Deepavali (otherwise known as Diwali) is the festival of lights. Deepa means “light,” and Aavali means “a row of.” Diwali is celebrated over five days and is one of the most famous Hindu festivals.  

This year, Diwali will be celebrated on Thursday, November 4 and Fishers Resident Mala Murthy explains the festival and shares with us how she and her family celebrate!  

a family standing together and smiling

Diwali is a major Hindu holiday widely celebrated over five days primarily in India and South Asia. It is a celebration of the victory of good over evil, inner light over spiritual darkness, and knowledge over ignorance. Diwali is a time for gathering with loved ones, celebrating life, and committing to doing good deeds in life.  

Like many Hindu holidays, Diwali is set by the lunar calendar, so the actual date varies from year to year, however it typically falls between October and November. The festival showcases the true essence of “unity in diversity,” as every state in India celebrates it in its own unique way. The rituals and customs associated with celebrating Diwali vary based on the regional traditions of India and the cultural customs that are popular in those areas.   

a husband and wife holding a diya
a brother and sister holding diyas

“Coming from a traditional south Indian family, we start the day with an elaborate ritualistic shower, using a special oil mix and applying it on our head & body, it is believed to take away all negativities and bring good health. Wearing new clothes is also another holiday tradition” explained Mala. “We offer special prayers to Goddess Lakshmi, the bestower of health and prosperity. We decorate our house with flower garlands, lights, and colorful rangoli designs and also light many Diyas (earthen oil lamps or candles) and place them in a row inside and outside the house,” she shared. 

On the first evening after the new moon, a special pooja/offering is done to King Bali, who is believed to visit to make sure all his people are living a happy life. “We invite friends and extended family and share special sweets and delicacies, as the next day of Deepavali is a celebration of the bond between brother and sister (it is called Bhai Dhuj)” she said.  

lights and candles displayed in a dark room

Families make a variety of sweet and savory dishes. The most common dish is Payasam (sweet pudding) made from rice, milk and jaggery (brown sugar), saffron, cardamom, and sprinkled with ghee roasted cashews, almonds and raisins. Other sweets include Jalebi, Jamoon, Peda, Baadusha, Burfi, Laddu, and more! 

Exchanging gifts is also a very important aspect of this day. In India, they light fireworks after sunset. It is also the time where they come together as a community to help those in need through food and clothing donation campaigns (Sewa Diwali).   

“Diwali is a time to rejoice in our blessings. It is the time to reflect upon what we have learned and what we would like to be in the coming year. It is also the time to think beyond our own families and work together for the greater good of the community and help those in need as a Sewa (selfless service)” said Mala.