Deepawali or Diwali, the most pan-Indian of all Hindu festivals, is a festival of lights symbolising the victory of righteousness and the lifting of spiritual darkness. The word ‘Deepawali’ literally means rows of diyas (clay lamps). A family festival, it is celebrated 20 days after Dussehra, on the 13th day of the dark fortnight of the month of Asvin (October-November).
Continuing the story of Rama, this festival commemorates Lord Rama’s return to his kingdom Ayodhya after completing his 14-year exile. Twinkling oil lamps or diyas light up every home and firework displays are common all across the country. The Goddess Lakshmi (consort of Vishnu), who is the symbol of wealth and prosperity, is also worshipped on this day.
This festive occasion also marks the beginning of the Hindu New Year and Lord Ganesha, the elephant-headed god, the symbol of auspiciousness and wisdom, is also worshipped in most Hindu homes on this day.
Another view is that Deepawali is meant to celebrate the destruction of the arrogant tyrant Bali at the hands of Vishnu when the latter appeared in his Vamana (dwarf) avatar. The occasion of Deepawali sees the spring-cleaning and whitewashing of houses; decorative designs or rangolis are painted on floors and walls. New clothes are bought and family members and relatives gather together to offer prayers, distribute sweets and to light up their homes. In West Bengal, the Deepawali festival is celebrated as Kali Puja and Kali, Shiva’s consort, is worshipped on this day.