Learning About the Diverse Practices of Diwali


You’ve heard about Christmas and the seemingly endless amount of traditions that go hand-in-hand with other popular religious holidays, but have you learned about the socio-political impacts of the Diwali season? Did you ever learn about the economic impact of Lohri? Let’s get out of the loop of Eurocentrism and learn about some diverse practices of Diwali. Pronounced Di-vali not DI-WALL-E!


North Indian Diwali

In North India, the celebrations start with Dusshera. Dusshera celebrates the victory of Rama (a human avatar of Lord Vishnu) over Ravana. The most popular Diwali traditions link the arrival of Rama, Sita, Lakshman, and Hanuman (as pictured on the right) to their hometown (Ayodhya). Their arrival was celebrated with Diya’s, hence the practice of lighting Diya’s around homes; they symbolize the clearing of the human soul of negative traits. Some practices within North India include celebrating Dhanteras (the first day of Diwali celebrations), cleaning/decorating your house, pujas (prayers) for gods, and gifting sweets. Like most of India, North Indians also light fireworks during the evening. 

South Indian Diwali

In South India, Diwali celebrates the triumph of Lord Krishna (a Human avatar of Lord Vishnu) over the evil leader King Naraka. The celebration parallels other regions’ symbolism of the victory of good over evil. Preparations for Diwali include cleaning your house and decorating it with patterns known as Kolam ( a colorful rice flour design). Diwali celebrations start in the morning where followers apply Ubtan (mix of water and kumkum) then break a raw fruit (the fruit symbolizes the head of Naraka). Some South Indians also welcome the God of wealth and prosperity: Lakshmi, with special prayers. Familiar with most of India, South Indians also light fireworks in the evening.

Jain Diwali (Written by Riya Shah)

The day after Diwali, Besthu Varash or New Year celebrates the Keval Gnan or enlightenment of Mahavira’s chief disciple, Gautama. Gautama had such an intense emotional bond with his teacher that he was blocked from attaining true knowledge because of his attachment. However, when Mahavira attained Keval Gnan and was no longer in the mortal realm, Gautama realized his faults and attained on Diwali, Jains recite hymns and light lamps called Deepaks to celebrate the victory of knowledge over darkness. Like other members of the Dharmic religion, Jain’s also decorate their homes and communities with lights and Diyas but avoid Fireworks to avoid harm to nature.

Sikh Diwali

Members of Sikhism celebrate Bandi Chhor Diwas (translates to Day of Liberation); this holiday celebrates the liberation of the Guru Hargobind Ji (along with 52 kings) released from the Mughal Emperor Jahangir. The holiday is typically observed in the fall (it does not always fall on the same date as Hindu Diwali). Some celebrations include decorating homes and Gurdwaras (Sikh places of worship), community processional hymns, and meals at the local Gurdwara’s Langar (Sikh community kitchen).