What is Diwali?

Every year in October or November, Hindus around the world celebrate the five-day festival of lights known as Diwali.

In India, Diwali is one of the largest holidays that honors a time to celebrate the triumph of light over darkness, knowledge over ignorance, and good over evil. Diwali is widely observed by over one billion people in India of different faiths and its diaspora, the five days of Diwali are highlighted by fireworks, prayers, feast, family gatherings, and charitable giving.

The dates of the festival are determined by the Hindu lunar calendar, which marks each month by the time it takes the moon to orbit the Earth. Diwali begins just before the arrival of a new moon between the Hindu months of Asvina and Kartika which typically falls in October or November of the Gregorian calendar. This year it begins on October 22, with the most important date falling on October 24.

While Diwali is celebrated by Hindus, it is also widely celebrated among Jains, Sikhs, and Buddhists and there is no single story of origin. Each religion within the diaspora has its own historical narrative behind the holiday but they are all rooted in the victory of good over evil. In addition, legends of origin differ depending on the region in India. For example, in North India, Diwali commemorates Prince Rama’s triumphant return to the city of Ayodhya after 14 years of exile due to the plotting of his evil stepmother—and after a heroic rescue of his wife Sita, an incarnation of the goddess Lakshmi, who had been kidnapped by the rival king Ravana.

Meanwhile in South India, Diwali celebrates the victory of Lord Krishna over the demon king Narakasura, who had imprisoned 16,000 women in his palace and administered hard punishments to any of his subjects who dared stand up against him. And in West India, the festival celebrates Vishnu’s banishment of King Bali—whose immense power had become a threat to the gods—to the underworld.

Those that celebrate in America, bring the same tradition of prayers, family gatherings, and charitable giving, and hope that the next generation of Indian Americans will have enough connection to Diwali that they’ll continue observing it when they get older.