As we adjust to dark evenings, India is preparing for one of the most important dates on the Hindu calendar – the five-day Festival of Light. Diwali celebrates the triumph of good over evil, and light over dark.
There are numerous Hindu legends related to Diwali. In the north, they celebrate Lord Rama and Sita returning to Ayodhya, after 14 years in exile and a battle against the demon king Ravana. In the south, they celebrate the day that Lord Krishna defeated the demon Naakasura.
It also welcomes the Hindu New Year, a time to throw out old items and purchase new ones. Colourful flower garlands are hung in the entrances of every building, and houses in rural Rajasthan are decorated with intricate Mandana paintings. Women have beautiful henna designs painted on their hands. Drivers buy new flowers to decorate their trucks. And Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth, fortune and prosperity, is welcomed into each home with a ritual which includes clay oil lamps and offerings of rice, fruits and Diwali sweets.
It is also a time to celebrate family. Loved ones gather for great feasts and to give gifts. Samosas, pakora, Bombay mix, dried fruit and sweets made of thickened milk, spices and nuts are popular treats. Out on the streets, people gather to enjoy great fireworks displays. You can hear firecrackers set off on the streets long before sunset, in a bid to scare away evil spirits.
Diwali festivities in India
Jaipur is a city of bright lights and shopping, particularly around Diwali. Look out for special Diwali treats and head to the popular Johari Bazaar to join women purchasing jewellery for the celebrations. This is particularly fun at night, when the markets are ablaze with colourful lights as they compete in the annual ‘best dressed’ competition.
21 October 2019 departure of India’s Golden Triangle with Ranthambore coincides with Diwali
Udaipur looks particularly pretty during Diwali, when the streets are filled with lights and the skies are filled with fireworks, which glow in the city’s lakes. Be sure to visit the City Palace after dark – of all the buildings draped in lights for Diwali, this one stands out.
24 October 2019 departure of Splendours of India coincides with Diwali
In Delhi, there are many ways to celebrate Diwali. Shopping is essential, and several markets are set up for the occasion, including the Blind School Diwali Mela, and Sunder Nagar, which combines shopping with a giant Ferris wheel ride and magic shows. Taash parties are a popular way of testing your faith in Goddess Lakshmi by gambling a few rupees. Many living rooms and lawns are turned into casinos – you might spot people in their traditional finery at tables set for card and counter games.
17 October 2019 solo departure of In the Foothills of the Himalaya coincides with Diwali
Diwali is considered a Hindu festival, yet Amritsar, a largely Sikh city, embraces the occasion with gusto. For Sikhs, it is a time to celebrate the release of Guru Hargobind Sahib from prison in 1619. Each year, grand Sikh temples are draped in lights and the sky is filled with fireworks. The Golden Temple is particularly impressive, but you may find yourself amongst tens of thousands of devotees taking part in one of India’s largest celebrations.
Varanasi is India’s sacred heart, and the place to aim for to experience the most spiritual Diwali. Hindu legend says that water falls to earth through Lord Shiva’s hair and forms the Ganges River, described as ‘a light amid the darkness of ignorance’. Religious ceremonies are held daily along its banks, but they are particularly spectacular for Diwali, when Varanasi’s ghats glow with lamps and echo with the clang of cymbals and rhythmic chants of pandits (Hindu priests). If your visit happens to be 15 days later, don’t fret – grand celebrations are laid on here for Dev Diwali, the night Hindu gods come down to bathe in the Ganges under the full moon.