Diwali, or Deepavali as it is otherwise known, is one of the largest festival in India. Diwali is known as the festival of lights, signaling the start of the Hindu New Year and is celebrated across the country with fervor.

History

 Diwali Celebrations By asprao
Diwali celebrates the victory of good over evil. It is considered by some to have originally been a harvest festival, signaling the start of winter. But for most it originated from the Ramayana, where Lord Rama’s wife, Sita, was captured by the demon King Ravana. Lord Rama, along with Hanuman and his monkey army went to Sri Lanka to save Sita and bring her back to Ayodha. This Hindu festival celebrates Lord Rama's return to the Kingdom of Ayodha after being in exile for 14 years. 

Diwali is a 5-day celebration, which is marked with different rituals for each day and the lighting of diyas (oil lamps) and plenty of firecrackers.

  • The first day of Diwali is Dhanteras, which is traditionally associated with wealth, with many choosing to buy gold or other items on this day.
  • On the second day, Naraka Chaturdasi is considered to be a day of light, celebrating when Lord Krishna killed the demon Narakasura. People traditionally bathe before sunrise on this day and give thanks to Lord Krishna and Vishnu. It is also sometimes called Choti Diwali (or little Diwali).
  • The third day of Diwali is Amavasya, the most important day of the festival. On this day households worship Lakshmi the goddess of wealth, and Ganesha, the remover of obstacles. Houses are lit up with diyas and fireworks take over the skies.
  • The fourth day of Diwali is known as Govardhan Puja in the North and Bali Pratipada in the south. In the north it celebrates Lord Krishna saving his people from floods by lifting the Govardhana Hill, whilst in the south they celebrates Vamana's victory over the demon-king Bali. 
  •  The last day of Diwali is Yama Dwitiya (or Bhaidhuj), celebrating affection between siblings. Brothers are invited into their sister's homes and usually come bearing gifts for them. Sisters also affirm their affection for their brothers by tying a sacred thread around their wrist.

Food also features prominently in Diwali celebrations, like this delicious Diwali thali.  

When is Diwali 2017

Diwali is based on a lunar calendar, so the dates do change each year. In 2017 Diwali will be celebrated on Thursday, October 19th. And, in 2018 the festival will be celebrated on Wednesday, November 7th.

Where to Spend Diwali

Diwali is celebrated widely across India, except in Kerala, so it is almost impossible to miss out on the fireworks wherever you are. However there are some destinations in India that IMers do recommend for seeing in Diwali.

Jaipur

 Diwali Celebrations By vaibhav_arora
A beautiful city to visit at any time of year and a major trading centre, Jaipur is abuzz during Diwali. In Jaipur Diwali starts with great fervor on Dhanteras, two days before the most important day of Amavasya. As Dhanteras is the day of Kubera, the Lord of Wealth, He is worshipped along with Lakshmi (the Goddess of Wealth). People in Jaipur flock to markets to buy metal objects as it is considered auspicious; anything goes from gold coins, jewelry, electronics to cars. The celebrations then reach a peak on Diwali day (or Amavasya) and continue until Bhaidhuj.

vaibhav_arora has posted some great Diwali images from Jaipur of the celebrations and the decorated buildings, including the stunning Hawa Mahal. The sites of the city are covered in lights and the pink city glows during Diwali. 

Delhi

The capital city of India can be a little overwhelming at the best of times and during Diwali is no exception, which makes it a fascinating experience. Delhiwala recommends wandering the markets to see the frenzy, but also make sure you have some earplugs at night because the fireworks in Delhi can go all night long. Namaste_cat suggests watching the fireworks in Delhi from India Gate, Ram Leela Ground or Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium. Wherever you are, it is almost impossible to miss seeing fireworks in Delhi over Diwali.

Kolkata

One of the biggest celebrations to see in Kolkata during Diwali is the Kali Puja, which will be held on Wednesday, October 18th, 2017. According to namaste_cat, people decorate their houses and do beautiful rangoli patterns at the entrance of their house to welcome the Goddess.  The ceremony usually begins at midnight, and can be seen at Kalighat or Dakshineswar.  According to Biman, the best place to see the Kali Puja is in the nearby town of Barasat, where huge gates are lit up with LED lights.

Varanasi

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Considered by many to be one of the most spiritual places on earth, Diwali in Varanasi is just beautiful. According to Maltabella the ghats come alive with diyas that are lit and then floated on  the Ganges. This just adds to the atmosphere in this already beautiful ancient town, making it one of the best places to see Diwali. However Jjamwal suggests keeping an eye out for any fake sadhus or pandits, who come out in force to take advantage of tourists.

It is even worthwhile visiting Varanasi after Diwali, as they celebrate this festival in a unique way. The festival of Diwali culminates on Kartik Purnima (the day of the full moon) which falls fifteen days after Diwali. This occasion is called Dev Diwali ("the Diwali of the Gods" or "Festival of Lights of the Gods") and is celebrated with much pomp and pageantry. In 2017 Dev Diwali will be held on Friday, November 3rd. 

More than a million earthen lamps (diyas) are lit on the steps of the ghats that line the bank of the river Ganges, right from Ravidas Ghat at the southern end to Rajghat. Locals decorate their houses with oil lamps and rangoli (colored designs made with powder and wheat flour) at their front door and firecrackers are exploded at night. There are also processions of decorated deities on the streets of Varanasi. The lamps are set afloat on the Ganges. It really is a magical experience to watch. 

Mumbai

Mumbai is an exciting city to visit at any time of year, but it really does come alive during Diwali. Located on the Arabian Sea, there are plenty of great vantage points to watch fireworks including Marine Drive. The entire market area in South Mumbai is lit up and a great place to witness some frenzied buying and selling. Even the large shopping malls across Mumbai are brightly decorated, and if you visit them on the actual day of Diwali make sure you dress up. 

There are also plenty of places to see where the lamps and lanterns are actually made and sold. Adam00121 has given a comprehensive guide of where to see these during Diwali in Mumbai

Pushkar, Jaisalmer or Udaipur

A favorite of IMers, Pushkar can be a lot of fun during Diwali. Dbwright22 warns that it is very loud, but is well worth spending with a family at a guesthouse. Further afield, is the golden city of Jaisalmer. If you are considering heading to the desert, it can be great fun as bloodypeasant found when she spent Diwali in Jaisalmer. These smaller towns offer a very a different and more homely experience of Diwali than the larger towns, particularly if you stay at a local homestay or small hotel.

Of course no discussion of Diwali in Rajasthan is complete without mentioning the Lake city of Udaipur. During this time of year the waterfront is lit beautifully, and the town is lively compared to a quieter experience in Jaisalmer. 

Kerala

This Hindu festival is generally not celebrated much in Kerala, which makes it a great place to go for Diwali if you are hoping to escape the celebrations and the crackers. At this time of year, Kerala can be a little wet, but God's Own Country is gorgeous in any weather. Some of the more popular towns such as Kochi or Kovalam should be relatively peaceful during Diwali. 

Just a word of caution

Make sure you remain alert whilst crossing roads or passing through a market or busy areas during Diwali, as it isn't uncommon for people to light firecrackers on the road or even throw them. The celebrations are great fun, but you don't want them to end up in an accident, so stay alert and perhaps consider wearing something that won't catch fire easily. For example, loose clothing and items like chunni (scraves, shawls etc) should be avoided as they are prone to catch fire easily. Similarly closed shoes are perhaps better to wear than sandals at this time. If you are unlucky and do get hurt from a random firecracker, then make sure you rush to the nearest doctor or hospital. 

Another thing to be aware of is the possibility of respiratory problems due to the amount of firecrackers. As narendra.d points out, respiratory problems from smoke tends to be at its worse in the colder parts of the country, including Delhi or further north. If you are asthmatic or prone to respiratory problems you might need to stay inside and watch the fireworks from afar, or carry additional medicine with you. 

The Times of India cautioned for safety last year during Deepawali festival with a title Be cautious this Diwali, warn doctors with a word of advice: "people must keep in mind preventive measures for any hazards that may occur, especially from the careless use of crackers ... the doctor's advice is simple :

"Play safe, be safe this Diwali." 

Regardless of how you choose to spend Diwali, have a great time during the Festival of Lights.