Diwali: India’s Festival of Lights

Diwali: India’s Festival of Lights

Diwali is a popular festival to Hindus known to symbolize light over the darkness / Photo by Khokarahman via Wikimedia Commons

 

Diwali is India’s most important and biggest holiday of the year. The festival’s name comes from the Sanskrit (Indian language) words "dipa" and "āvali." The first word means light, lantern, lamp, or candle that glows or shines while the second word means a series, a continuous line, range, or a row. Combine the two together and it means “a row of light.” 

According to the National Geographic, Diwali is one of the most popular festivals to Hindus, comparable to how Christians view and celebrate Christmas.

Symbol of Light Defeating Darkness

The reason why Indians are turning on lights outside their homes is because it symbolizes light over darkness or a representation of the inner light that protects them from spiritual darkness. Over the years, the national festival has been enjoyed by most Indians coming from different faiths, such as Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, and Hindus, although they have different interpretations of the occasion depending on their belief:

The battle between Lord Rama and Ravana

Those in northern India believe that the festival marks the celebration of their King Rama’s return to the Ayodhya City after he defeated the demon king Ravana by lighting clay lamps. This story explains the struggle between the good and the evil and the moral and the ethical. 

The Krishna story

Those in southern India, on the other hand, believe that Diwali is a celebration of the day that Lord Krishna, the eighth avatar of the god Vishnu, defeated the demon called Narakasura. 

Lord Vishnu sending the demon out

For western India, their belief is that Diwali marks the day that Lord Vishnu sent King Bali to the netherworld. In Hinduism, Lord Vishnu is one of the main gods in the Hindu trinity and is known as the protector and preserver of the universe while King Bali is a demon.

All of these beliefs, however, share a single theme: victory of good over the evil, which the Diwali festival signifies.

 

Diwali festival may have many meanings but it still share the single theme: victory of good over the evil / Photo by Siddarth Varanasi via Wikimedia Commons

 

Breaking Record: 300,000 Lamps Lit

The Diwali festival in India this year happened last November 7. As published by The New York Times, the country was able to set a world record by lighting a total of 300,000 oil lamps simultaneously for more than five minutes. Not just the locals participated in the event as thousands of visitors also took part in the activity of lighting up the lamps. The flickering lamps glowed in the Sarayu River, which is of ancient significance and considered sacred among those who practice Hinduism.

 

Creating the Diyas

The lamps are called “diyas” in India. These are usually made of clay with cotton dipped in ghee or oil and placed right at the center of the Indian art form rangolis. To create the diyas the traditional way, Indians often form the clay and bake it in the oven. There are also craft shops in the country that provide ready-made versions of these lamps. Some choose to use dough and other household items to make it simpler. The ingredients include wheat flour, food coloring, water, oil, and wicks or old string or cotton fabric.

To create the lamp, simply put the flour, food coloring, and water in a bowl. Mix them together and knead it to the size of the diyas of your choice. Pinch in one side because this is where the cotton fabric will be placed. Then, bake it in the oven for 20 minutes or until it becomes hard. Allow it to cool before you start decorating it with sequins or beads. Add oil and your diya is now ready to light.

During the recent Diwali festival in India, thousands of volunteers lit the diyas and placed them near the river and the city squares. Guinness World Records representatives handed the local officials a plaque after the country successfully set a new world record for the largest number of oil lamps lighted simultaneously.

 

The Diwali Festival Food

Diwali is a five-day celebration that is not just about oil lamps but of food as well. In fact, it hosts one of the most interesting food options for everyone’s enjoyment.

Culinary travel blog Bacon is Magic highlighted some of the Diwali festival food, which included the following:

Mithai - This is the sweet treat that is said to define India. This is usually made with fresh milk, spice, and nuts. Some are coated with edible silver or gold. Aside from serving it during Diwali, people also share and make mithai to celebrate personal milestones, such as having a baby.

Samosa - It is a traditional Indian snack, normally shaped into a triangle. Samosa is stuffed with lentils and other vegetables, peas, and minced meat.

Chirote - This festival food is a flaky and light dessert pastry, usually stuffed with a sugary filling and is deep fried.

Karanji - Pastry pockets filled with grated coconut, poppy seeds, cardamom, nuts, and sugar. It can be cooked with the same shape as empanadas but may take some time to prepare.

Mawa - It is a thick, dried milk product stuffed with nuts, mawa, and cardamom sugar. Syrup is added to serve.