This Sunday (November 3rd) marks the start of Diwali – an occasion celebrated by Hindus all over the world. Lasting for five days, the Festival of Lights is the most important holiday on the Hindu calendar and marks the New Year. Translation: Diwali is also known as Deepavali, which translates to ‘row of lights’ (‘deep’ translates to ‘lights’ and ‘avali’ to ‘a row’.) The History: There are numerous theories as to the roots of Diwali in India. One is that it was originally the harvest festival. More mystical theories of its origins include the tale of Rama, Prince of Ayodhya, who was exiled along with his wife and brother for 14 years. While living in the forest, Rama’s wife Sita was kidnapped by the demon king Ravana, but Rama fought him and won. He then returned to his city, and the people rejoiced by lighting earthen lamps and bursting crackers. Today, Diwali is still celebrated with the lighting of lamps and the letting off of fireworks and firecrackers. In southern India, Diwali is linked to the Goddess Durga. She was created to defeat the demon Mahishasura, who had been blessed so that only a woman could kill him. Using the gifts she had received from the other gods, Durga defeated the demon, and today lamps are lit to honour the triumph of good over evil. Another possible origin of the festival is the legend of the marriage of Lakshmi, Goddess of Wealth. When the Devas and Asuras came together to churn the ocean Kshirsagar in their search for Amrit, the source of immortality, the Goddess appeared from the depths. As was customary at the time, she was able to choose her own husband at a swayamwara. Such was her beauty, all of the Gods, Devas and Asuras gathered to await her decision, and Lakshmi chose Lord Vishnu, the Supreme God, by placing a garland around his neck. To celebrate the goddess’s birth and marriage, rows of lamps were set out and lit. Celebrating Diwali Today: Lakshmi is at the centre of Diwali celebrations today. Houses are always lit with lamps and candles to help the goddess find them. It is believed that she can only enter a home if it is illuminated, and some homeowners string up ribbons of bright electric lights to ensure they cannot be missed. Before they light the lamps, Hindu people clean their homes from top to bottom to prepare for the New Year. They then open their windows so that Lakshmi can easily enter, bringing her luck and prosperity with her. Often, people will buy new outfits and sometimes even invest in new jewellery to wear on the first day of Diwali, Dhanteras – which is the 13th lunar day of the Aswin dark fortnight, known as Krishna Paksha. Again, this is a way of bidding farewell to the outgoing year and welcoming the new one. In addition to illuminating their homes to attract good, Hindu people frighten off evil demons by letting off firecrackers. Today, it is popular to let off fireworks, and many towns and cities hold large firework displays, which often also coincide with the English celebration of Guy Fawkes Night. Fun and Food: Food is a huge part of Diwali, with one of the customs being to exchange and enjoy sweets, known as mithai, during the five-day holiday. The sweets are given to friends and family as gifts and by the time Diwali is over, plenty of the treats will have been exchanged. Traditionally, mithai are fried and the ingredients include milk, condensed milk and sugar. They are brightly coloured, beautiful and look just as good as they taste. Laddu are among the favourite sweets to enjoy during the holiday, and there are countless flavours to choose from. Shaped into small balls, these sweets are simple to make, involve just a handful of ingredients – depending on the flavour – and can be prepared in mere minutes. It is customary to play card and dice games during Diwali. These are great ways for families to enjoy time together. Often members of the extended family, neighbours and friends will all meet at some point for a large party to celebrate the festival. The last day of Diwali is Bhau-Beej. On this day, sisters dedicate time to praying for their brothers. This may take the form of a Tika ceremony when the sisters prepare a huge meal that incorporates their brother’s favourite dishes to symbolise their best wishes for him. They will then mark their brother’s forehead with a red tika. Brothers repay this kindness by giving their sisters gifts or money. This symbolises their duty to protect and take care of their siblings.