Diwali (also spelled Divali) is one of the most important events on the Indian calendar. Known as the “festival of lights”, Diwali is a tribute to the triumph of light over darkness, and good over evil.
Despite being a largely Hindu festival, Diwali is also celebrated by Sikhs and Jains meaning that a vast proportion of the Indian population gets involved.
Tourists in India during Diwali are treated to 5 days of traditional celebrations. It is a fantastic opportunity to witness Indian customs first hand and to join the locals as they mark this special annual event.
The information below explains the background of Diwali and what visitors can expect if they travel to India during this time. Foreigners can also find out how to apply for the Indian visa necessary to travel to the country and enjoy Diwali.
The History behind Diwali
The name Diwali originates from the Sanskrit word Deepavali which means “row of lighted lamps”.
It is so-called because of the many diyas (small oil lamps) which are used to decorate properties and public spaces. For this reason, Diwali is also referred to as the festival of lights.
Diwali is surrounded by mythology. As it is celebrated by people of different religions there is no single answer to the question of why and when Diwali began. Instead, religious groups each offer their own explanation for who started Diwali and why.
What does Diwali mean to Hindus?
For Hindus, Diwali marks the return of the god Rama to his kingdom along with his wife and brother following 14 years in exile.
The story goes that diyas (the aforementioned clay lamps) were used to guide Rama and his family home.
Another important feature of the Hindu version of Diwali is the worshipping of Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth, fortune, and prosperity.
Why do Sikhs celebrate Diwali?
Diwali is important to followers of Sikhism because it coincides with Bandi Chhor Divas, a holiday to commemorate Hargobind Ji’s release from prison in 1619.
For Sikhs, this is a celebration of freedom. The Sikh Guru had been imprisoned for taking a stand against the oppression of the Indian people by Emperor Jahangir’s regime.
Diwali Celebrations and Traditions
Although people across India have diverse reasons for honoring Diwali, there are a number of common traditions and customs which are used to mark the occasion.
A key consideration is that of cleanliness and rejuvenation. Homes are cleaned thoroughly in preparation for the festivities.
For Hindus, it is also the start of the new year and therefore an opportunity to remove negativity and encourage good fortune for the 12 months to come.
The Diwali festival is celebrated across 5 days
Diwali lasts for 5 days, each day involves different rituals and activities.
Day 1: Dhanteras
During the first day of Diwali, known as Dhanteras, homes are cleaned and people shop for decorative household items at special Diwali markets.
Day 2: Choti Diwali
On the second day of the festival, Choti Diwali, properties are decorated with lights and rangoli, intricate flower patterns in doorways made from petals, colored rice, or flour. Diwali sweets are purchased or prepared.
Day 3: Diwali
The main day of the festival is day 3, Diwali. People visit their families and enjoy feasts. Diyas are lit in the evening and the skies are filled with fireworks and lights. The goddess Lakshmi is worshipped on this day too.
Tourists should be aware that most businesses, including restaurants, remain closed.
Day 4: Padwa
Padwa, (also known as Govardhan Puja and Bali Pratipada) the fourth day of Diwali, is a celebration of the love shared between a husband and wife and marked by the giving and receiving of gifts.
Day 5: Bhai Duj
The fifth and final day of Diwali is Bhai Duj. A special ceremony is held on Bhai Duj to pay tribute to the bond between brothers and sisters.
What food is eaten during Diwali?
Sweets are the food most associated with Diwali, making it fun if traveling to India with children. Diwali sweets are either bought or made at home and gifted to family and friends.
Tourists can sample a wide variety of Indian treats that are sold at markets and shops across the country. Some favored delicacies are:
- Jalebi: a spiral-shaped crispy sweet
- Rasgulla: made with curdled milk and sugar syrup
- Besan Ladoo: a combination of chickpeas, sugar, ghee, and nuts
- Burfi: an Indian fudge made from milk
Traditional savory snacks such as samosas and pakoras are also widely eaten during Diwali.
When Is Diwali 2020?
Based on the lunar calendar, the date of Diwali changes each year. The festival generally falls between October and November, Diwali 2019 began on 27th October.
Diwali 2020 begins on Thursday 12th November ending on Monday, 16th November.
What is the weather like in India in November?
Given that Diwali takes place between October and November, it is important to take appropriate clothing for the season.
Fortunately, this is considered to be the best time of year to visit India, avoiding both the hottest summer months and the monsoon season.
Travelers in India in November can expect pleasant average temperatures of around 74 ºF (23 ºC) and little rainfall.
Warm clothing such as jumpers and jackets should be packed for the evening, especially when enjoying the Diwali fireworks and lights.
Visiting India During Diwali
Despite being enjoyed by Hindus, Sikhs, and Jains across the world, the best place to experience Diwali is in India. Diwali is a great time to visit India, thanks to the pleasant weather conditions and jovial atmosphere.
Some of the best places in India for tourists to spend Diwali are:
Wherever a foreigner chooses to spend Diwali, they should check the Indian visa requirements before making arrangements.
Citizens of over 100 nations can request an India eVisa. The application is quick and efficient, the process is fully online with no need to present paperwork in person.
As the tourist e-visa is valid for 90 to 180 days, foreigners visiting India for the festival can make the most of their trip by exploring other areas of the country.
Electronic visa requests are reviewed within 4 business days. Travelers heading to India for the start of the festival of lights 2020 should apply no later than 5th November.