What Is Diwali? Here's What to Know About the Holiday

As Diwali approaches, learn about the holiday celebrated by more than a billion people around the world.

Diwali, one of the most celebrated cultural and religious holidays in the world, is a five-day "festival of lights" that celebrates good over evil—or lightness over darkness. The holiday follows the lunar calendar and usually peaks in October or November.

Diwali originated on the Indian subcontinent and has roots in the Hindu faith. Buddhists, Jains and Sikhs also have their own Diwali celebrations and customs. These include traditional foods, fireworks, and millions of lanterns and lights. Diwali is pronounced, "di-wah-lee," or, "di-vah-lee," depending on the region, and in some parts of the world it is known as Deepawali.

Learn more about the holiday that's celebrated by more than a billion people around the globe.

Mother and daughter lighting lamps around rangoli during Diwali
Mayur Kakade/Getty Images

When Is Diwali?

The celebration of Diwali aligns with the new moon, so it's celebrated on a different day each year. Typically the holiday falls in October or November, as it's observed on the 15th day of Kartik, the holy month of the Hindu lunar calendar.

What is Diwali?

More than one billion people celebrate Diwali, and because there are so many faiths and cultures which honor it, the holiday has more than one meaning. In northern India, Diwali celebrates King Rama, or Ramachandra (one of the incarnations of the god Vishnu), and his return to Ayodhya after 14 years of exile. During that time, it's believed that he fought and defeated the demon king known as Ravana. In southern India, Diwali marks the day that Lord Krishna (a different incarnation of the god Vishnu) defeated the demon Narakasura.

How to Celebrate Diwali

Diwali is typically celebrated by dressing in colorful traditional clothing, lighting the inside and outside of homes with rows of lamps or other lights, and fireworks. There are also worship services, a large traditional feast, and a gift exchange.

Diwali customs include rangoli, the traditional Indian art of using colorful sand, rice or other material to make intricate designs on the floor. Designs are passed down through generations, so it's common for families to create art with a pattern specific to them. Designs are thought to bring good luck.

If you're celebrating at home for the first time this year, start your own tradition of lighting lamps or lanterns and cooking traditional foods as you reflect on the history of the holiday.

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