzeb did not ban private practices altogether and instead "rescinded taxes previously levied on Hindu festivals" by his Mughal predecessors.[58] John Richards disagrees and states Aurangzeb, in his zeal to revive Islam and introduce strict Sharia in his empire, issued a series of edicts against Hindu festivals and shrines.[59] According to Richards, it was Akbar who abolished the discriminatory taxes on Hindu festivals and pilgrims, and it was Aurangzeb who reinstated the Mughal era discriminatory taxes on festivals and increased other religion-based taxes.[59]
  4. Some Muslims joined the Hindu community in celebrating Diwali in the Mughal era. Illustrative Islamic records, states Stephen Blake, include those of 16th-century Sheikh Ahmad Sirhindi who wrote, "during Diwali.... the ignorant ones amongst Muslims, particularly women, perform the ceremonies... they celebrate it like their own Id and send presents to their daughters and sisters,.... they attach much importance and weight to this season [of Diwali]."[57]
  5. Williams Jones stated that the Bhutachaturdasi Yamaterpanam is dedicated to Yama and ancestral spirits, the Lacshmipuja dipanwita to goddess Lakshmi with invocations to Kubera, the Dyuta pratipat Belipuja to Shiva-Parvati and Bali legends, and the Bhratri dwitiya to Yama-Yamuna legend and the Hindus celebrate the brother-sister relationship on this day.[60] Jones also noted that on the Diwali day, the Hindus had a mock cremation ceremony with "torches and flaming brands" called Ulcadanam, where they said goodbye to their colleagues who had died in war or in a foreign country and had never returned home. The ceremony lit the path of the missing to the mansion of Yama.[60]
  6. Some inscriptions mention the festival of lights in Prakrit terms such as tipa-malai, sara-vilakku and others.
  7. The Sanskrit inscription is in the Grantha script. It is well preserved on the north wall of the second prakara in the Ranganatha temple, Srirangam island, Tamil Nadu.[65]
  8. The Diwali-related inscription is the 4th inscription and it includes the year Vikrama Era 1268 (c. 1211 CE).[68]
  9. Sikhs historically referred to this festival as Diwali. It was in early 20th-century, states Harjot Oberoi – a scholar of Sikh history, when the Khalsa Tract Society triggered by the Singh Sabha Movement sought to establish a Sikh identity distinct from the Hindus and the Muslims.[92] They launched a sustained campaign to discourage Sikhs from participating in Holi and Diwali, renaming the festivals, publishing the seasonal greeting cards in the Gurmukhi language and relinking their religious significance to Sikh historical events.[93] While some of these efforts have had a lasting impact for the Sikh community, the lighting, feasting together, social bonding, sharing and other ritual grammar of Sikh celebrations during the Diwali season are similar to those of the Hindus and Jains.[93]
  10. According to McDermott, while the Durga Puja is the largest Bengali festival and it can be traced to the 16th-century or earlier, the start of Kali puja tradition on Diwali is traceable to no earlier than about the mid-18th-century during the reign of Raja Krishnacandra Ray.[114] The older historic documents of the Bengal confirm that the Bengali Hindus have long celebrated the main Diwali night with illuminations, firecrackers, foods, new account books, Lakshmi (not Kali), inviting their friends (including Europeans during the colonial era) and gambling, states McDermott.[114] The Kali sarbajanin tradition on Diwali, with tantric elements in some locations, grew slowly into a popular Bengali tradition after the mid-1920s.[114]
  11. According to a Government of Himachal Pradesh and India publication, the Vishvakarma puja is observed on the fourth day of Diwali in the Himalayan state.[130]
  12. The Vishwakarma puja day is alternatively observed in other Hindu communities in accordance with the Hindu solar calendar, and this falls in September.[131]
  13. Max Macauliffe, who lived in northwest Punjab area during the colonial era and is known for his work on Sikh literature and history, wrote about Diwali melas to which people visited to buy horses, seek pleasure, pray in nearby Amritsar temples for the prosperity of their children and their souls, and some on "errands, more or less worthy or unworthy character".[134]
  14. A 2017 estimate states 50,000 tons (100 million pounds) of fireworks are exploded annually in India over the Diwali festival.[144] As a comparison, Americans explode 134,000 tons (268 million pounds) of fireworks for the 4th of July celebrations in the United States.[145]
  15. The Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue was founded as Secretariat for non-Christians by Pope Paul VI. It began sending official greetings and message to Muslims in 1967 on Id al-Fitr. About 30 years later, in the mid-1990s the Catholic authorities began sending two additional annual official greetings and message, one to the Hindus on Diwali and the other to the Buddhists on Buddha's birthday.[148]
  16. Diwali was not a public holiday in Pakistan from 1947 to 2016. Diwali along with Holi for Hindus, and Easter for Christians, was adopted as public holiday resolution by Pakistan's parliament in 2016, giving the local governments and public institutions the right to declare Holi as a holiday and grant leave for its minority communities, for the first time.[157][158] Diwali celebrations have been relatively rare in contemporary Pakistan, but observed across religious lines, including by Muslims in cities such as Peshawar.[159]
  17. According to a study done by Barman et al. in Lucknow India, the amount of fine (PM2.5) particulates in the air can worsen following firework celebrations, but not during it. High accumulations of particulates produced from fireworks can remain suspended in the air for around 24 hours after their use.[165] Another study indicated that ground-level ozone pollution is also generated by fireworks; their dispersal and decay times is also about one day.[166]


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