Diwali - Hindu Festival of Lights
Each year in October and November, Indian people who are followers of the Hindu religion celebrate the festival of Diwali by decorating their homes with hundreds of little lamps called divas.
The word Diwali is a contraction of deepavali - which literally means "cluster of lights" or "row of lamps" and the festival symbolises the triumph of light over darkness.
Diwali is one of the most ancient Hindu festivals in India where it is a national holiday and celebrated by Indian people all over the world. Diwali is celebrated for five days where the third day is celebrated as the main Diwali festival or the Festival of lights.
This is an old festival and there are several different stories about its origin. There are many people believe that the festival began in the times of the great Hindu epic legend, the Ramayan.
Rama, the hero of the story was a prince who was unjustly banished from his father's kingdom. After fourteen years he finally returned home to become king and the people were so overjoyed that they lit lamps everywhere to welcome him.
Other people believe that at Diwali the souls of their ancestors return to take part in the festival and that oil lamps are lit to guide them back to the other world.
According to one of the Hindu calendars used in the north of India, Diwali marks the beginning of the new year and at this time shopkeepers generally close their accounts, place their books before a picture of Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth and pray to her for better profits in the coming year.
Legend tells that, Lakshmi was born in the ocean. when she was born lots of treasures came out of the ocean, so she is the goddess of wealth and good fortune.
Hindus believe that a Diwali visit from Lakshmi will bring them luck and wealth in the year to come.
Lakshimi is the Hindu deity most closely associated with Diwali and it is customary to pay one's debt and pray to her during the festival. Images of the goddess are often carried through the streets in processions.
On the night of the Diwali festival, Indian towns and cities are full of colour and light, since the shops are all decorated and lamps are lit in the streets and temples, as well as in homes. Often bottles of coloured water are placed in front of the lamps to give them a coloured glow.
The festival of Diwali is not complete without exchanging gifts of sweets and visiting relatives. Hindus love sweet desserts such as rice puddings or cheese balls in a sweet syrup called rassogolla. Hindus believe that gifts of sweets encourage people to think sweet things about them.