Diwali, the festival of light, is celebrated by millions of South Asians around the world. A cultural and religious holiday, there are no special clothes worn for Diwali. The important aspect of participants' attire is that the clothing is new. In addition to new clothes, depending on the celebrants' beliefs, Diwali may include worship, foods, music and dance, lights and fireworks. It is held after the harvest on the darkest night of the Hindu lunisolar calendar, which is between mid-October and mid-November.
The Meaning of Diwali
The meaning of Diwali varies according to the region and faith system of the celebrants. The celebration represents the victory of light, knowledge and good over the banes of humanity – darkness, ignorance and evil. Elements that are nearly universal include putting on new clothes, making special holiday foods and sweets, decorating the home, giving gifts, using small clay oil lamps to light the night and enjoying fireworks during the five-day festival.
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Hindus, Jains, Sikhs and some Buddhists celebrate Diwali. It symbolizes the victory and return of Hindu deities Rama and Sita after a 14-year exile from Ayodhya, while Jains believe that it is the day that Lord Mahavira achieved nirvana. For Sikhs, it also represents the victory of when Guru Hargolind left prison in 1619 accompanied by all 52 princes imprisoned by Emperor Jahangir. In addition, some Buddhists worship Lakshmi during Diwali, and others hold festivals at the same time to commemorate events in Buddha's life.
Special Clothes Worn on Diwali
While special clothes aren't needed for Diwali, participants in the festival put on new clothing as part of the celebration. Dressing in your best clothing, from traditional to formal, is part of the celebration. Men might put on contemporary styled kurtas and dhotis, while women often wear silk, chiffon or velvet saris along with cigarette pants or ankle-length skirts called lehngas with matching cholis or bodices, gowns or other traditional attire depending on the culture and faith. Many garments are heavily embroidered.
Dancers may put on matching outfits for performances. Children, siblings and other relatives may also wear coordinated outfits in the same fabrics.
While the clothing is new, when putting on jewelry to complete the outfit, it can be heirloom or new pieces, ranging from costume to gold to priceless jewels. Put on your favorites and enjoy the festival.
Traditions of Diwali
Diwali often entails housecleaning, cooking and gift-giving. Many who celebrate Diwali travel to family celebrations, where the floors of the home are decorated with elaborate and traditional "rangoli" designs made of colored sand, rice and flower petals. The small clay oil lamps are arranged along walkways and parapets and placed in waterways to drift along and light the night. The doors and windows of the home are left open to allow blessings, luck and wealth to enter.
Food is an important element of Diwali. Depending on the individual and family, the dishes may or may not be vegetarian, such as butter chicken, vegetable or chicken biryani, samosas or aloo tikki accompanied by rice, lentils or naan breads. Halwas are sweet or savory treats available in shops or made at home before the festival begins. Milk-based sweet treats to share include spiced fried gram balls called ladoos, dumplings called gulab jamun and rice puddings.
Other traditions include purchasing metal kitchen utensils or appliances before the main festival, which is the third day of the five-day celebration. The morning after, on the fourth day, the tools of work are praised and venerated. In addition, many celebrants give gifts and money to the less fortunate.
- University of the Incarnate Word: Join Us for the UIW Diwali Celebration
- Stony Brook University: Diwali Festival of Lights and Cultural Culinary Celebration
- NPR: Here's How India Is Celebrating Diwali
- BBC Good Food: What Is Diwali and How Is It Celebrated?
- Newsweek: See How Diwali is Celebrated Around The World