India, 15th century BC. Lord Rama and his wife Princess Sita are returning to their kingdom in the north, after years of imprisonment, and after kicking the arse of the demon king Ravanna. To celebrate their homecoming, villagers everywhere are busy lighting the streets with lamps and setting off a bunch of homemade fireworks. Or so the legend goes.
Diwali is the festival of lights, celebrated by millions of Hindus and Sikhs across India, remembering this epic victory of good over evil. Coinciding with the Hindu New Year, it’s a celebration so grand and bright, that preparations start 20 days beforehand, and you can see the final results from space.
“Locals get everything freshly painted and they buy all new clothes and jewellery,” explains Sandeep Jain, who lives in New Delhi. “Everyone decorates their house with lights, flowers, and floor art made out of colourful rice and sand. We burn a bonfire on the first night of Diwali and it all ends with fireworks, lamps, and lanterns. It’s unlike anything else.”
India is at her most gold and glamorous during Diwali
Along with all the eye candy, another Diwali tradition is scoffing Indian sweets with friends and family for days, as well getting together for a big dinner. Typically falling between the middle of October and the middle of November, Diwali means family members regularly return home to India from all over the world to party and pig out. But being believers of karma, there’s also a strong custom of giving food to those in need at the same time.
For travellers looking for good vibes and beautiful tradition (along with a bargain or two shopping) there really isn’t a better time to visit. “India is at her most gold and glamorous during Diwali,” says Sandeep. “You get to witness the rich cultural heritage of the country and truly appreciate its beauty. There are also great sales on in all the shops and parties everywhere.”
Image: Mysore Palace, in southern India, lit up like a Diwali tree.