From: Thursday, November 8 2007, 7:00 pm
to: Friday, November 9 2007, 6:59 pm
Diwali, or Deepavali, is one of the most important festivals of the Hindu year. Beautiful rows of twinkling candles and lamps of all sorts are lit all over India to celebrate the return of the hero of the Ramayana, Rama, from his 14 years of exile.
The common name of the festival is a corruption of the Sanskrit word Deepavali, Deepa meaning light and avali, which means row. It is said that the lights symbolise the rows of light that were lit along the streets upon Rama's to his home city of Ayodhya. Besides celebrating the victory of good over evil and light over darkness, the little flickering lights also provide refuge and solace in the face of winter's coming onslaught.
Many gods preside over this festival. Depending on where you find yourself you may end up witnessing (or even participating in) devotions to Kali, the dark consort of Shiva, or Ganesh, his elephant-headed son. Most important of them all though is Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth and material prosperity. The main day of the festivities, which coincides with the New Year, is seen as a particularly auspicious day for merchants to make up their accounts and balances for the previous year, to go unburdened into the next.
It is customary on this day to exchange presents and host celebrations for family and friends, to clean the house and to wash clothes. One relatively recent addition to the body of traditions and customary practices is the playing of cards under the auspices of Lakshmi, particularly popular within the family on the occasion of large gatherings. Watch out, some of these contests can get quite fierce, particularly when there is money involved!