Diwali is one of the most beautiful and joyous times in the Indian calendar, filled with love and rejoicing. It is a time of new beginnings, a festival of light, abundance, and fulfillment as well as a celebration of good over evil and wisdom over ignorance, which can be enjoyed by everyone, everywhere. The word Diwali means “row of lights,” so it is known as the Festival of Lights.
For Indians, Diwali (sometimes called Deepavali) marks a time for clearing out the old to make room for the new, a time for assessing strengths and weaknesses. Homes and offices are thoroughly cleaned, but it is also a time for inner reflection and cleansing. Diwali is when we should all look into our hearts and minds and ask, “What cleaning needs to be done here?” Just as we sweep out the dark corners of our homes, we, too, should be made spotless and a dwelling place fit for the Divine. This is a time to let go of old grudges, anger, and judgments—making room for compassion, forgiveness, and love.
Mythologically, Diwali commemorates the victorious return of Lord Rama (the archetypal ideal human and an incarnation of Vishnu) and his brother Lakshmana, from their 14-year exile. With the help of Lord Hanuman, the Divine monkey (who represents the energies of discipline, selfless devotion, and a perfect karma yogi), Rama rescued his wife Sita from the demon-king Ravana and Rama returned to his kingdom of Ayodhya (a city in Northern India). In joyous celebration of the return of their king, the people of Ayodhya illuminated the entire kingdom with lamps. (The full story of Rama’s life and exploits is depicted in the Indian epic, the Ramayana).
Diwali is also a time for welcoming Lakshmi Devi—the goddess of abundance, purity, grace, and beauty—into your home and life. Lakshmi embodies all the qualities that make life full and rich and, at this time, is asked to lavish her blessings of prosperity on all aspects of your life. She is asked to take you from poverty consciousness to wealth consciousness, the wealth to preserve and sustain life. You request that she endow you with the glow of Truth that shines from your eyes and the bright sparkle of love that blooms in your heart. You ask to be blessed with the spiritual success that leads to enlightenment.
During the festival of Diwali, it is customary to decorate your home with lights. This represents the light to dispel the darkness of ignorance. A home filled with light is a home where fear, anger, and pain are dispelled—replaced by a home where love, peace, and beauty will be honored to enter. It is also a time for introspection, to contemplate and dispel your darkness and any personal demons. Ultimately, though, the light of Diwali represents the light that shines from within your heart, your Divine radiance that can be shared—bringing a brightness to illumine with the world during the coming year.
Although mostly celebrated on one main day, Diwali is actually five days long, with each day having a different meaning and focus. The five-day celebration is observed every year in early autumn after the conclusion of the summer harvest and coincides with the new moon, the darkest night of the Hindu month Kartika (falling between mid-October and mid-November). The festivities begin two days before this and extend two days after. In the lead-up to Diwali, people prepare by cleaning, renovating, and decorating their homes and workplaces.
The Five Days of Diwali
Day 1: The first day is dedicated to celebrating wealth. People traditionally buy gold and new kitchen utensils on this day. Homes are cleaned and readied to welcome Lakshmi, the goddess of prosperity. Mythology also marks this as the day the Goddess Lakshmi was born or rose up from the churning of the cosmic ocean of milk. It is a day when people also get together to play cards and gamble.
Day 2: The second day is sometimes called choti or Little Diwali. On this day, rangoli, beautiful patterns made using colorful powders and flowers, are created in doorways and courtyards of homes to welcome the gods and bring good luck. Lord Krishna and the Goddess Kali are believed to have destroyed the demon Narakasura and freed 16,000 captive princesses on this day; effigies of demons are sometimes burned in celebration.
Day 3: The third day is the main day of celebration. Another myth says that this is the night when Lakshmi and Vishnu were married. On this day, you also remember Ganesh, the elephant-headed son of Parvati and Shiva, who symbolizes ethical beginnings and the remover of obstacles. Small images of Lakshmi and Ganesh are sold in the markets to be honored during this day. While Lakshmi represents the Vishnu lineage, Ganesh represents the Shiva lineage. Honoring them both means you activate these archetypal energies within yourself. In the oldest part of the Ashram to which I belong, the Shree Satuwa Baba Ashram in Varanasi, there is a small shrine dedicated to Sri Lakshmi, which is only open once a year on this night of Diwali. A special puja ceremony is performed with many oil lamps, which are then placed all over the Ashram.
During the day it is customary for the younger members in a family to visit their elders, such as grandparents and other senior members of the community. Temples, homes, shops, and office buildings are brightly illuminated with small clay oil lamps or candles. People dress in their finest clothes; women wear saris and gold jewelry. At dusk, families gather in their homes to perform ceremonies to invite the blessings of Lakshmi. Afterward, people light fireworks and enjoy family feasts, where sweets and gifts are shared.
Day 4: On the fourth day, merchants open fresh accounts for the New Year and offer prayers for success.
Day 5: The fifth and last day is dedicated to celebrating siblings. Brothers and sisters get together and share food to honor the bond between them.
Celebrating Diwali in Your Home
You can choose to celebrate all the festival days and prepare your home and yourself to receive the blessings of Diwali or, like many people, you can focus on celebrating the main day.
Light is a metaphor for knowledge and consciousness. Lighting an external lamp is a reflection of lighting the eternal Light within you. Diwali is a time to let go of attachments to the worldly things that no longer serve you and transmute them into the Light of Pure Consciousness. When you feed this Light with Love and Devotion any darkness in your life will be quickly dispelled, bringing peace, harmony, and joy. During this time, also express gratitude for all the gifts your spiritual practices have already brought you. Be grateful for your teachers and loved ones. Diwali is a time for expressing Truth and forgiveness so that the Divine flame of your Spirit—your inner Divinity—shines forth.
If you have pictures or images of Lakshmi and Ganesh, light a small candle or oil lamp in front of them, perhaps some incense. Offer any blessings or intentions of your making. Activate your energies of abundance and transformation by chanting or listening to Lakshmi and Ganesh mantras. If you choose, then light other candles from this first light to place safely around, and/or in front of, your home. Spreading light in this way is representative of the lamp of your heart radiating Pure Light to the world. Sit and meditate silently for a few minutes. Be aware or imagine the Divine Light permeating all your chakras and your whole Being.
Imagine that Light as a halo surrounding the whole planet, as you rest in Pure Consciousness.
Then enjoy the celebration. Unlike many other Indian festivals, Diwali is a time for feasting rather than fasting!
You can use any Ganesh or Lakshmi mantras you enjoy or here are two simple ones:
OM GAM GANAPATAYAI NAMAHA
OM SHRIM MAHALAKSHMIYAI NAMAHA
In 2019 the five days of Diwali begin on October 25; however, the main day is October 27. For future years, please search the Internet for Diwali.
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