Diwali 2017: When is it and how is it celebrated?

Loulla-Mae Eleftheriou-Smith

Diwali, the festival of lights, sees millions attend firework displays, prayers and celebratory events across the world every autumn.

Celebrated by Hindus, Sikhs and Jains for a variety of reasons, the main theme is the triumph of light over darkness and good over evil.

Here we take a look at one of the most significant festivals in Indian culture.

What is Diwali?

Also known as Deepavali, a Sanskrit word meaning “rows of lighted lamps”, it is one of the most popular Hindu festivals celebrated across South Asia. But it is also celebrated by Jains and Sikhs.

The festival of lights that celebrates the victory of light over darkness, good over evil and knowledge over ignorance.

It sees millions of earthenware oil lamps, called diyas, light up people’s homes, shops, public spaces and places of worship as part of celebrations which marks the start of the Hindu new year.

When is it celebrated?

Diwali falls between October and November, but the exact date changes each year as it is marked by the Hindu lunar calendar.

It lasts five days in total, with the festival of lights falling on the third days of celebrations, which is marked on the 15th day of the Hindu month Kartik.

This year that falls on 19 October.

Mayor of London Sadiq Khan lights a ceremonial candle at the Diwali Festival at Trafalgar Square in London (AP)

What are the different legends being celebrated?

For many Hindus, Diwali celebrates the return of the deities Rama and his wife Sita to Ayodhya, an ancient Indian city believed to be the lord’s birthplace, following a 14-year period in exile and a battle fought by Rama and his army against the demon Ravana.

The demon had kidnapped Sita and Rama travelled along with Hanuman, the deity in the form of a monkey-man, to rescue her and kill the evil demons - as depicted in the epic "Ramayana".

Their victorious return home was celebrated by lighting the kingdom with lamps.

Diwali also celebrates the goddess of wealth and prosperity, Lakshmi. Some believes it falls on her birthday and the day she married Lord Vishnu.

Many in India leave their windows and doors open and light lamps to allow Lakshmi to find her way into their homes.

Dancers perform a traditional Indian dance during the Diwali festival of light celebrations, in Trafalgar Square (Reuters)

Many Sikhs celebrate the release of the sixth guru Hargobind Singh and 52 other princes from prison in 1619.

However Sikh celebrations for Diwali stretch further back than this date.

For Jains, it is a celebration of their Tirthankara, or spiritual leader, specifically their 24th of the current age, Tirthankar Mahavira, reached Moksha - the release from the death and rebirth cycle into infinite bliss and knowledge.

Fireworks fill the sky during the Diwali lights switch on in Leicester (Reuters)

How is it celebrated?

Diwali is part of a five day festival that is celebrated with music, lights, fireworks and sharing traditional sweets.

Many people prepare for the festival by cleaning and decorating their homes, and on the night of celebrations wear new clothes and take part in family puja, or prayers to Lakshmi.

Rangoli artwork – patterns and designs made from coloured powders, ground rice powders and flowers – are displayed, commonly depicting a lotus leaf.

Celebrations held across the UK included an annual festival in London’s Trafalgar Square presented by Mayor of London Sadiq Khan.

This had a programme of music and dance performances with traditional food available and activities such as yoga and henna.

Leicester’s celebrations, which are understood to be one of the biggest outside of India, saw 40,000 people turn up to watch the annual Diwali lights switch-on, with music and dancing held on the city’s Golden Mile.

It ended with a firework display.

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