Diwali is one of the most important festivals celebrated in India. It is celebrated on the darkest night of the year, which usually falls sometime in the beginning of November. Diwali, though, is the festival of lights.
All over India, homes are decorated with lights and earthenware lamps filled with oil. These lamps are called diyas. The name 'Diwali' is from the Sanskrit 'dipavali', which means 'row of lamps'. Diyas are lit in every house to banish the dark and welcome in good luck and good fortune.
People wear new clothes, meet their friends and relatives, eat good food, give each other sweets and gifts, decorate their houses with flowers and lights and Rangoli patterns, and set off fireworks.
In the evening, many people hold a small prayer or puja in their homes. They honour Ganesh, the god of wisdom and good luck, the one who removes all obstacles from life; and they worship Lakshmi, the goddess of prosperity and good fortune. Lights are left burning all night, so that Lakshmi may feel welcome and enter.
Diwali is also the start of the New Year for many communities in India.
Diwali is a festival of joy, prosperity and good luck, and a celebration of the victory of good over evil - which is expressed through different stories in different parts of India.
Here are two stories that lie behind the festival:
Ram, Prince of Kosala
Kali Destroys Evil
Diwali Stories cont'd...