In Depth

When is Diwali 2019 and what’s it all about?

India and the Indian diaspora start Diwali celebrations this weekend

On Sunday, thousands of British Hindus will celebrate Diwali - a time for food, festivities and fireworks. 

Leicester will again assume its annual role as host to some of the best Diwali celebrations, which are known for being “the biggest outside of India”, says the Leicester Mercury

Every year thousands of people of different faiths join together to celebrate the religious festival in the city.

The “Golden Mile” in the city centre is currently awash with bright colours and illuminations since the annual Diwali lights switch-on.

Each year the festival includes a number of free music, dance and theatre performances, craft activities, cultural talks and exhibitions.

Primarily a Hindu festival, Diwali is also celebrated by Sikhs and Jains, making it the most-observed holiday in India and among the Indian diaspora. In all, more than a billion people celebrate the festival of lights, including a million in the UK.

Here is The Week’s guide to when Diwali kicks off, what to expect and why Hindus celebrate by decorating their homes with candles and exchanging gifts at this time of year.

When is Diwali 2019?

In 2019, the five days of Diwali festivities begin on Friday. 

Each day of the festival has its own meaning and associated celebration, says the Daily Express.

The first day of Diwali, Dhanteras, is dedicated to prosperity. The following day is Naraka Chaturdasi, which commemorates the story of Lord Krishna and the Goddess Kali destroying the demon Narakasura.

The third day of Diwali is Amavasya or Lakshmi Puja, celebrating the Goddess Lakshmi. The festival of lights is observed on this day, the 15th day of Kartik according to the Hindi calendar.

The fourth day, Padwa, or Govardhan Puja, celebrates the connection between husband and wife.

The fifth and final day of Diwali is Bhai Dooj and celebrates sibling bonds.

What’s it all about?

Diwali, also called Deepavali in some Indian languages, translates literally as “row of lamps” and is a celebration of the victory of good over evil, light over dark and knowledge over ignorance.

In Hindu tradition, the festival has associations with many religious texts. Different regions of India associate Diwali with different tales from Hindu scripture, such as the return of Rama after 14 years in exile, the birth of Lakshmi (the goddess of prosperity), or legends surrounding the god Krishna.

How Diwali is celebrated

Diwali is a public holiday in India, and in some other countries with large Hindu populations, including Nepal, Sri Lanka, Singapore and Fiji. The first two days of the holiday are given over to intensive preparations for the climactic third night. Homes are carefully scrubbed, renovated and decorated for the festival, while the women of the family may paint their hands with henna patterns and make traditional sweets. Many Hindus draw colourful rangoli – traditional decorative patterns made with rice flour, often in the shape of lotus flowers – outside their homes.

On the main night of Diwali, families dress up in their best clothes and light small painted earthenware lanterns half-filled with oil outside their houses. These are left overnight so that Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth, can find her way safely into their homes. It is said that the more lamps a family lights, the more easily Lakshmi will be able to find her way to their home. It is also a time for eating sweets and exchanging gifts with friends and family – even on the tense India-Pakistan border, soldiers from the opposing countries share sweets to mark the event.

Modern celebrations incorporate bright electric lights and fireworks, and lots of them – India's Diwali illuminations can be seen from space.

A good time to invest

Diwali is regarded as an auspicious time to make money, and nothing symbolises this better than Muhurat trading, a special one-hour trading session that coincides with Diwali and marks the end of the old financial year and a positive beginning to the new one. Stock-brokers decorate their offices with Diwali decorations in anticipation of the session, which many celebrants use as an opportunity to buy small amounts of stock for their children. Although most transactions during the yearly ritual consist of token amounts, many people consider these Diwali investments to be lucky. Newspapers often publish stock tips to coincide with the festival.

What is eaten at Diwali?

Diwali is as much a festival of food as of light. Each Indian region has its own customs, but most involve specific dishes for each phase of the celebrations. About a month before the festival, Hindu women of the older generation will gather in each other's kitchens to start planning and preparing the important Diwali snacks and sweets.

Traditionally, little Indian sweetmeats known as mithai are eaten both with meals and between them throughout the five days. They are a cross between a snack, a dessert and a sweet – and, according to Sejal Sukhadwala of The Guardian, they are the “one thing that captures the Indian culinary psyche”.

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