Diwali, also spelled Dipawali, is a five-day Hindu, Jain, and Sikh religious celebration that begins on the 13th day of the dark half of the lunar month Ashvina and ends on the second day of the light half of the lunar month Karttika. (The Gregorian calendar’s equivalent dates are usually in late October and November.) The name comes from the Sanskrit term dipavali, which means “lights in a row.” In general, the holiday represents the triumph of light over darkness. Diwali celebrations vary according to area and culture. The most common Hindu habit is to light diyas (little earthenware lamps filled with oil) on the night of the new moon to attract Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth, to visit. The goddess Kali is revered in Bengal. In North India, the festival also commemorates Rama’s return to Ayodhya (together with Sita, Lakshmana, and Hanuman) after slaying Ravana, the demon king with ten heads, thereby linking the celebration to the Dussehra holiday. The event commemorates Krishna’s victory over the demon Narakasura in South India. Diwali is commemorated by some as the marriage of Lakshmi and Vishnu, while others view it as Lakshmi’s birthday. Diyas are lit and placed in rows around the parapets of temples and residences, as well as adrift on rivers and streams, during the celebration. Rangoli, intricate designs constructed of coloured rice, sand, or flower petals, are used to decorate homes and cover floors both inside and out. Houses’ doors and windows are left open in the hopes that Lakshmi will enter and bless the people with wealth and prosperity.

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