Diwali, or Deepavali, the Festival of Lights

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Also called Deepavali or the Festival of Lights, Diwali is a 5-day holiday that is celebrated in India, Nepal, Singapore, and around the world! Diwali literally means “to light in a straight path or row” and is derived from the Sanskrit words “deepa,” meaning “to illuminate” and “aa-vali,” which means “in a row.” The name of the festival is quite literal, and this is evident in Diwali’s most famous and popular tradition, the lighting of lamps and candles. Throughout the festival, but especially on the third day, celebrants light lamps, or diyas, and candles and place them in and around homes to ward off the darkness and bring light to the night. It makes for a gorgeous display of intricately and beautifully lit streets, neighborhoods, and city centers and it holds great meaning for many who celebrate the holiday.


It is believed that Diwali originated over one thousand years ago in ancient India as a harvest festival. It was mentioned in several early Sanskrit texts that were written around 750 C.E., give or take a few centuries, and the diyas, the lamps, were specifically mentioned as a key component of the celebration. Even so many years ago, the key meaning of the festival was the same: to celebrate the victory of light over darkness. This central theme can take on many different meanings, the most popular being the celebration of knowledge over ignorance and the prevalence of good over evil.


Though Diwali is now a national holiday in India and is celebrated by many who are not devout, the holiday has always had meaning for several religions, including Hinduism, Jainism, Sikhism, and Buddhism. Each religion has applied the metaphor of light overcoming darkness to their own stories or associated gods, goddesses, or ancient legends with the holiday. The most popular religious association links the festival to the goddess Lakshmi, who is the goddess of wealth. Some believe that the holiday celebrates her birth, while others believe that is marks her marriage to Lord Vishnu.


Another story takes a different approach to the meaning of the holiday. In some areas, it is said that lights are lit in the nooks and crannies of one’s home and under sacred trees to attract the attention of insects. Because of the lights, the insects will be able to find safe, warm homes for the winter. In this tale, the large floor designs called rangoli or kolam are used as sustenance for the insects to feed them through the cold season and help them live to the next spring. Then, they will be able to pollinate the new crops and ensure a healthy harvest for next year.


Whatever you believe about the origins or meaning of Diwali, everyone can agree that the festival is a time to celebrate light over darkness and to hold friends and family close to one’s heart. It is a time to relax after the busy harvest season, unwind and reflect, and to realign oneself. This year, we’re getting ready for Diwali all month long with Discoveries at the Jungle: India, with foods and items from India and Nepal and items specifically for Diwali! We’d love to see you in-store. Stop by our Discoveries at the Jungle kiosk to pick up everything you need for Diwali or to try something new. Then, send us a message on Facebook, Tweet at us @JungleJimsmrkt, or tag us on Instagram @JungleJimsMarket!


Special thanks to Salaphaty Rao Marrao for contributing to this article.

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