When is Diwali celebrated
Diwali is celebrated every year as per the Hindu calendar between mid-October and mid-November, right around the harvest season. Usually a 5-day festival, the main festivities take place on the night of the new moon, when the sparklers and the oil lamps shine the brightest against the backdrop of the dark night sky.
Insider tip: Be prepared to stay up late if you’re celebrating Diwali in India, as many festivities take place after dark.
What is Diwali about?
People across India, Indian diasporas, and other South Asian countries mark Diwali; however, in a country as diverse as India, festivities and honorees have their own regional variations.
The northern states generally worship Lakshmi, the Goddess of Wealth; and Ganesh, the elephant-headed God of Prosperity. Here, Diwali has been celebrated since ancient times to mark the return of Lord Rama to Ayodhya after the end of his long exile and victory over the demon Ravana. However, in South India, Diwali commemorates the slaying of the demon Narakasur by Lord Krishna. In Goa, giant effigies of the demon Narakasur are paraded before being burnt. Meanwhile, over to the east in Bengal, they worship the mighty goddess Kali, the Destroyer of Evil.
But the one thing which binds all these celebrations together is the intent to dispel evil and darkness by way of light.
Did you know? Diwali is often considered a Hindu festival, but it’s also celebrated by Sikhs and Jains.
How is Diwali celebrated?
The run-up to Diwali
In the countdown to Diwali, taash (playing card) parties are popular, especially among the urban elite in India’s capital, New Delhi; meanwhile, in the financial hub of Mumbai, Diwali parties are all the rage among celebrities, and markets and bazaars are full to bursting with festive shoppers trying to hit upon the best bargain.
Since Diwali also marks the beginning of the New Year in many parts of India—including the state of Gujarat—people typically spring clean their homes, shop for gifts and clothes, and decorate their houses with sparkling electric lights, transforming entire towns and cities across India into twinkling fairy lands.
On Diwali day, families decorate their homes with flower garlands and rangolis (floor decorations made with colored powder), as well as prepare traditional sweets. (Diwali would be incomplete without a treat or two, so don’t skip the Diwali ladoo, made of gram flour and sugar.) Once night falls, candles, diyas, and brass lamps are lit up. Then, after the traditional puja (worship) at home and temple visits, friends and relatives come round for feasting, sweets, and gifts. Children especially look forward to the festival, for the fireworks and the sparklers.
Insider tip: Do buy the handmade clay diyas and candles from the artisans who wait all year long for this festival.
Where to celebrate Diwali in India
Family get-togethers are a major marker of Diwali celebrations, as people typically return home to be with their loved ones. So, to experience Diwali like a local, join a family’s festivities in Delhi, Mumbai, or Jaipur to see first-hand how they celebrate. (And do take a box of Indian sweets or chocolates as a thank you gesture.)
Alternatively, visit the Golden Temple in Amritsar, Punjab for the brilliant fireworks display and innumerable lamps, or witness the ghats and diyas in Varanasi. If you want to experience a community puja, then go to Kolkata in Bengal to see images of the goddess Kali installed in neighborhood pandals (cloth and bamboo structures) across the city.
In Mumbai, the night sky is aglow with paper lanterns called kandeels, while Goa-goers can enjoy the sight of giant effigies paraded on the street. In Chennai, Tamil Nadu, kolam (white rice flour designs) adorn homes and public spaces.
Insider tip: Although there’s technically a ban on any noise-making crackers, be prepared for loud firecrackers on and after Diwali day.