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Diwali, also called Deepavali, is a major Indian festival that is very significant in Hinduism, Sikhism, and Jainism. Known as the "Festival of Lights," it symbolises the victory of good over evil, and lamps are lit as a sign of celebration and hope for humankind. Celebrations focus on lights and lamps, particularly traditional dīpa or deeya (earthen lamp, as illustrated). Fireworks are associated with the festival. Diwali is a colloquial name used in North India, while the festival is formally called Deepavali in South India.

Diwali is celebrated for three consecutive days at the end of Hindu month of Ashwayuja. It usually occurs in October/November, and is one of the most popular and eagerly awaited festivals in India. Diwali comes exactly twenty days after Dussehra. Hindus and Sikhs alike regard it as a celebration of life and use the occasion to strengthen family and social relationships. For Hindus it is one of the most important festivals, and beginning of the year in some Hindu calendars. There are several beliefs regarding the origin of the holiday. The most repeated version is that Hindus celebrate Diwali to mark the time when Lord Rama achieved victory over Ravana. Some also view it as the day Krishna defeated the demon Narakasura or in honor of the day Bali went to rule the nether-world, obeying the order of Vishnu. It is also a significant festival for the Sikh faith. In India, Diwali is now considered to be more of a national festival, and the aesthetic aspect of the festival is enjoyed by most Indians regardless of faith.

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While Deepavali is popularly known as the "festival of lights", the most significant esoteric meaning is "the awareness of the inner light".

Central to Hindu philosophy, is the assertion that there is something beyond the physical body and mind which is pure, infinite, and eternal, called the Atman. Just as we celebrate the birth of our physical being, Deepavali is the celebration of this Inner Light, in particular the knowing of which outshines all darkness (removes all obstacles and dispels all ignorance), awakening the individual to one's true nature, not as the body, but as the unchanging, infinite, immanent and transcendent reality. With the realization of the Atman, comes universal compassion, love, and the awareness of the oneness of all things (higher knowledge). This brings Ananda (Inner Joy or Peace).

Deepavali celebrates this through festive fireworks, lights, flowers, sharing sweets, and worship. While the story behind Deepavali varies from region to region, the essence is the same - to rejoice in the Inner Light (Atman) or the underlying reality of all things (Brahman).

Diwali is an annual stimulus for the Indian economy. Indians purchase gold, gifts, decorations, crackers (fireworks) and household appliances during this festival and many Indian films (Bollywood, Tollywood, Kollywood, etc.) are released during this period. Companies offer huge discounts during the Diwali season to attract customers, which helps the economy and also helps the poor. Food distributed as acts of charity during community festivities also helps the underprivileged. Diwali also brings tourists to the country. Schools in India are closed during this festival, and many young people have the free time and the money to spend on luxury items. Also, people buy new clothes to wear during Diwali.

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The festival marks the victory of good over evil. The Sanskrit word Deepavali means an array of lights that stands for victory of brightness over darkness. As the knowledge of Sanskrit diminished, the name was popularly modified to Diwali, especially in northern India. In South India, Diwali does not coincide with the beginning of a new year as South Indians follow a different calendar, the Shalivahana calendar.

On the day of Diwali, many wear new clothes, share sweets and snacks. Some North Indian business communities start their financial year on Diwali and new account books are opened on this day.

Hindus find cause to celebrate this festival for different reasons:

  • It commemorates the killing of Narakasura, an evil demon who created havoc, by Lord Krishna's wife Satyabhama. This happened in the Dwapara Yuga during this time of Lord Krishna's avatar. In another version, the demon was killed by Lord Krishna himself. Before Narakasura's death, he requested a boon from his mother, Satyabhama (believed to be an Avatar of Bhudevi - Narakasura' mother), that everyone should celebrate his death with colorful light.
  • According to the Skanda Purana, the goddess Shakti observed 21 days of austerity starting from ashtami of shukla paksha (eighth day of the waxing period of moon) to get half of the body of Lord Shiva. This vrata (austerity) is known as kedhara vrata. Deepavali is the completion day of this austerity. This is the day Lord Shiva accepted Shakti into the left half of the form and appeared as Ardhanarishvara. The ardent devotees observe this 21 days vrata by making a kalasha with 21 threads on it and 21 types of offerings for 35 days. The final day is celebrated as kedhara gauri vrata.
  • Diwali also celebrates the return of Lord Rama, King of Ayodhya, with his wife Sita and brother Lakshmana to Ayodhya from a war in which he killed the demon king Ravana. It is believed that the people lit oil lamps along the way to light their path in the darkness. This is the reason, why the festival is celebrated a day earlier in South India since Lord Rama travelled from the south to his kingdom in the north. In North India, the festival is held on the final day of the Vikram calendar. The following day marks the beginning of the North Indian new year, and is called Annakut.
  • Govardhan Puja is celebrated the day after Diwali. It is the day Lord Krishna defeated Indra, the deity of thunder and rain. As per the story, Krishna saw huge preparations for the annual offering to Lord Indra and questions his father Nanda about it. Why was this necessary? Why should human beings offer anything to some unknown being in the sky? He debated with the villagers about what their 'dharma' truly was. They were farmers, they should do their duty and concentrate on farming and protection of their cattle. He continued to say that all human beings should merely do their 'karma', to the best of their ability and not pray for natural phenomenon. The villagers were convinced by Krishna, and did not proceed with the special puja (prayer). Indra was then angered, and flooded the village. Krishna then lifted Mt Govardhan and held it up as protection to his people and cattle from the rain. Indra finally accepted defeat and recognized Krishna as supreme. This aspect of Krishna's life is mostly glossed over - but it actually set up the basis of the 'karma' philosophy later detailed in the Bhagavat Gita.
  • In Bhavishyottara and Brahma Vaivarta Purana, Diwali is associated with the Daitya king Bali, who is allowed to return to earth once a year. However in Kerala this is the reason 'Onam' is celebrated. 'Onam' festival falls around the month of August-September.
Diwali