On Sunday 12 November, more than a billion people all over the world will celebrate Diwali, the most important festival of the year in India as well as for the many south Asians who live abroad.
In the UK, there are an estimated 1.45 million Indians, 1.17 million Pakistanis, 451,500 Bangladeshis, and thousands of other South Asians, including people from Sri Lanka, Nepal, Bhutan and the Maldives, as well as third-generation Asians and Asians of mixed parentage.
For this diverse group of people, Diwali is a big celebration that involves reunions with family and friends, firework displays, feasting together and prayer. While it is largely known as a Hindu festival, it is also celebrated across other religions including Sikhism, Jainism, and Buddhism.
Here’s everything you need to know about Diwali traditions and food as the festivities commence.
What is Diwali?
Diwali is known as the “festival of lights” and symbolises the spiritual “victory of light over darkness, good over evil, and knowledge over ignorance”. It dates back more than 2,500 years and is mentioned in a number of ancient texts.
The word “Diwali” comes from the word “Deepavali”, which translates to “a row of lights”. According to tradition, those who celebrate will light rows of clay oil lamps outside their homes. The festival often also includes firework displays, adding light, colour and excitement to the celebration.
Diwali usually takes place between October and November, with the date changing every year according to the Hindu lunar calendar. Celebrations usually last for five days, with the main festivities taking place on the third day.
What are some Diwali traditions?
Each region of India has its own unique way of celebrating Diwali, but all of them include plenty of lights and fireworks, feasting on good food, wearing new, fine clothes, and praying.
Some common traditions include:
This is an art form that involves creating colourful, elaborate patterns on the floor or other flat surfaces using materials like powdered lime stone, coloured sand, red ochre, flower petals, and coloured rocks. Different designs have various meanings, and can include geometric shapes, depictions of deities, or flower shapes.
Some households may perform an oil bath ritual at the start of the day of Diwali. According to Indian Express, this signifies “a spiritual cleansing of the body and soul”. Sesame oil is usually used for the bath, which is accompanied by prayers and blessings.
Cleaning and decorating
Most people will use the days leading up to Diwali to clean their homes and redecorate in preparation for the celebration. It is believed that having a clean, brightly lit home will attract positive energy, with plenty of fresh flowers and leaves used in traditional decorating.
Traditionally, Indian sweetmeats - called mithai - are eaten throughout the festival. These are made from ingredients like chickpea flour, semolina, grains like lentils, carrots, condensed milk and yoghurt, with all types of nuts and dried fruit added for extra texture and flavour. They also often include spices like cardamom, nutmeg, cinnamon and cloves, or saffron, rose and pandan leaf water.
Traditional Indian music may be performed at Diwali celebrations, featuring instruments like the nadaswaram, thavil, dholak, sitar and tambura. These performances are sometimes accompanied by traditional dances.
Diwali greetings and wishes
Sending your friends and family wishes for Diwali isn’t difficult, as a simple “Happy Diwali” is a welcome greeting. You can spruce it up by adding sweet messages like, “Sending love and light this Diwali!” or “Wishing you and your family a bright, happy Diwali!”.
Ultimately, Diwali is all about spreading positivity and light, so feel free to tailor your messages to reflect this sentiment.
Watch: Digital creator shares why her family deep-cleans their home before Diwali
Read more about Diwali:
Diwali: A celebration of the goddess Lakshmi, and her promise of prosperity and good fortune (The Conversation, 3-min read)
Things to do for Diwali in London: Five ways across town to celebrate the festival of light (Evening Standard, 4-min read)
Diwali 2023: 31 pictures of colourful parade and celebrations in Northampton (Northampton Chronicle, 3-min read)