What Is Diwali? – The Complete Guide to Diwali Decorations, Greetings, Customs, and Food

Saffron Marigold - Updated: October 29, 2018

Diwali, India’s biggest and most important holiday of the year, is full of deep and inspiring meaning. Known as “the grand festival of lights”, it marks the first day of the Hindu New Year. Diwali is celebrated each autumn, to coincide with the harvest season, and signifies the victory of good over evil, hope over despair, knowledge over ignorance, and light over darkness.

Celebrating Diwali with lights
During Diwali, “diyas” are lit to symbolize the power of light, and its triumph over darkness

While a major Indian holiday, Diwali is also celebrated in many other parts of the world. It is becoming an increasingly big celebration in Malaysia, Fiji, Guyana, Nepal, Mauritius, Myanmar, Sri Lanka, Singapore, Thailand, Japan, and even Australia.

With our roots in India, Saffron Marigold has a deeply personal connection with Diwali. We hope you enjoy our guide to India’s Festival of Lights, and some of the ways we celebrate it.

What Is Diwali?

The festival gets its name from the masses of earthen oil lamps, or “diyas”, that homes across the nation light to welcome goddess Lakshmi (the goddess of abundance, wealth and prosperity).

It is celebrated with exuberance throughout the country, although different parts of India put emphasis on different pieces of Diwali origins–many of which are shrouded in mystery and heroism.

In Northern India, the return and coronation of King Rama from his exile are central. In other parts of the country, Diwali is linked with Parvathi, the goddess of love and devotion. Another significant aspect of Diwali is worshipping and honoring Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth and fertility.

When Is Diwali in 2018?

In 2018, the Diwali celebrations will begin on November 7. Interestingly, Diwali does not occur on the same date every year. Diwali is usually celebrated on the darkest day (New Moon) of the month Karthik (Hindu calendar).

Since the Hindu calendar is based off a precise study of the lunar and solar cycles, the date Diwali is celebrated varies every year, but typically it falls within October or November.

What Are The Most Common Greetings and Customs?

Diwali’s rituals symbolize the inner light that protects us from spiritual darkness, so telling someone “may your life be as bright and colorful as the lights of Diwali” is definitely appropriate and in tune with the spirit of the celebration.

Our team in India sent us photographs of their Diwali celebrations. We thought it would be fun to take you halfway around the world to give you peek at the traditions that permeate this week long celebration. 

diwali celebrations alter decorated with flowers
Diwali altar decorated with masses of marigold flowers.
diwali celebrations and customs - prayers commence
Commencing the Lakshmi Pooja by reciting a series of auspicious rites to invoke the blessings of goddess Lakshmi.
diwali celebrations and customs - master artisan first block
Rafiq Bahi our senior most artisan, printing the first block on the communal yardage that is traditionally printed on Lakshmi Pooja
diwali celebrations and customs - communal yardage
Rajkumar ji, chief of our India operations taking a turn an printing the communal yardage
diwali celebrations and customs - honoring artisans
Honoring each artisan, applying haldi (turmeric) and kumkum (red powder) on Rafiq Bhai’s forehead
diwali celebrations and customs - honoring artisans
Honoring every artisan, tying cotton string that has been blessed as a sign of brotherhood
diwali celebrations and customs - gifts for all artisans
Rajkumar ji, distributing gifts to all the aritisans
diwali celebrations and customs - blessing the sewing machines
Pooja (worship) to the sewing machine, invoking Lakshmi’s blessings.
diwali celebrations and customs - invoking blessings
Invoking goddess Lakshim’s blessing upon all the implements used in creating our block printed textiles.
diwali celebrations and customs - new books for the new year
Opening the new books for the year and closing the books for past year
diwali celebrations and customs - food offering
The celebratory Diwali ‘thali’ (large steel plate with several traditionally prepared food items) meal.
diwali celebrations = local deity
The local deity festooned with marigold flowers and offered a meal.

Diwali’s beauty and its inclusiveness are displayed boldly in five celebratory days that represent the struggle against evil and the fact that good will always win.

Day 1

The first day of Diwali is known as ‘Dhanteras’ or the worship of wealth. Goddess Lakshmi is worshipped on this day and it is considered an auspicious day to make big ticket purchases. It is India’s version of Black Friday. On this day our printing studio is given a deep clean to make it ready for the festivities that ensue.

Day 2

The second day is Naraka Chaturdashi or Choti (small) Diwali. People typically wake up early and massage themselves with aromatic oils, turmeric and sandalwood paste before taking a bath as a purification ritual. The day is also devoted to beautifying one’s work and living space.

In India, the Saffron Marigold design studio is decorated with masses of marigold flowers, clay lamps, and intricate patterns using colored sand.

Day 3

The third day is considered to be the main Diwali festival. The day is devoted to goddess Lakshmi, who is ardently and exuberantly worshipped on this day.

At our studio, the Lakshmi Pooja (worship, invoking blessings) extends to the printing tables, wood blocks, sewing machines and all other tools and implements that are used to make our linens. All the artisans who work with us are honored and receive sweets and gifts.

One Diwali tradition that our studio practices is inviting everyone associated with our India operations to jointly print a 4 yard long fabric, each taking a turn at stamping a couple of blocks on this communal yardage.

The tradition of Lakshmi Pooja is followed by a grand feast and fireworks.

Day 4

The fourth day, Govardhan Puja or “Padva”, celebrates Lord Krishna. It marks the beginning of the Hindu New Year, and is the day when friends and relatives visit with gifts and best wishes for the season.

Day 5

The fifth and last day of Diwali is Bhai Dooj. On this day brothers visit their married sisters who welcome them and cook a meal in their honor.

The fabric yardage that was printed on Lakshmi Pooja (Day 3), is usually gifted to the sister at this time.

The next one is, in our view, the best tradition. The making of sweets is integral to the Diwali celebration. Chivda, Gujiya, Farsan, Sev, barfi, ladoos – these are just a few of the many sweet temptations people will prepare (or buy from the market).

The lighting of lamps and fireworks comes next. Bursts of light, warm flames and sparkles occur throughout Diwali night. The lights invite the goddess of fortune to one’s home, so the brighter, the better.

What Are The Best Diwali Foods and Sweets?

Feasting constitutes a major part of all Diwali celebrations. Diwali foods are about abundance, so the more diversity, the better. Most Indian homes take great pride in making an assortment of at least 6-8 sweet and savory delicacies commonly known as Faral.

India Diwali celebrations and sweets
An assortment of sweet and savory delicacies commonly known as Faral.

If you are interested in sampling some Diwali faral, the best way would be to locate and visit the nearest Indian grocery store. Most stores start stocking up on goodies and decorations a week prior to Diwali.

And if you want to try your hand at some traditional Diwali goodies, you can try out the following:

  • Kaju barfi: a diamond-shaped cashew and milk sweet that can be found throughout India over the course of Diwali.
  • Chakli: the rice flour snack is crispy and the perfect finger food for a Diwali party. It’s also relatively easy to make.
  • Phirni: the rice and milk pudding is characterized by an exceptional flavor profile.
  • Samosas: a fried dish with a savory filling, a samosa is an ideal Diwali snack, and there are many varieties. You’ll certainly find at least one recipe to fall in love with.
  • Ladoos: as far as Diwali sweets go, ladoos are irreplaceable. Ladoos are incredibly versatile because they can be prepared from an array of ingredients. Every household has at least one favorite recipe.

What Are Some Good Diwali Decorations Ideas?

There are two essentials for Diwali decorations – light and color. So, if you’re looking for a chance to spruce up your home, Diwali provides the perfect opportunity.

colorful cushions and curtain panel  for Diwali
Our hand-printed linens provide a simple and beautiful way to add exotic Diwali flair to your home.

Prior to Diwali, people clear their homes and prepare for a new beginning. A lick of paint, new colorful curtains and bright decorations all invite luck and get rid of misfortune. Shopping for gifts and getting new things for the home also mark a new beginning.

Saffron Marigold’s gorgeous collections of hand-printed linens provide a simple and beautiful way to add exotic Diwali flair to your home. We have a few simple to use ideas included here

Cushions and Pillows

An inviting assortment of plump cushions is the easiest and most accessible way to ramp up the color intensity and create a festive ambiance. Here are some Saffron Marigold cushion covers that will get your living room Diwali ready.

Tablecloths

Our line of handprinted tablecloths can help you find inspiration for the perfect family dinner. Combined with the right accessories, lanterns, and colorful ribbons, your dining room will give you a chance to feel the spirit of Diwali, the upcoming fortune and good luck you’ll be attempting to invite in your life.

Sheer Curtain Panels

Another simple thing you can do is hang beautiful curtains on your windows. When the light of the lamps reflect in the sheer fabric, the intricate patterns will completely transform the appearance of your window and create a bit of fairytale magic.

Shimmering Goldstone ~ Orange Gold Sari India Curtain Panel Shimmering Goldstone ~ Orange Gold Sari India Curtain Panel
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Jeweled Peacock ~ Turquoise Gold Sari India Curtain Panel Jeweled Peacock ~ Turquoise Gold Sari India Curtain Panel
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India Rose ~ Pink Floral Bohemian Indian Curtain Panel India Rose ~ Pink Floral Bohemian Indian Curtain Panel
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Valances

With their gorgeous hand beaded trims that shimmer and twinkle in the light our hand crafted valances are an great way to either frame an altar space or add a splash of festive color and dazzle to your windows.

Finally, creating a Diwali altar is a great way to add significance based decorations to your Diwali celebrations. 

Diwali Altars

Creating an altar for Diwali devoted to Goddess Lakshmi is a deeply significant part of the Diwali celebrations. Here is an altar Anisha, owner and designer here at Saffron Marigold, set up in honor of goddess Lakshmi:

Diwali Decorations
This beautiful altar to the Goddess Lakshmi is created with beautiful linens, bright colors, and a series of 12 “diya” lights.

Here’s a note from her: 

Dear wonderful friends of Saffron Marigold!

Here’s wishing you a joyous Diwali blessed with much prosperity and abundance.

Diwali, the grand festival of lights, is India’s biggest and most important holiday, marking the first day of the Hindu new year.

The festival gets its name from the masses of earthen “diyas” (oil lamps) that homes across the nation light to welcome goddess Lakshmi (the goddess of abundance, wealth and prosperity) into their homes.

I am sharing here is the altar I set up in honor of goddess Lakshmi.

I chose the India Rose tablecloth to symbolize the pink lotus she is always seated on.

To frame the altar I chose the Mystic Amethyst curtains since they pick up the purple accents from the India Rose tablecloth and their gilded accents pay opulent homage to the goddess of wealth and prosperity.

I lit 12 earthen diyas to represent each month of the calendar.

I also seated my Ganesha on the altar beside Lakshmi, to seek his blessings as the remover of obstacles.

In the beautiful black and gold electric incense burner I offered some of the most intoxicating rose incense I have had the pleasure of experiencing (Duggatal Oudh with Wardh Taifi)

The silver “attardani” (rose water sprinkler) you see on the right is a family heirloom that is 100 years old

The pink roses are held in a ceramic pot that was made by my Dad in the senior center pottery class when he visited me in Petaluma a decade ago.

As the prasadam or offering I made Gajar Halwa (Carrot Halwa), India’s equivalent of a pumpkin pie and favorite winter indulgence . It is is contained in a silver bowl that was a wedding gift from my in-laws.

with much love, Anisha

What Is The Significance of The Lights?

The “diya” lamp is probably the most important part of the celebration, the one that carries the spirit of Diwali. A diya is an oil lamp that has a cotton wick dipped in ghee or vegetable oil. It is used as lighting only for special occasions. On Diwali, small diyas are placed at the entrance of the house, as well as around the boundaries of the property.

festival of lights, Diwali celebrations
Diyas (lights) carry the spirit of Diwali

In Hinduism, light signifies purity and good luck. The existence of light makes the existence of darkness impossible. This is one of the reasons why most religious temples feature candles, small lamps or lights of another sort.

Diwali is celebrated on the day of the new moon. This means that the sky is completely dark. The Diwali lights placed out of the house are a reflection of the inner brightness we all carry inside. It also shows unity. A single diya can illuminate a large area, including the yard of a neighbor.

In India (as well as in many parts of the world over the past few years), Diwali light displays have turned into a source of pride and joy. Some of them are recognized for the exceptional intricacy. Communities across India and other parts of the world have developed their unique styles, and the light arrangements will carry the local spirit in the color selection, the location chosen for the display and even the patterns crafted out of tiny lights.

The lighting of lamps is spiritually and socially significant. This year, go out and choose a few candles or traditional diya lamps. The arrangement and the intricacy of the Diwali lights is up to you.

Celebrate Light in Your Own Way

We hope you enjoy this collection of ideas and inspiration on how to celebrate Diwali.

diwali celebration lights
here’s to carrying the inner light in your soul and inviting goodness into your life

Like many things in life, no matter what your religious or cultural background is, there are beautiful and transcendent elements that anybody can appreciate and enjoy. So remember, no matter how you choose to celebrate Diwali, what matters the most is carrying the inner light in your soul and inviting goodness into your life.

6 responses

  1. As a Baha’i, it is important to me to know about different religions. Thank you for your explanation of the Hindu celebration of Diwali.

    • We appreciate you taking the time to read and reach out to us. Glad our guide was able to inform and inspire, and thanks again for stopping by!

  2. I really enjoyed reading about Diwali and the traditions of the 5 days. I especially enjoyed the idea of making the places you live and work bright and new with the wonder of lights, beautiful fabrics and, of course, the sweets. I’m thinking that I may need to search out where I can come some of the sweets that are mentioned in this article. I know where I can get the beautiful fabrics! Thank you again for the education and the sharing of traditions that are old, but new to me and others.

    • Thank you so much for your kind words and enthusiasm. It is a very special holiday to us, so we are always thrilled when we can share it with others. Happy Diwali!

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