As we move into winter, India’s biggest holiday lights the way with a celebration of light over darkness. Light a candle, and join us on a tour of Diwali around the world.
The Festival of Lights, as Diwali is known, celebrates the victory of good over evil, and is India's biggest and most important holiday of the year. Hindus, Sikhs and Jains celebrate the 5-day festival worldwide as well. The largest Diwali celebration outside of India takes place in Leicester, England’s Golden Mile section.
Young boys chant prayers in celebration of Diwali at a children’s orphanage in Suriname’s capital city of Paramaribo. The South American country is home to a sizable population of Indian origin; nearly 40% of Suriname’s population descend from 19th-century contract workers from India.
Children in Suriname dress up as Hindu goddesses on the eve of Diwali. On the left is Parvati, the goddess of power who gives life energy to all. She's also said to engage in an eternal game of winning and losing with her husband Lord Shiva. In recognition of that cosmic roughhousing, gambling (or playing cards) during Diwali is considered auspicious. Or maybe just a good excuse to gamble.
Young women put the finishing touches on a rangoli in a neighborhood courtyard. The decorative design, created with materials such as colored rice, flour and sand, as well as flower petals, symbolizes a sacred welcoming area for Hindu deities -- and is a common sight during Diwali. In the western Indian state of Gujarat, the day following Diwali also marks the New Year.
Different regions and faiths of India incorporate various narratives into the celebration. In Gujarat, the festival honors Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth. In North India, Lord Rama, after a 14-year exile. In South India, Lord Krishna, after his defeat of the demon Narakasura. In Jainism, the nirvana of Lord Mahavira. In Sikhism, the sixth Sikh guru's release from prison. The unifying theme: the victory of good over evil.
Indian Sikhs light candles at their spiritual center, the Golden Temple, in Amritsar, India, for Diwali. Sikhs celebrate Diwali to mark the release from prison of their sixth guru, Guru Hargobind, along with 52 other political prisoners, by the Mughal Emperor Jahangir in 1619. Sikhs celebrated the return of Guru Hargobind by lighting diyas around the Golden Temple. The tradition continues today.
President Obama extends greetings to Sri Narayanachar Digalakote, a Hindu priest and Sanskrit scholar, after lighting an oil lamp for Diwali at the White House. The holiday was first celebrated at the White House in 2003, with a public liaison officer hosting Indian Americans. Six years later, Barack Obama became the first US president to serve as Diwali host.
Handmade diyas, or earthen oil lamps, add a personal touch to households celebrating Diwali. Here, a boy prepares a lamp at his family home in Trinidad-Tobago. The largest Hindu festival in the Caribbean nation, Diwali is celebrated with the symbolic lighting of diyas, each meant to dispel darkness.
A young woman lights an earthen lamp on the steps leading to the Ganges River. Every year, 15 days after Diwali, the steps leading to “Ganga” are adorned with more than 1 million lights in tribute to Hinduism’s most sacred river. The celebration, known as Dev Deepavali (meaning “light festival of gods”), is led by Hindu devotees in the city by its banks, Varanasi.
A Hindu devotee's baby is placed on a temple floor for good luck during Diwali celebrations in the small town of Bangi, near Maylaysia’s capital of Kuala Lumpur. Hindus make up roughly 7% of Malaysia’s population of 25 million. However, Diwali is recognized in the predominantly Muslim country as an official holiday.
Sri Lanka is home to a sizable Hindu community, as much as 12% of the population. Here, Hindu devotees pray during Diwali at the Shivm Kovi temple in Sri Lanka’s cultural capital of Colombo. Alongside India, the island country recognizes Diwali as an official holiday.