The festival of lights Diwali is probably the most popular festival of Hindus celebrated in India. There is much folklore about why the festival is celebrated. The most well-known is that it was on this day that Lord Ram returned to Ayodhya after 14 years in exile. The best part is that it is a five-day long festival which starts two days before Diwali and there is a special celebration on each day.

Religious Significance

Two days before Diwali is ‘Dhanteras’ – dhan meaning wealth and teras because it falls on the thirteenth day of the Hindu month of Kartik. It is considered auspicious to purchase gold, silver or new utensils symbolic of wealth and prosperity. The day before Diwali is ‘chhoti diwali’ celebrating the killing of demon king Narakasura by Lord Krishna. Narakasura’s mother did not want people to mourn for him and so there are celebrations just like on the Diwali day with lights, crackers and sweets, but on a small scale. On Diwali, people pray to the Goddess of Wealth, Laxmi, light lamps and visit each other with gifts. The next day is Goverdhan Puja which commemorates the defeat of Indra at the hands of Krishna when the later lifted the mountain to protect the villages from flooding. The fifth day is Bhai dooj, which is symbolic of the love in a brother-sister relationship.

However, Diwali is not just for the Hindus, other religions like Jainism and Sikhism also have their own stories for celebrating it.  Sikhs celebrate it as the day when the Mughal emperor Jehangir released Guru Hargobind Singh from prison and he returned to Amristsar.  The joy and happiness that this event brought to them is celebrated by taking a dip in tank in the Golden temple, and lighting of earthen oil lamps. According to Jainism, Lord Mahavira attained Nirvana on this day.  So it is a special day for the Jains too. They fast for three days and meditate on the teachings of Lord Mahavir.

To sum it up, it would be pertinent to say that whatever be the religion, all people come together to celebrate this one festival.

Diwali across the world

With Indian presence in many countries, Diwali is celebrated across the globe. So much so that in many countries it has become part of their local culture. In Malaysia and Singapore, there is even a public holiday on this day! While Indians abroad try to retain the traditional flavour in the celebrations, they are bound by some variations. These variations are a result of the amalgamation of two different cultures. Traditionally, when people met each other on Diwali, they offered sweets (in most cases these were homemade ones). Now gifting chocolates and cookies is also acceptable. The earthen oil lamps have been replaced with electric lamps.

Gifting in the festive season

It is always a good idea to be able to give to others rather than taking from them. This was the thought behind distributing sweets amongst friends and loved ones as well as the poor and needy that had traditionally been a part of Diwali. Typical Indian sweets traditionally made at home have now given way to sweets from the sweet shop. Another typical gift during Diwali is dry fruits. The origin would probably be in the fact that the festive season falls in the winter months so eating day fruits is a good idea. There is also the tradition of gifting jewellery, clothes, etc. to the married daughters. The festival of dhanteras is about buying things for your own household; however, over the years it is seen as yet another gifting opportunity. There was a time, when Diwali meant buying new clothes for everyone and this was a sacrosanct requirement. It probably arose because our society was not really consumerist and people bought things only on special occasions (Diwali being one of them). However, now with a booming economy, we no longer wait for occasions to go on a shopping spree! But the companies (cloth manufacturers) still make full use of this tradition, which is being followed even today by offering discounts on their products purchased during this period.

Gifting over long distance

Technology has helped make distances less. Over the last couple of years, it has become easy to send gifts to your loved ones living far away from you. One option is to buy the things from a shop and send them through courier or snail mail. However, the latest trend is online shopping which enables you to select gifts online and send them online as well without worrying about the logistic

If instead of a gem, or even a flower, we should cast the gift of a loving thought into the heart of a friend that would be giving as the angels give.’ 

This quote by George MacDonald is so thought provoking. Diwali is an ideal time to forget difference by gifting to make people closer. Sweets are offered to all the visitors and good wishes for a prosperous new year exchanged with them.

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