Diwali Lamps Trafalgar Square London
Diwali lamps at London’s Trafalgar Square. Taken from Flickr account of user “everheardofaspacebar” via CC 2.0 Attribution License.

In case you haven’t heard, today marks the start of Diwali, an important festival throughout a large portion of southern and central Asia, as well as its diaspora. Nicknamed “the festival of lights,” Diwali is a national holiday in many countries, including India, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Guyana, Fiji, and several other countries. It is an important religious holiday for Hindus, Sikhs, and Jains alike, as well as many of my friends; here in New York City, there are no small number of Indians.

My selfish reason for writing articles such as this one is to learn about the subject myself. I’ve heard of Diwali before, but didn’t understand more than it involving lights and more lights. This time, I want to erase my ignorance of this holiday, since I have no excuse not to know at least a bit about it, and so I researched the holiday and am writing down what I learned in the form of this article.

Diwali, for many Hindus, marks the start of their New Year, and is considered to be the most important holiday of the year to many. According to National Geographic, “The festival gets its name from the row (avali) of clay lamps (or deepa) that Indians light outside their homes to symbolize the inner light that protects us from spiritual darkness. India was an agricultural society where people would seek the divine blessing of Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth, as they closed their accounting books and prayed for success at the outset of a new financial year. Today, this practice extends to businesses all over the Indian subcontinent, which mark the day after Diwali as the first day of the new financial year.”

Indians today usually celebrate with gatherings of friends and family, lighting clay lamps, fireworks displays, and many other light showings. Some of my friends here in New York City dress up in traditional garb and go out to dinner.

Diwali ki Shubhkamnayein! (to my Hindi-speaking friends)

Deepavali Aashamsagal! (to my Malayalam-speaking friends)

Subha Dipawali ko mangalmaya subha kaamanaa! (to my Nepalese-speaking friends)

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