How is Divali celebrated in India and the diaspora?

By Rumi Samuel Published on November 12, 2023
How is Divali celebrated in India and the diaspora?

Divali is the most important festival of the year in India — and for Hindus in particular.

It is celebrated across faiths by over a billion people in the world’s most populous nation and the diaspora. Over five days, people participate in festive gatherings, fireworks displays, feasts and prayer.

Divali is derived from the word “Deepavali,” which means “a row of lights.” Celebrants light rows of traditional clay oil lamps outside their homes to symbolise the victory of light over darkness and knowledge over ignorance.


The festival dates are based on the Hindu lunar calendar, typically in late October or early November.

This year, Divali begins on November 10, and the festival will be observed on November 12.


While Divali is a significant religious festival for Hindus, it is also observed by Sikhs, Jains and Buddhists. The origin story of Divali varies depending on the region. All these stories have one underlying theme — the victory of good over evil.

In southern India, Divali celebrates the victory of Lord Krishna’s destruction of the demon Naraka, who is said to have imprisoned women and tormented his subjects. In northern India, Divali honours the triumphant return of Lord Rama, his wife Sita, and brother Lakshmana from a 14-year exile in the forest.


The festival brings with it a number of unique traditions, which also vary by region. What all celebrations have in common are the lights, fireworks, feasting, new clothes and praying.

In southern India, many have an early morning warm oil bath to symbolise bathing in the holy River Ganges as a form of physical and spiritual purification.

In the north, worshipping the Goddess Lakshmi, symbolising wealth and prosperity, is the norm.

Gambling is a popular tradition because of the belief whoever gambled on Divali night would prosper throughout the year. Many people buy gold on the first day of Divali, known as Dhanteras — an act they believe will bring them good luck.

Setting off firecrackers is a cherished tradition, as is exchanging sweets and gifts among friends and family. Diwali celebrations typically feature rangoli, geometric, floral patterns drawn on the floor using colourful powders.


Buddhists, Jains and Sikhs have their own Divali stories:

Jains observe Divali as the day the Lord Mahavira, the last of the great teachers, attained nirvana, liberation from the cycle of birth, death and rebirth.

Sikhs celebrate Bandi Chhor Divas — a day that overlaps with Divali — to commemorate the release of Guru Hargobind, a revered figure in the faith, who had been imprisoned for 12 years by the Mughal emperor Jahangir.

Buddhists observe the day as one when the Hindu Emperor Ashoka, who ruled in the third century BC, converted to Buddhism.

Rumi Samuel

Rumi Samuel

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