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Diwali the festival of lights

Diwali is an ancient festival celebrated by Hindus, Sikhs and Jains all over the world. The festival gets its name from the Sanskit word Deepavali, which translates to ‘row of lights,’ referring to the small earthenware lamps (divas) that those celebrating the festival, light as a symbol of the inner light that protects us from spiritual darkness.

The origins of Diwali can be traced back to ancient India, when it was most likely to have been an important harvest festival, marking the last harvest of the year before the winter months. Nowadays there may be many different interpretations of the origins depending on the faith and culture of those celebrating. However the common links are it represents the universal message of good over evil, of truth over falsehood and of light shining in the dark of the year.

It is traditionally a time for exchanging gifts, friendship, peace, and goodwill to all. Diwali is celebrated with family gatherings which can include activities such as giving gifts, lighting fireworks, sharing food (normally vegetarian) and sweets and religious worship. At this festive time of year, homes, businesses and public places are decorated, often with flowers and rangoli patterns, and small oil lamps are placed in windows, doors and outside buildings as a reminder of the spiritual significance of the festival, the search for inner light.

For Hindus Diwali represents the start of the New Year. It honours the victory of good over evil, and brightness over darkness. It also marks the start of winter. Diwali is most commonly associated with the story of Rama and his wife Sita and their return from exile to their kingdom of Ayodhya, following Rama and Hanumans victory over the demon king Ravana of Sri Lanka, and rescue of Sita from his evil clutches. To help guide Rama and Sita home, people lit oil lamps so they could find their way in the night. Diwali is celebrated on Amavasa, the 15th day of the dark fortnight (new moon) of the Hindu month Kartika. Kartika falls at the end of October to the start of November.

Hindus traditionally celebrate Diwali over 5 days, and each day has a different meaning.

Day 1 – Lakshmi pooja: homes are cleansed and decorated with lamps, mango leaves and marigold on the first day of celebration to welcome the Goddess Lakshmi who provides prosperity. Gifts are given in the family.
Day 2 – Naraka Chatrudashi: on this day, there is focus on abolishing evil and the Goddess Kali is worshipped.
Day 3 – Diwali Day: this is the end of the Hindu year and is celebrated by lighting lamps in the home and firework displays.
Day 4 – Nutan Varsh: this day is the start of the Hindu New Year.
Day 5 – Bhai bij or the Teeka Ceremony: this day is important to Hindus as it celebrates the relationship between brothers and sisters.

People seek blessings at Diwali from Lakshmi, the Goddess of wealth and prosperity, and Lord Ganesha, the remover of obstacles.

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