Diwali is one of India’s biggest and most important festivals. But it’s celebrated by many Hindus, Jains, Sikhs, and some Buddhists throughout the world.

As well as its deep religious significance, the ‘Festival of Lights’ is a time for lighting candles and clay lamps, enjoying dazzling fireworks displays, and exchanging gifts. People also wear new clothes, feast on sumptuous food, and spend quality time with family and friends.

Below, we’ve pulled together some Diwali highlights to give you a glimpse into this spiritual and vibrant holiday.

What is Diwali?

What is Diwali

Diwali (also spelt Divali, Deepavali or Deepawali) is a religious festival celebrated by Hindus, Sikhs, Jains (practitioners of Jainism, an ancient religion that prizes non-violence above all else) across the world. Some Buddhists celebrate Diwali too.

Originating from the Sanskrit word dipavali – which means ‘row’ [or series] of lights’ – the holiday is commonly called the ‘Festival of Lights’. This is largely due to the custom of lighting small clay lamps, known as diyas, to symbolise the triumph of light over darkness, good over evil, and wisdom over ignorance.

Diwali is a rich and diverse festival, and people’s customs, traditions, and reasons for celebrating vary depending on what religion they practice and where they live. But, the festival typically lasts five days.

The dates of Diwali are determined by the Hindu lunisolar calendar. This factors in the movements of the sun and the moon – rather than just the sun like our Jan-Dec calendar – meaning the dates change yearly. In 2023, it’ll be celebrated from the 10th-14th of November, with the biggest celebrations occurring on the third day, which, this year, is the 12th.

The main day of Diwali marks the new moon on the darkest night of the Hindu calendar. For many, the festival also coincides with the new year.

Why is Diwali celebrated?

Why is Diwali celebrated

As we’ve said, Diwali is a varied and spectacular holiday celebrated differently by different people, depending on things such as their religion and where they live.

However, no matter the reason for observing Diwali, for all regions and faiths, it’s a time to light candles and celebrate the victory of good over evil, light over darkness, hope over despair, and wisdom over ignorance.

Diwali in Hinduism

For example, many Hindus use the time to commemorate the homecoming of the ancient figure of Rama (the seventh avatar of the god Vishnu, the preserver and protector of the universe).

According to Hindu tradition, Rama returned home to the city of Ayodhya after spending 14 years in exile and saving his wife, Sita (an avatar of Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth and fortune), from the demon Ravana.

Diwali is also a time when Hindus celebrate Krishna (Vishnu’s eighth incarnation) and his victory over the cruel king, Narakasura.

Diwali in Sikhism

Sikhs, on the other hand, don’t technically celebrate Diwali but Bandi Chhor Divas – which translates to ‘prisoner release day’. This holiday coincides with Diwali and commemorates the selfless acts of Guru Hargobind, the sixth spiritual master of the faith.

Bandi Chhor Divas marks the guru’s release from prison along with 52 princes by the Mughal Emperor Jahangir in 1619. Tradition says that the emperor granted Guru Hargobind his freedom, but the guru refused to leave without the other prisoners.

Reluctant to let the princes go, Jahangir told Guru Hargobind that he would release any prisoners that could hold onto his robe as he left. As a result, the guru had a cloak made with 52 tassels so all the prisoners could follow him to freedom. It’s said that they arrived back in the holy city of Amritsar on Diwali.

Diwali in Jainism

Meanwhile, according to Jainism, Diwali falls on the anniversary of the day that the last of the 24 supreme spiritual leaders, Mahavira, reached enlightenment.

Diwali in Buddhism

And finally, while many Buddhists don’t celebrate Diwali, for some, it marks the day that Emperor Ashoka, who ruled Magadha (today’s west-central Bihar) from 268-232 BCE, converted to Buddhism.

How is Diwali celebrated?

How is Diwali celebrated

There are many ways to celebrate Diwali. Below, we’ve highlighted some of the most common…


As we’ve mentioned, the most iconic feature of Divali is probably the lights. In Hindu tradition, small earthen oil lamps (diyas) are lit and used to illuminate houses, temples, and workspaces. These lamps are used to welcome the presence of Lakshmi, who is said to bring wealth, fortune, and prosperity.

For Jains, the candles can represent Mahavira’s enlightenment, and Sikhs float them on the water around the Golden Temple of Amritsar – their most holy place – to celebrate the guru’s return from imprisonment.

Though some diya displays are limited to people’s homes, others are massive communal efforts. The largest one took place last year in the city of Ayodhya – and, in the Guinness World Record-breaking feat, 1,576,955 individual lamps were lit along the river banks.

Fireworks and sparklers are also popular throughout Diwali but are used less frequently nowadays, due to environmental concerns such as air pollution.

Cleaning and decorating

For many, the lead-up to Diwali and the first day of the celebrations (Dhanteras) is spent cleaning and decorating their homes. This is not only to prepare for guests but also because it’s said that Lakshmi will only visit (and bestow her blessings of wealth and prosperity upon) clean and well-decorated houses. It’s also customary to leave doors open so she can enter.

Rangolis are one of the most popular decorations used during this time. These mesmerising geometric patterns are often made on the floor from things like coloured sand, rice, flowers, and spices. Many rangolis take the shape of lotus flowers and are placed in doorways as a sign of welcome.

Rangoli are an integral part of the festivities. As artist and educator Jugnu Verma tells the New York Times: “The Christmas tree is to Christmas as rangoli is to Diwali”. Many people also decorate their homes with garlands of jasmine.



Shopping is another key part of Diwali for lots of people around the world. For example, for many Hindus, it’s traditional to go out and shop for kitchen utensils or items made of gold on the first day of the festivities.

The run-up to Diwali is also a time when lots of people head to the shops to buy gifts and new outfits to wear. Diwali clothes are usually brightly coloured, embellished with intricate embroidery, and accompanied by winding henna tattoos and sparkling jewellery.


A variety of prayers are undertaken throughout Diwali. In Hindu tradition, for example, the second day of the festival (Naraka Chaturdashi or Choti, meaning ‘small’ Diwali) offers a time for praying for ancestors’ souls. On the fifth day (Bhai Dooj), sisters may offer prayers for the health and prosperity of their brothers, and are given gifts in return.

As well as cleaning and decorating, lighting candles, and various other elaborate ceremonies, prayers are also offered to Lakshmi. Collectively, these rituals are known as Lakshmi Puja.

To witness a traditional Diwali prayer ceremony at a Hindu temple, why not tune into our upcoming event? During this session, host Roopak will lead you through all the aspects of an authentic Festival of Lights, including a tour of his home.



Like so many holidays, food plays a key part in many people’s Diwali celebrations – whether by giving food to people in need, making offerings to the gods, delivering delectable dishes to neighbours, or enjoying a sit-down meal with family and friends.

One of the simplest ways to get involved with the festivities is by whipping up some Diwali-inspired dishes and sharing them with loved ones. With this in mind, we’ve pulled together some savoury snacks and sumptuous sweets for you to try…

1. Aloo bondha

Because Diwali is a time for visiting, hosting, and attending parties, finger foods are very popular.

If you’re looking for a crowd-pleasing snack to make this Diwali, look no further than this aloo bonda recipe from Times Food. These deep-fried, spiced potato bites are sold on the streets of Southern India and are particularly delicious when dipped in mango or tomato chutney.

2. Papdi chaat

Loosely translating to ‘tasting crackers’, papdi chaat is Indian cuisine’s answer to nachos.

For this dish, crunchy fried crackers are covered in a range of delicious toppings – from creamy yoghurts and sweet chutneys to sev (small, crispy noodles made from chickpea flour), potatoes, and coriander.

Why not try this papdi chaat from Dassana’s Veg Recipes? Or, if you’re in the mood for something a little more refreshing, give this recipe a go from Cook With Manal, which uses pomegranate seeds for a zingy kick.

Papdi chaat

3. Dal

Spicy, comforting, and packed with flavour, dal is a mainstay of traditional Indian cooking.

Typically made with lentils, beans, or peas, dal is endlessly versatile. It can contain a variety of spices (from cumin and coriander to ginger and turmeric) and be made to whatever consistency you like. You can serve it as a side dish or main course for your loved ones this Diwali – just don’t forget the roti, chapati, or naan for dipping.

For a Diwali-inspired dal, try making this rich, buttery dal makhani from chef Sanjay Aggarwal. And to make your own naan, take a look at this recipe from Once Upon a Chef.

4. Barfi

Perfectly complimenting the joyous and celebratory nature of this holiday, sweets (mithai) are an integral part of Diwali. And it’s not uncommon for some households to start making sweets over a week before the festival kicks off.

When it comes to mithai, there are plenty of variations to choose from – all with different fillings, textures, toppings, and flavours. But one of the most popular is barfi.

Also called ‘burfi’, barfi is a fudge-like sweet treat made from milk, sugar, and ghee – and there are plenty of variations.

Coconut barfi, like this one from Swasthi’s Recipes, is a popular choice, as is chocolate barfi and anjeer barfi. Anjeer barfi is a healthier, protein-packed alternative featuring dried figs and nuts. Alternatively, you can try making kalakand, which is somewhere between barfi and cake.

5. Ladoo

Ladoos (or laddus) are spherical sweets that also grace the tables of many Diwali celebrations. Like barfi, ladoos can be made from a range of ingredients.

However, at their most basic, they’re made by frying a chickpea (or gram) flour batter and mixing it with sugary syrup. Nuts, seeds, and spices are also added for extra flavour.

Coconut ladoos are especially popular for special occasions. You can find out how to make these by heading to Dassana’s Veg Recipes or tuning into our upcoming event on the 9th of November.

For more ideas for luscious ladoos to make this Diwali – like motichoor ke ladoos, which are packed with cashews, raisins, saffron, and cardamom – check out this article from NDTV Food. And to make another popular, round Diwali treat, why not try this traditional gulab jamun recipe?

6. Sharbats

While some people around the world enjoy a beer or a glass of prosecco on Diwali, it’s more traditional to drink soft drinks – one of the most popular and diverse of which are sharbats.

Originating in the Middle East, these colourful beverages were introduced to India by the Mughal emperors in the 1500s. They’re often sweet and made by combining ingredients like fruit juices, herbs, flower extracts, sugar, and water.

Mohabbat ka sharbat is a popular and refreshing one to make, featuring delightful flavours of watermelon and rose (you can even add some cardamom for extra flavour). This recipe from Rak’s Kitchen will show you how to make it. Or why not try this sattu sharbat from Dassana’s Veg Recipes, which distils sumptuous savoury flavours into a refreshing drink?

Final thoughts…

Diwali is a vibrant and multifaceted holiday that celebrates rich cultural and spiritual heritage. As well as putting on dazzling displays of diyas and fireworks, it’s a time to look ahead with a hopeful gaze, spend time with loved ones, and enjoy good food.

We hope this article has given you a glimpse into the Festival of Lights, including why and how it’s celebrated. And for our readers looking forward to their celebrations, we wish you a happy and safe Diwali!

Do you celebrate Diwali? If so, what does the festival mean to you, and what’s your favourite part? We’d love to hear from you in the comments below.