Celebrating Diwali – the Festival of Lights, in the International Year of Light

Out of 195 sovereign states of the world, 115 states are participating in the IYL 2015 celebrations, India being one of them. A variety of events are being organized during the year and illuminating important buildings or organizing festival of light is one of them. However, it is not commonly known to many that since the early ages, India celebrates every year a festival of light, called “Diwali” (or “Deepavali”), the largest and most important festival of the country. It is held sometime between mid-October and mid-November, when the monsoon season is over and the weather is pleasant. This year, Diwali was celebrated in most part of India on 11 November.

Diwali Clay Oil-Lamp. Credit: Saurabh Narang.

Diwali Clay Oil-Lamp. Credit: Saurabh Narang.

The “Deepavali” festival gets its name from “deepa” (clay lamps) and “avali” (row) that Indians light outside their homes. It marks the beginning of the Hindu New Year and is celebrated on the 15th day of the the Hindu calendar month of “Kartika”. The Diwali  is celebrated throughout India, right from the villages to the cities and the metropolitans. In rural areas, clay oil-lamps are generally used for lighting. In cities, the celebration includes millions of lights shining on housetops, outside doors and windows, temples and other buildings, together with fireworks that illuminate the sky. Apart from India, the Diwali festival is celebrated in several countries of the world, which include Nepal, Bangladesh, Singapore, Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia, Fiji, Mauritius, UK and Canada. In India as well as in some other countries, the Diwali is a national holiday. It is a festival which is celebrated with enthusiasm and fun by children, young and old people alike. During the Diwali, exchange of specially-designed greeting cards is very common.

Students making Rangoli. Credit: Ashish Chawdhury.

Students making Rangoli. Credit: Ashish Chawdhury.

On the occasion of Diwali, people also make Rangoli, which is a folk art from India in which simple geometric patterns, deity impressions, or flower and petal shapes are created on the floor, in living rooms or courtyards.  The base material for making Rangoli is usually colored rice, dry flour, colored sand or flower petals. Nowadays even chemical colours are used for making Rangolis. Though the purpose of rangoli is decoration, it is also thought to bring good luck.

The illumination of homes with lights and the skies with firecrackers is an expression of submission to the heavens for the attainment of health, wealth, knowledge, peace and prosperity. According to Hindu mythology, Diwali is celebrated to honor Rama-Chandra, the seventh avatar (incarnation of the god Vishnu). It is believed that on this day Rama returned  to his kingdom after 14 years of exile during which he fought a battle against the mighty demon king Ravana and defeated him. To celebrate the victory of Rama over the evil Ravana, the people celebrated. The goddess Lakshmi, who symbolizes wealth, happiness and prosperity, is also worshipped on this occasion. The Diwali festival in southern India often commemorates the conquering of the Asura Naraka, a powerful king of Assam, who had imprisoned thousands of its inhabitants. The myth and story of Deepawali, in each legend, lies the significance of the victory of good over evil, light over darkness.


image4Zahid Husain Khan was born at Akrahra, Uttar Pradesh, India. He obtained his doctorate in Physics from Aligarh Muslim University, Aligarh. He has been a full Professor of Physics in Jamia Millia Islamia – a central university in New Delhi from 1994 to 2015. His academic and research interests are in the fields of molecular & laser physics, materials science, environmental science, ICT in education, and science pipularization. He had been a DAAD Fellow at the Ludwig Maximilian University, Munich (1980-81) and Free Unversity Berlin (1981-82). He has vast experience in university administration and has served as Head of Physics Department, Honorary Advisor & Director of FTK Centre for Information Technology, and Registrar of the university during his 39 years of service at Jamia Millia Islamia. The UNESCO has nominated him as a National Focal Point for India for IYL 2015. He is also a member of the Steering Committee of the International Working Group on Ibn al-Haytham based in Paris.

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