Celebrated across the world Diwali (Dīvali, Dīpāwali, or Deepavali) is the biggest, brightest, most spectacular and sparkling event in the Indian calendar. In Canada the celebrations will begin Wednesday, October 22nd. Diwali is a Sanskrit word meaning “an array (or row) of lights”.
Diwali is a five day festival that begins on the 15th day of Kartika in the Hindu calendar and marks the beginning of the Hindu New Year. As well as being significant in Hinduism, followers of Buddhism, Jainism and Sikhism observe various customs related to Diwali. Of course, there are a few others who will be celebrating, too. Friends, colleagues, in-laws, neighbors, etc. don’t want to miss out on any of the fun either!
Diwali’s Impact in the Business Community
In India, government offices, post offices and banks are closed on Diwali. It is also a public holiday in Nepal, Sri Lanka, Myanmar, Mauritius, Guyana, Trinidad and Tobago, Suriname, Malaysia, Singapore and Fiji. Although not officially designated as a holiday in either Canada or the United States, it is still celebrated in many cities and communities. In North America it is not uncommon for Indian businesses to close early, hold Diwali dinners for their employees or send them off to enjoy gatherings, festival dances, street lighting, plays and witness grand displays of fireworks.
For many, Diwali is the beginning of the new financial year. Corporate India experiences a boom time during Diwali. The first day (known as Dhanteras) is a major shopping day. In terms of consumer and economic activity, the time leading up to and including the festival has become the equivalent of Christmas in the west. Many households will purchase new clothing, home refurbishments and gifts while others will invest in much larger items such as cars, gold bars and jewelry. It is not uncommon for electronic companies to offer specials on their products. Interesting to note is that about US$ 800 million worth of firecrackers are consumed in India over the Diwali season.
The legends, myths and stories of Diwali are about the victory of light over darkness, knowledge over ignorance, good over evil, hope over despair. Many rituals are central to the Goddess Lakshmi, who symbolizes wealth, happiness and prosperity.
- Houses (and business premises) are cleaned, renovated and decorated because it is believed Lakshmi favors cleanliness and will visit the cleanest house first.
- Windows and doors are opened to welcome luck and good fortune.
- Women and children decorate doorsteps and entrances with Rangoli – creative colourful floor designs to welcome both Lakshmi and guests with great honor.
- The illumination of homes with diyas (oil lamps) leaves no room for darkness to enter. The warm light symbolizes an offering of respect to the heavens for obeisance health, wealth, knowledge, peace and prosperity.
- Firecrackers drive away evil and the sound proves to the gods that people are filled with joy, togetherness and hope. (The fumes also kill a lot of the insects and mosquitoes that follow the monsoon rains.)
- People attending Diwali parties wear new clothing to thank Lakshimi for providing prosperity and good fortune.
- Gifts are exchanged to convey respect, good wishes, blessings, love, appreciation and the well-being of the recipient. Sweets and dry fruits are some of the most popular gifts.
- Dhanteras (the first day of Diwali) holds a special significance for businessmen who purchase gold that day.
Diwali isn’t Diwali without food…..
If one didn’t know better, you might think that Diwali was the “festival of sweets”. Indian food is about balance and contrasts and Diwali is no exception. Diwali feasts include both sweet and savory snacks. Indian sweetmeats, known as “mithai” are a cross between a snack, dessert and confectionery. Little morsels are nibbled throughout the day, on their own, with masala chai (tea) or as part of a meal alongside savoury items.
Some of the most popular Indian sweets include burfi (fudgelike sweet, often coated with a thin film of edible silver leaf), pista (ground pistachio nut), kaaju (cashewnut) and gulab jamuns (deep-fried balls of dough). Although mithai are most often purchased in sweet shops, Indian women also bake diya shaped sugar cookies and decorated them with Diwali themed designs.
Ribbon pakoda is one of the most famous savory snacks as well as mini samosas and khasta puri (crispy snack stuffed with spiced fillings). Most savories are made from chickpea, rice, and lentil flour and include a combination of spices, sesame seeds, fresh fenugreek leaves and coconut. Like the Western Thanksgiving, the Diwali “Festival of Lights” is expressed through the medium of food.
Most cultures share a common theme of celebrating the abundance of a harvest and giving thanks for health, wealth, family and friends. It seems that Diwali takes it one step further. The Festival of Lights not only illuminates homes but also hearts. This five day event honors individual spirituality and the awareness of “an inner light”.