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Annenberg School of Communication and Journalism University of Southern California

Start Of Diwali Celebration

What is Diwali? A breakdown of this important Hindu festival.

Diwali, also known as the Festival of Lights, is one of the most important holidays for Hindus and Indians of several other religions, and it is fast approaching. The first day of this five-day festival is Nov. 9, but the most significant day of the festival is the third, which falls on Nov. 11.

Diwali has dual significance for Hindus; it is a festival that celebrates both history and religion. On the historical side, Diwali celebrates the return from exile of a crown prince, Lord Rama, as well as his defeat of a very powerful demon, Ravana. Religiously, Diwali honors Lakshmi, the Hindu goddess of wealth and prosperity.

The name “Festival of Lights” comes from the religious worship of Lakshmi. People light diyas, small oil lamps, and keep them all around the house. Most households will also leave all lights on throughout the night. This is supposed to light the way for the goddess Lakshmi to enter and bless the house. Some people will even draw footprints into the house to signify the goddess coming inside.

The lights everywhere make for bright decoration, but many people will also draw rangoli outside their houses as well as in front of the idols of gods to add color. Rangoli is made by using colored sand to draw a pattern. Patterns range from simple, using only a few colors, to very complex and detailed.

Gulab jamun
Gulab jamun
The real trademark of Diwali, however, is the food. The festival serves as something of an excuse to cook up a feast of Indian food, often including several dishes that are not part of the everyday diet. Some of the best food is mithai, or Indian sweets. There are dozens of sweets, varying by region and religion, but one of the most common is gulab jamun. These are small balls of dough, fried and served in a sugary syrup. Another common sweet is called jalebi, fried dough shaped like spirals and coated in a sticky sweet orange sauce.

The overall air surrounding Diwali is very festive. This is a holiday meant for people to have fun. For many people, this is a time to throw large parties, get together with all of their friends and extended family, eat delicious food and dance through the night. Happy Diwali!

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