Diwali 2014: The Ultimate Guide to the Festival of Lights in India

Diwali, the biggest thing to hit India since…well, Dussehra Festival two weeks ago, really.

Now, for those of you who missed out on the whole Navaratri festivities, Diwali (otherwise known as Divali, Deepavali or just the fabulous Festival of lights!) is your chance to experience what all that fuss was about. Book your hostel in India now and see if the bejewelled elephants, bright lights and tasty banquets live up to the hype.

 Check out our overview of the festivities below…

What is Diwali Festival?

Diwali Floating Lights

Diwali, Divali, Deepavali, the Festival of Lights… whatever you choose to call it, this five-day Hindu festival is one of the most important days on the Indian cultural calendar. In fact, Diwali is an official public holiday not only in India, but in Mauritius, Malaysia, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Guyana, Trinidad & Tobago, Myanmar, Surinam and Fiji. Think Christmas in the western world, but with even more food, sweets and fireworks. Hey, we’re not complaining about that…

Diwali sky lit up

On the spiritual side of things, Diwali marks the return of Hindu Lord Rama to his kingdom of Ayodhya after defeating demon king Ravana. The event is set to be celebrated for five continuous days from 21st-25th October 2014 with each day dedicated to a special thought, tradition or ideal. The main feast day is 23rd October.

So, with no further ado, ‘on the first day of Diwali my true love gave to me…’ (sorry we couldn’t resist!)…

Days of Diwali

Diwali candles with food

The First Day of Diwali (Dhanteras): Marking the beginning of Diwali festivities, Dhanteras is primarily a celebration of business and wealth. On 21st October, houses and business premises will be renovated and decorated with colourful displays, lamp lights and precious metal ornaments.

The Second Day of Diwali (Choti Diwali): As excitement increases on 22nd October, the day before the main Diwali festival, Hindus will have long early-morning baths, put on new clothes (a great excuse to go shopping if you do happen to be stopping by India!), light multiple candles and burst firecrackers to ward off festival demons.

The Third Day of Diwali (Lakshmi Puja): October 23rd marks the apex of Diwali celebrations – a day filled with lights, sweets, food and fun. On this day, Hindu families will clean their homes, light their oil lamps and pay worship to Goddess Lakshmi, who is believed to bring wealth, prosperity and good luck.

Diwali sweets

The Fourth Day of Diwali (Padwa & Goverdhan Puja): This year, October 24th will be celebrated as a day of food and devotion. The fourth day of Diwali often involves large extended family meals, especially if a new marriage has just taken place.

The Fifth Day of Diwali (Bhai Duj): October 25th, the final Diwali night of Bhai Duj is a celebration of sibling love. On this day, brothers and sisters will give each other gifts, share meals… and try to put aside all sibling rivalry for at least 24 hours!

Where to Celebrate: Diwali in Mumbai

Diwali Shrine

Celebrations are rife and spirits are high in India’s capital. This is the place for celebrations of the largest scale…

Accommodation: Check out the further range of budget hotels and hostels in Mumbai – our top picks are the elegant rooms in Chateau Windsor Hotel, and the dorm or private beds at Anjali Inn.

Diwali Festival Performance

What to do: This Southern city has got to be one of the lightest, brightest and most frenetically-charged places to visit in India during the famous Hindu festival. Once settled into your hostel, why not reconnect to your spirituality with a trip to the famous Siddhivinayak temple in Prabhadevi. Here, you will find hordes of devotees’ bearing offerings of everything from sweets and fruit to lavish gifts for the gods. If you’re willing to wait in line (and it’s a long one!), entrance is free. Next up, as the sun sets, make sure you pay a visit to Marine Drive, where you will find thousands of people congregating to witness hours of non-stop Diwali fireworks.

Diwali Landscape

Where to eat: Walk the streets of Mumbai during the Diwali festival and you will be inundated by the range of special menus and elaborate festival spreads offered by local restaurants. One to check out is the famous Golden Star Thali restaurant, which offers an unlimited quantity of Surti Undhiyu (a winter dish of sweet, sour and spicy flavours blended with farm fresh vegetables).

Diwali in North India

In the North of India, Diwali is typically seen as a continuation of Dussehra festivities. As such, there are numerous legends and customs associated with the festival, the most obvious of which is the tradition of lights. Indeed, you will find almost every landmark, house and pathway illuminated by hundreds of small clay lamps and candles, as the gunshot sound of popping firecrackers fill the air. Adding to the mystical atmosphere, a stroll around north India will bring you face to face with numerous temporary stages upon which dramatic renditions of Diwali legends are played out.

Diwali Hanging Lanterns

A hot tip: on Diwali day, make sure you head down to the local shopping centre! Shops here remain open till the early afternoon thanks to the belief that good Diwali day sales predict a prosperous year ahead… hey, we aren’t arguing with that one!

Top Pick for Diwali in North India: Delhi. A frantic spree of shopping, spring-cleaning, decorating, markets, meals and fairs on every street corner will continue from Dussehra to Diwali. Book a hostel in New Delhi and throw yourself into the hustling, bustling action.

Diwali in South India

Sparkler Diwali

Celebrated primarily around myth and legend, Diwali in South India commemorates the conquering of the Asura Naraka – a powerful king of Assam who imprisoned tens of thousands of inhabitants. The festival is generally referred to as Deepavali and is commemorated with lights, firecrackers, shopping and sweets in cities from Andhra Pradesh to Goa and Kerala. For those who fancy a return to the home of Mysore Dasara, don’t miss a trip to Karnataka for the main festival celebrations on 23rd October. Then again, if fireworks take your fancy, head direct to Tamil Nadu – as home to the majority of cracker manufacturing units, there will never be a dearth of bright lights in the sky here!

Diwali Lanterns

Top Pick for Diwali in South India: Andhra Pradesh. Whereas in the North, Diwali is typically celebrated in the evenings, festivities start at the crack of dawn in Andhra Pradesh. Make sure you indulge in an excess quantity of home-made sweets – they’re an integral part of celebrations!

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Thanks to peddhapatiDhinal Chheda, San Sharma,  Satish KrishnamurthyMcKay San SharmaAleksandr ZykovS Pakhrinsoumyajit pramanickMatt Zimmermankenkrevarun and robertsharp for the images off Flickr. Please note, all images were used under the Creative Commons License at the time of posting.

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