Deepavali | Edit Your Deepavali photos

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What is Deepavali, the festival of lights, and how will it be celebrated?

Celebrate Deepavali! 

We're bringing Asia Society directly to you! Learn, have fun, and explore as we continue to present and produce videos, family activities, interactive webcasts, and more. Learn More Deepavali, also known as the festival of lights, is a popular Indian holiday that takes place between October and November, though the specific dates depend on the Hindu calendar. Different regions of India have different stories and interpretations of the origin of Deepavali, but the theme remains the same: that Deepavali is the victory of light over darkness, or good over evil. 

Deepavali | Edit Your Deepavali photos
Deepavali | Edit Your Deepavali photos

This time of year is often celebrated with gifts, and families often come together to celebrate the holiday. Learn about Deepavali!

Deepavali five-day celebration has become a national festival marked by most Indians regardless of faith, with Jains, Buddhists and Sikhs also observing. Beginning on Thursday, more than a billion people around the world will begin the annual celebration of Deepavali, the Hindu festival of lights that many consider being the start of the new year. 

Typically, the festival is marked by celebrations both at home and in large community gatherings by people of many faiths in both India and the diaspora. In recent years, celebrations have become increasingly mainstream in America with large events in Disneyland and Times Square as well as convention centers across the country. 

This year, Deepavali festivities will likely revert back to more intimate family gatherings coupled with online observances as both countries grapple with the coronavirus pandemic. India, which has reported more than 8.6 million COVID-19 cases and more than 127,000 deaths, is second only to the United States which has more than 10.2 a million cases and nearly 240,000 deaths, according to data from John Hopkins University.  India's Health Ministry has attributed a recent surge in New Delhi to the festival season.


Officials warned that the situation can worsen due to people crowding markets for festival shopping. Here's what you need to know about Diwali and how celebrations will look different this year: COVID-19 stress isn't slowing down: How experts say you should cope during the holidays What is Deepavali? The name Diwali, or Deepavali, comes from a Sanskrit word meaning “rows of lighted lamps," according to Shereen Bhalla, the director of education at the Hindu American Foundation.

There are several legends connected to Deepavali, according to Bhalla. Some believe the day celebrates the return of King Rama, an incarnation of Lord Vishnu, and his wife Queen Sita, an avatar of goddess Lakshmi, to Ayodhya after he 14 years in exile which residents celebrated by lighting rows of clay lamps. Some believe Diwali falls on the birthday of Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth and prosperity, and the day she married Vishnu.  

Others believe Deepavali celebrates the day Lord Krishna, another avatar of Vishnu, defeated Prince Narakasura and brought peace to the earth. In western India, the festival marks the day Vishnu, one of the main gods of the Hindu trinity, sent the demon King Bali to rule the nether world. Deepavali Forever: Hindu festival gets USPS to stamp of approval Although the festival originated with Hindus, Deepavali is celebrated by most Indians of all faiths including Jains, Buddhists and Sikhs.

In Jainism, it marks the nirvana or spiritual awakening of Mahavira, according to the HAF. For Sikhs, it celebrates the day a major guru was freed from imprisonment. Buddhists believe Deepavali as is the day the Indian Emperor Ashoka accepted Buddhism as his faith.  When is it this year? Bhalla said the dates change each year based on the Hindu lunar calendar but typically happens in October and November. Major celebrations occur on the third day of the five-day-long festival which this year falls on Nov. 14.  

How is Deepavali celebrated? 

The celebration lasts five days, during which candles, firecrackers and clay lamps are known as diyas are lit to signify the triumph of light over darkness and good over evil, Bhalla said. If you want to greet someone who is celebrating you can say "Happy Deepavali" or "saal mubarak" which means "Happy New Year." 

People will also decorate with rangolis, intricate patterns made from colored powder, rice or flowers, on the floor of their homes. Food is also a major part of the holiday, with traditional sweets and savory items eaten. 10 Indian drinks in time for Deepavali Many cities including New York and San Antonio have in recent years hosted massive celebrations that drew thousands. 


The White House has had Diwali celebrations for years. Diwali is also considered for some to be the start of the new year, so many people purchase new clothes and clean out their homes. Typically, Hindus will also go to a temple to say a puja, or prayer to the god Ganesh or Lakshmi puja. Bhalla said the holiday is also a time for people to make charitable contributions, provide service to those in need. 

"With Deepavali, there is a lot of emphasis on engaging in service, what we call Seva, the Sanskrit word for service," Bhalla said. "Another big word in Sanskrit which is Danya charitable giving." The day after Diwali is a time to exchange gifts, well wishes and check in with family and friends while the final day of the festival is meant for siblings to celebrate together, according to Bhalla. "That's when we take the time to be grateful and be really aware of everything we’ve been lucky to have," she said. 

Deepavali | Edit Your Deepavali photos
Deepavali | Edit Your Deepavali photos

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