Diwali, India’s festival of light: When, why and how it is celebrated

Diwali, India’s festival of light: When, why and how it is celebrated

Every year around October and November, skies across the UK are filled with fireworks as celebrations take place.

Diwali is a five-day festival of lights and a celebration of the triumph of good over evil, and it’s just weeks away.

There are a variety of events taking place in London this year. In Trafalgar Square on Sunday, October 29, a festival of lights will take place. You can expect different stall holders, including Barfi Bites, Sahaja Yoga and Suresh Street Food. There will also be dance workshops, a children’s area and comedy from Soho Theatre.

There is also an event at the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich on Saturday, November 11, where you can expect the sights, sounds, tastes and smells of Diwali.

And on Ealing Road in Wembley, there will be a whole host of performers, DJs and dancers as well as kids rides and food stalls - on Sunday, October 29.

Find out everything you need to know about why and how Diwali is celebrated.

When is Diwali celebrated this year?

The festival usually occurs between October and November, though the date changes every year. This year (2023), Diwali is taking place on Sunday, November 12.

The dates are determined by the position of the new moon. It is celebrated during the Hindu lunisolar month Kartika.

For 2024, Diwali should take place around Thursday, October 31.

Who celebrates Diwali and why do people celebrate it?

Originating in India, Diwali is celebrated across the world by Hindus, Sikhs, and Jains, but for different reasons.

The Hindus celebrate the return of Lord Rama – an avatar of the Hindu supreme god Lord Vishnu – with his wife and brother to the Kingdom of Ayodhya after an exile of 14 years.

The streets and towns are lit up with diwas (candles) to welcome them home.

Diwali is celebtraed by Hindus, Sikhs and Jains (Victoria Jones/PA)
Diwali is celebtraed by Hindus, Sikhs and Jains (Victoria Jones/PA)

In South India, Diwali is the day on which demon Narakasura was defeated by Sri Krishna and Satyabhama.

To others, Diwali is dedicated to the Goddess Lakshmi, who is believed to bring wealth and prosperity.

In many households, the celebrations include a puja (worship) of the Goddess to pray for health and happiness.

Sikhs, meanwhile, celebrate the release from prison of the sixth guru Hargobind Singh in the early 1600s.

The Jains celebrate Diwali as Lord Mahavira, the last Jain Tirthankaras, achieved Nirvana.

Diwali celebrations in UK cities have become probably the largest outside India, according to the British Sikh Association.

“Diwali is celebrated at the residence of the Prime Minister 10 Downing Street, at the House of Commons, with cross-party Parliamentarians joining in the celebrations as we are today,” a spokesperson of the association told the PA news agency.

“Diwali at Trafalgar Square is attended by thousands of people, including tourists visiting the capital who are mesmerised to see the colourful pageant of music, dance and food.”

What do people do to celebrate? 

Diwali is “probably best experienced in India”, though celebrations are seen widely across the globe, according to the Hindu Council UK.

 (PA Archive)
(PA Archive)

A spokesperson for the organisation said: “In London in particular, Diwali has become a mega-event to celebrate the culture and traditions of India. From live music to dance shows and much more. London really goes for it.

“It’s a family-friendly event with lots of activities going on including music and dance performances, workshops and some kids activities. And there’s a huge array of Indian food to sample from all the food stalls and a massive firework display to end the festival.

“In India, houses are cleaned, often renovated, and always illuminated with sparkling fairy lights and oil lamps. Most doorways and foyers are decorated with beautiful designs on the floor, called rangolis.

“Children wait at the sweet shops to buy sweets, excited youngsters light up the skies with their repertoire of carefully sourced firecrackers and shout ‘Happy Diwali’ to the unsuspecting passers-by.”

Gifts of clothes and sweets are also exchanged between people, with markets and stalls selling items months before the festival takes place.