More about Diwali

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This page is dedicated to the questions about Diwali the browsers have asked me.

Although these answers have come from my experiences living in India and celebrating for two years the great festival of Diwali with Hindu families, I have not grown up celebrating Diwali, nor have I directly undertaken any puja for Diwali, hence if any Hindu reading this wants to make changes or comments please contact me. I am more than happy to make changes.

What is the meaning of Diwali or Deepawali?
Diwali is the common term used throughout India to denote this holy- day, but people in South India commonly use the word, Deepawali.
Diwali comes from the Sanskrit "Deepawali"-Deepa meaning light, wali meaning row, hence row of lights. Or as otherwise known, festival of lights. People will light 'diyas' or lights of oil, or oil lamps. This is done by using a small brass plates or tiered plates as a lamp and putting oil or ghee (clarified butter) in the plates and putting wick and burning it. Here you can see some pictures of different types of Indian oil lamps. People will light these every morning for puja, and keep lit all day and night through out Diwali.

How do people celebrate Diwali in India?
Diwali is the greatest festival. It is celebrated all over India, except by a majority of Malayalees (persons from the state of Kerala). That is because Malayalees celebrate Onam. That is a different festival special to Kerala state. People ready themselves for Diwali sometimes months in advance. The firecrackers (not big ones like westerners see for new years, etc, but small hand held types) begin a month in advance, and nearer to Diwali it is not even possible to think or walk outside without them being burst. (In fact one Diwali when I went to my friends house, a cracker was thrown on the road near to us, hence, it is usually unadvisable to go out on this night, due to these problems.) Diwali is like Christmas for westerners. Diwali means celebration. The pujas (prayers) go on for a week or more, but due to modern times, only one to two days is given for holiday for Diwali.

What can I do for my Indian friends to show my appreciation and celebrate Diwali with them?
In India, a common practice is to buy new clothes and present them on Diwali to the person you are giving them to. It doesn't have to be "Indian" clothes, it can be whatever the person likes. It doesn't need to be wrapped. If you want to present it in a holy way, dab your finger in turmeric and place this on the corners of the folds of the garment. It may stain, so it is usually placed on bottom hems. If presenting the gift to elderly Indians, it is a good idea to bend down on your knees and touch their feet with your hands. In addition, offer the gift in the right hand with left hand on the bottom or do not use the left hand. Usually, Indians in US won't take offense to the use of the left hand, since they know the customs here, but in India that is not always the case. Other nice offerings on Diwali are sweets, jewelry, or other household fabrics like towels, linens or blankets.

In India, Diwali is very commercialized, people spend lots of money on buying new dresses, saris, salvaar kamiz, pavada davani (skirt and top), lengha, dhotis, kurta pajama, etc for the girls and boys, men and women. People even buy new gifts for the newlyweds. Diwali is traditionally a time that the newlyweds come to their inlaws, in particular the newlyweds go to the bride's family home to collect gifts, including relatively inexpensive gifts from sweets and clothes to very expensive gifts like gold, cars and even land and property.

What are some religious aspects of Diwali?
Though I understand that Diwali is celebrated differently in different parts of India, traditions can span all over India. It is generalized that people in South India usually take oil baths in the morning. Puja in South India is more associated with Laksmi, while in North India Puja is more associated with Ram (to have returned to Ayodhya) or with Goddess Kali. However, on Diwali day, families wake up at 4am all over India.

However, there is one tradition which is special to the state of West Bengal (Calcutta is in this state), they have special pujas for Kali. It is even said that in these pujas they use fish. Using of non-vegetarian food in pujas is taboo, but as fish is a very integral part of Bengalis diet and life, it is used in some special puja.

I would love to include personal diaries of your experience of Diwali. You can be from any walk of life celebrating Diwali in the most religious way, to the most popular of ways or even as an outsider experiencing Diwali. Experiences from all countries and backgrounds will be appreciated.

Click here if you are interested in contributing your articles.

Links to other Diwali Information:

  • Diwali Cards
  • Diwali Greetings
  • Diwali 2001 Celebrations as witnessed by the Webmaster
  • Diwali Food and Tiffens
  • Diwali Gifts NEW August 2007
  • Diwali Sweets
  • Happy Diwali at The Holiday
  • Try the Lakshmi Aarti Aarti is like PUJA or worship, done with incense (to bottom right) flowers and oil lamp or fire (bottom left). You can drag and click these items. The bell is at top right. Bells are used while praying to 'get the attention' of God. You can first put the light or oil lamp in front of Lakshmi by circling clockwise three times. Then click on the flower to release flowers on Lakshmi. Then ring the bell. This can be done before or after the 'puja'. IN Temples, it is especially important to give reverence and pray while the light is lit in front of God. After the puja, the light is offered to devotees. To take from the light, put fingertips over the flame and put that to eyes any odd number of times.
  • Site Author: Jennifer Jayanthi Kumar

    This page has been visited times since October 2001. Updated December 2005, August 2007.
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