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India Aglow

Millions celebrate Diwali, the annual festival of lights

By Tyrus Cukavac

Diwali means "row of lamps" in Sanskrit, a language used in a number of Indian religions. Image credit Rafiq Maqbool /AP Images

For the past four days, the streets of India have been brightly lit and full of festivities. Millions of people around the country have been celebrating the annual festival of Diwali (dih-WAH-lee).

Diwali has been celebrated in India for hundreds of years. It occurs each year in either October or November. Although the holiday technically lasts only one night—this year October 23—people continue to celebrate for several days.


People light clay oil lamps and set off firecrackers during the festival to symbolize the triumph of good over evil. In the tradition of the Hindu religion, the lamps are meant to celebrate the victory of the Hindu god Rama over a demon called Ravana. The holiday also celebrates the start of a new year in the Hindu calendar.

But Diwali is an important festival in many other Indian religions as well, including Sikhism and Jainism. In a country of more than 1.2 billion people and diverse religious beliefs, Diwali is a celebration that touches virtually everyone.

Diwali means “row of lamps” in Sanskrit, a language used in many Indian religions. During the festival, families and friends gather together to light the oil lamps, which are called diyas. Then they put the lamps in rows outside their homes and temples.


As in other cultures’ winter holidays, sweets and gifts are also a big part of Diwali. Neighbors and friends share treats, called mithai, and exchange presents.

Employers often use the holiday to express appreciation for their workers. This year, a businessman who runs a diamond-exporting company even bought cars and houses for some of his employees!


The Diwali spirit can be felt outside India as well. Indians in countries around the world, including the U.S. and Canada, are also celebrating the holiday this week.

Several non-Indian world leaders have sent out Diwali messages. “I was proud to host the first Diwali celebration at the White House back in 2009,” U.S. President Barack Obama said in a video message. “Michelle and I will never forget the wonderful time we had celebrating Diwali in Mumbai with food, dancing, and the company of friends.”

The recently elected prime minister of India, Narendra Modi, sent out his own Diwali greetings on Facebook. “May our lives be illuminated with joy and peace,” he wrote. “May the lamp of prosperity be lit among the poor.”




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