Diwali is known as the Festival of Lights and comes from the Sanskrit word, Dipawali, which literally means “row of lights.” Dipas or diyas are the small clay oil lamps that are lit especially for this occasion. Diwali is celebrated by Hindus, Jains, and Sikhs around the world to mark the beginning of the new year according to the Indian lunar calendar, and falls on the darkest night of the year, usually in late October or early November.
The festival is widely associated with the Hindu goddess Lakshmi, who symbolizes prosperity and good fortune, but regional and religious traditions honor a range of different deities. In northern India, people believe that Diwali has its origins in the ancient Sanskrit epic, the Ramayana, marking the return home of the hero Rama after 14 years of exile and harrowing trials in the forest. According to the story, the entire kingdom is lit with thousands of lamps in honor of Rama’s return, symbolizing the victory of good over evil, and the light of wisdom over the darkness of ignorance.
On the days leading up to Diwali, homes are cleaned, new clothes are purchased, special foods are prepared, home altars are set up and family and friends gather to pray, chant, and meditate, followed by fireworks and a big feast. On the evening of Diwali, oil lamps, candles, and lanterns are lit and placed on windowsills, entryways, and rooftops, bringing blessings for a successful and prosperous new year to all who live there.
We invite you to learn more about Diwali and participate in the celebration using the resources provided below. How will you celebrate the Festival of Lights this year?
The museum celebrates cultures from across Asia all year long. Learn more about our other Cultural Celebrations.