What Is Diwali and How to Celebrate?

How to Celebrate Deepavali in India -- the Festival of Lights

Diwali Festival India
••• Lighting lanterns is a way to celebrate the Diwali Festival. Subir Basak / Getty Images

What is Diwali? And how to best celebrate? You'll certainly hear a lot about it if traveling through Asia in the fall.

The Diwali Festival -- also known as the 'Festival of Lights' -- is an important Hindu holiday celebrated throughout India, Sri Lanka, Singapore, Malaysia, and places with large Indian populations.

Diwali is pronounced 'dee-vahl-ee'; some other spellings for the Diwali Festival in India include: Deepavali, Devali, and Divali.

The festival is celebrated throughout India, however, it's especially prevalent in big cities such as Delhi, Mumbai, and Jaipur in Rajasthan.

What Is Diwali?

Diwali is one of the biggest fall festivals in Asia. Similar to Chinese New Year, Diwali is celebrated with family gatherings, new clothes, special treats, and fireworks that drive away evil spirits to bring luck and prosperity in the new business year.

Cities glow with colorful lights and ghee lanterns left on throughout the night as a celebration of good over evil and the triumph of inner light over ignorance. Continuous firecrackers frighten both evil spirits and unsuspecting tourists.

The Diwali festival lasts for five days. The peak is usually on the third day which is considered the New Year's Eve. The last day is set aside for brothers and sisters to spend time together.

Temples are especially busy with rituals and religious rites during Diwali.

Be respectful and cover yourself if you happen inside; don't take photos of worshipers.

How to Celebrate Diwali

Although the official reasons for celebrating Diwali differ, the event is observed by Hindus, Sikhs, Jains, and even Buddhists. All contribute to the atmosphere with lamps and colorful decorations.

The quickest and easiest way to show that you acknowledge Diwali is to light lanterns and candles in front of your house.

Still a relatively new concept, the Diwali Festival is becoming more widely observed throughout the West. Many large cities in the U.S., Europe, and Australia now sponsor celebrations. Diwali even often overlaps with the Bonfire Night holiday in the UK -- also celebrated with fire and fireworks.

Diwali is a time to make peace and start anew. In the past, Indian and Pakistani soldiers even exchanged sweets along the disputed border. Diwali is also a time for reunions. Look up and reach out to remote family members or loved ones with whom you have lost touch.

In 2009, President Obama was the first U.S. president to celebrate Diwali at the White House. San Antonio, Texas, was the first city in the U.S. to hold an official Diwali celebration.

Traveling During the Festival

With such widespread celebrations and many people off work to return to their home villages, Diwali will certainly have an impact on your travels in India. Public transportation will be clogged with people returning home to families; trains during the festival should be booked well in advance.

Hotels in popular cities can fill up quickly. See more about booking budget hotels in India.

When Is the Diwali Festival?

The dates for Diwali are based on the Hindu calendar and change each year, but the festival typically falls between October and December.

  • Diwali 2012 was celebrated on November 13.
  • Diwali 2013 was celebrated on November 3.
  • Diwali 2014 was celebrated on October 23.
  • Diwali 2015 was celebrated on November 11.
  • Diwali 2016 will begin on October 30.
  • Diwali 2017 will begin on October 21.