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Diwali: The Festival of Lights

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Diwali: The Festival of Lights

On November 7, the Diwali festival will begin, which will last for five days in most of the countries that celebrate it, such as in India, Nepal, Thailand, Sri Lanka, Malaysia, Singapore or the Fiji Islands. This festival corresponds to the Hindu New Year and, in a more spiritual and religious sense, marks the triumph of good over evil.

Diwali is also popularly known as “The Festival of Lights” because it is celebrated by lighting a multitude of candles and different lights to celebrate the triumph of good over evil, although there are different stories behind this triumph depending on the area or beliefs, such as the return of the god Rama after 14 years of exile or the murder of Nakasura, a deity considered demonic.

Although it is the best known, Diwali is not only celebrated in India, but many other countries host this holiday, such as Nepal, Thailand, Sri Lanka, Malaysia, Singapore or the Fiji Islands. In each of the places is known with a different name and have different features in its celebration, although the most basic is present in each home.

As it is celebrated?

In India it is known as Diwali or Deepavali, depending on whether we are in the north or in the south respectively. The main difference is that the first lasts five days and the second four, although they are basically celebrated in the same way.

During the celebration the diyas are lit, which are small clay lamps with oil inside, and they explode firecrackers and fireworks to scare away the evil spirits. This represents the triumph of good over evil, of light in the face of darkness. These lights are kept on all night and the houses are specially cleaned, in order to satisfy the goddess Lakshmi.

One of the stories that Diwali relates to explains why it is traditional to light the diyas. Legend has it that the inhabitants of Aiodhia, a small city in northern India, filled the walls and the roofs of diyas so that the god Rama could find them on his return from exile, after defeating Ravana, king of the demons.

In the Indian Diwali it is also customary to make compositions with candles and flowers that float on the water and throw paper boats or lights at the sacred rivers, it is believed that the farther you go, the more luck you will have in the new year.

In Nepal this festival is known as Tihar and lasts five days, each dedicated to the worship of a nature being.

The first three days serve to venerate the crow, the dogs and the cows respectively. On the day of the crow, offerings with food, candles or coins are placed on the roofs to keep the animals happy and avoid their croaking, which is believed to allude to death. During the other two, dogs and cows are worshiped by offering flower and tikas necklaces and feeding them in a special way.

The third day also honors Laxmi, goddess of health and fortune. It is usual for women to interpret the Bhailo during the night and the Deusi men in exchange for offerings, such as money or food.

The celebration of the fourth day varies according to each belief: some revere the ox, others cow dung and others dedicate the day to venerate their own body. It is traditional for mothers to make a mandala for each member of the family. This is the day that marks the new year and therefore a great banquet is held.

The last day of the celebration is dedicated to love between brothers and sisters. It is the most special and during the day the sisters offer a tika to the brothers, which is placed on the forehead and is composed of seven colors. Afterwards, he splashes it with oil and he gives him gifts and a flower necklace that he also receives.

In Thailand this festival is known as Lam Kriyongh and the only difference with India or Nepal is that the diyas are made with banana leaves as a base, placing inside a candle, a coin and incense. Then they throw themselves into the river, just like in India, with the belief that the farther they get, the more luck they will have in the coming year.

In Malaysia, where it is known as Hari Diwali, it is celebrated by all ethnic groups and religions. Although firecrackers are banned in this country, people gather in houses to hold large banquets and light diyas. It is typical that children are given purple packs or, sometimes, yellow with money inside.

Do we celebrate Diwali?

The first thing that must be taken into account is that this celebration coincides every year with a different day, since it is governed by the lunar calendar, although it is usually placed between October and November in our calendar.

Different recipes are usually cooked to celebrate Diwali. Two of the easiest to do are the Sel Roti, which the sisters offer their brothers in Nepal, and the Karanji, from India. Both are fried but sweet dishes, the first in the form of a donut and the second as if it were a dumpling filled with coconut.

To celebrate the Hindu New Year we will also have to make diyas and floral sets with candles and draw the rangoli on the floor of the entrance to welcome the gods.

We only have to get a deck of cards, because during the celebration it is very typical to play cards because the goddess Laxmi, the one of fortune, has been venerated; and dress with bright colors to welcome the Hindu New Year.

So now I just need to say: Happy Diwali!

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