Diwali explored in 20 stunning images
Whether it’s in ancient civilizations or modern religions, light has been used as a ceremonial and religious symbol for centuries. In Hinduism, Diwali or Deepawali festival underscores just that. Known to the western world as the Festival of Lights, this five-day holiday is one of the biggest of the year in India as it celebrates the triumph of good over evil.
Stacker used various sources to compile 20 images showcasing the history and traditions of Diwali. Common practices include lighting lamps, exchanging gifts, and eating sweets. For some, it’s a religious experience, for others it’s more spiritual and cultural, but for all, it’s a moment to celebrate. There is no specific date tied to the festival because the five days are centered around a new moon, but they always fall in October and November with the third day (Lakshmi Pujan) representing the height of the Diwali festival. In 2020, Lakshmi Pujan falls on Nov. 14.
The relationships between people, animals, environment, and religion are exemplified during the time of year. Different rites and traditions center around giving thanks and acknowledging the relationships people have in life. But the festival also has far-reaching economic implications. Before celebrations, people rush to buy gold and other goods which in turn fuel many industries tied to the holiday.
Diwali also has environmental effects, and the continued use of fireworks and sparklers during the holiday have polluted India’s skies.
Regardless, nothing curbs the celebration of such an auspicious time, and the holiday is not regionally bound. People all over the world celebrate by lighting a single candle or by going to a temple. While the end of Diwali marks the start of a new year, the exact cause for celebration slightly varies depending on the region in question. For example, in North India, the festival commemorates the return of Lord Rama to the kingdom of Ayodhya after he defeated the evil Ravana. In the Hindu epic "Ramayana," Ravana kidnaps Lord Rama’s wife, Sita. But with the help of an army of monkeys, he rescues her and returns to his kingdom. In Bengal, the goddess Kali is worshipped, and in Nepal, people celebrate Lord Krishna. And for others, the holiday is spent celebrating the goddess of wealth, Lakshmi.
Read on to learn more about the differences in traditions and histories of the ancient festival Diwali.
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Path for light
For five days each year, cityscapes are illuminated with lights in India and many other countries and communities celebrating Diwali. Millions of lights are intended to welcome the good into people’s homes.
"Diya" translates to the word "lamp" in English and is used for many ceremonial occasions throughout the year. The simplest way to celebrate Diwali is to light a diya in your home. Potters handmake millions of clay lamps and see a spike in demand right before the annual festival.
China and India are the two leading producers of firecrackers in the world. In 2016, India had the second-largest country market in the world, followed by Europe and Japan. Making the popular consumer item involves dealing with chemicals like phosphorus, sulfur, and potassium. The factories and local shops produce tons of hazardous waste, and the people who work there are at risk for pulmonary diseases. But the tradition of lighting firecrackers to further commemorate the triumph of good over evil during Diwali is longstanding. As a result, the holiday continues to fuel the firecracker industry.
Similar to the use of handheld firecrackers, fireworks represent the same sentiment of welcoming the good. Firework displays dot the South East Asian skies this time of year, and one common location is to set them off at temples and places of worship, such as the Golden Temple Amritsar, pictured above.
Excessive use of fireworks and firecrackers during the holiday exacerbates India's worsening toxic smog problem. Pictured above is New Delhi a few days after Diwali celebrations in 2018. In 2019, Environment Minister Prakash Javadekar urged people not to use firecrackers at all. The Central Pollution Control Board tracks air quality and brings awareness to the benefits of newly emerging alternatives such as green firecrackers. Green firecrackers differ in that they don’t use barium nitrate with potassium nitrate and include dust suppressants.
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Prevalence of polluters
India’s Supreme Court banned regular firecrackers in 2018 and instituted a two-hour window for the use of eco-friendly firecrackers, but people snubbed rules and used regularly firecrackers across the country anyway. Even kids take part in the festivities, often lighting firecrackers in backyards and alleyways.
Another criticism of using fireworks is the effect they have on animals. There are an estimated 30 million stray dogs in India. The loud and frequent bursting sounds can cause fear and anxiety in animals—particularly ones that don’t have a home to retreat to. As an alternative to the air and sound pollution, volunteers propose the use of lanterns as safer and more peaceful alternatives.
Another notable tradition accompanying Diwali is the creation of rangolis. Rangoli is used for many other celebrations as well; it is a decorative and auspicious practice for which people make decorative designs with colored sand, flower petals, and grains like rice. Often, rangolis can be seen in temples and at the foot of entryways and doors to bring good luck into a household.
Women who celebrate
Many communities in India still shun widowed women and forbid them to celebrate holidays, including Diwali. These women, who in many cases were married off young and never received an education, are forced to wear white, cast away, and—because they were married off young— But that’s beginning to change. Seen here are groups of widowed women carrying diyas on their heads parading through the streets to commemorate the festival and their participation.
Mehndi is the application of henna, a plant which when dried and made into a paste acts as a temporary dye. Mehndi decorates women's hands and feet in times of celebration, including Diwali. Whether it was a replacement for jewelry, served as a symbol of beauty and luck, used for its medicinal value, or all of the above, the exact origins of Mehndi aren’t clear. But in India and other Southeast Asian countries, mehndi is historically tied to weddings, festivals, and other hopeful days.
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