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The Origins of the
Hindu Festival of Diwali


The biggest of all Hindu festivals, Diwali is known in India as the Festival of Lights. This multi-day festival, whose name literally means "row of lighted lamps", is celebrated during the Hindu month of Kartika.


For five days, the country is illuminated in the glow of dazzling lights -- from modest oil lamps and candles to spectacular fireworks.


Diwali most likely began as a harvest festival, although there are numerous legends about the festival's origins. For example, some believe Diwali marks the anniversary of the marriage ceremony between Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth, and the Lord Vishnu, the restorer of moral order (dharma), who was later incarnated as Buddha. In Indian culture, wealth is viewed as a reward for a person who has done good deeds in a past life. This karmic understanding of wealth therefore makes Lakshmi a key figure in the Hindu faith.


Because there are so many regions of India, each with its own language and other cultural features, there are equally numerous traditions for the celebration of Diwali.


In fact, even the Gregorian date for Diwali varies around the country. The festival is always celebrated in October or November, but there is a difference of opinion about exactly when, since there is not one universally accepted Hindu calendar.


There are certain traditions, however, which are universal. For example, families light candles or oil lamps, and exchange gifts with family and friends. As finances will allow, most families host lavish festive meals, as well. And many families will completely clean their homes and throw open their windows, as a way of welcoming in the Laksmi goddess.





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