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How Is Diwali Celebrated Around the World

Bright lights, bright colors, food, and fireworks. It might sound like the Fourth of July, but Diwali is something else entirely.

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Hundu Festival, Lahore, Pakistan - 07 Nov 2018K M Chaudary/AP/Shutterstock

Diwali is a “Festival of Lights”

Diwali is India’s biggest holiday, transcending religions and cultures to celebrate the triumph of good over evil (as symbolized by lights in the darkness).

Diwali, which is known around the world as the “Festival of Lights” falls in either October or November of each year—depending on when the 15th day of the lunar month of Kartik falls (which changes depending on the moon’s cycles). India isn’t the only country that celebrates a festival of lights.

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India Customs Festival - Nov 2012Sanjeev Gupta/EPA/Shutterstock

What Diwali literally means

The name “Diwali” is actually short for Dipawali (or Deepawali) which refers to the clay lamps (“deepa“) that celebrants arrange in rows (“avali“) outside their homes.

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Hundreds upon hundreds of thousands of deepa

A pottery maker in Bangalore prepares for Diwali by making clay lamps. By the time it’s the first day of the five-day celebration, Bangalore may have as many as 300,000 of these lit up (the current world record for the most lights in one city burning simultaneously is held by Ayodya, with 300,150). Learn the right—and wrong way—to burn candles.

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Diwali festival, Trafalgar Square, London, UK - 28 Oct 2018Guy Bell/Shutterstock

Diwali is multi-culti

Diwali began in the Hindu religion, but it’s been adopted across Indian culture (much like Christmas has been adopted across American culture). It’s also celebrated in many countries, particularly Asia, although please don’t count out the United Kingdom, whose lavish celebrations of Diwali are among the world’s most colorful (as shown in this photo taken on Diwali in Trafalgar Square).

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Jain Festival, Allahabad, India - 29 Mar 2018Rajesh Kumar Singh/AP/Shutterstock

The Jain celebration involves Lord Mahavira

Those who follow Jainism (as opposed to Hindus) focus their Diwali celebrations on the Lord Mahavira on Diwali. Mahavira, pictured here, is said to have created the defining rules of Jainism, and Diwali marks the anniversary of Mahavira attaining enlightenment.

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Fateh Divas or 'Victory Day' celebrations in Amritsar, India - 08 Nov 2018RAMINDER PAL SINGH/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock

The Sikh celebration focuses on prisoner release

For those who follow Sikhism, Diwali is known as Bandi Chorh Divas, which means “Prisoner Release Day.” It celebrates the release from prison of the guru, Hargobind, along with 52 others in 1619. Here Sikh men strike a balance on six running horses as part of their celebration.

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India Festival Diwali Shopping - Oct 2006Raminder Pal Singh/EPA/Shutterstock

Northern India’s take on Diwali involves colorful lanterns

In Northern India, the Hindu celebration of Diwali is associated specifically with the homecoming of the God, Rama, following his triumph over the evil King Ravana. In addition to small clay lamps, the festivities include colorful lanterns and other colorful decorations like the ones pictured here in a shop in Amritsar, Punjab, India.

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Govardhan Puja festival, Bhopal, India - 08 Nov 2018SANJEEV GUPTA/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock

Central to Southern India honors Lord Krishna

As you head south from Punjab, India’s celebrations of Diwali come to focus less on the Lord Rama, and more on Lord Krishna (a nature-loving supreme God). The Bhopal celebrants pictured here are performing a religious ritual called a “puja” to honor Krishna’s defeat over the evil Lord Indra (the God of Rain).

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Dewali Festival, Peshawar, Pakistan - 17 Nov 2018Muhammad Sajjad/AP/Shutterstock

Let’s not forget about Lakshmi

Diwali is celebrated by many not just as a triumph of good over evil but also as a ritual to manifest prosperity. The Goddess Lakshmi is the Hindu deity associated with wealth and prosperity. During Diwali, the Lakshmi Puja, which takes place on the third day, is one of the most important celebrations, notes the Hindustani Times. In this photo, a girl worships beside an image of Lakshmi during Diwali 2018 in Peshawar, Pakistan.

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India Festival - Oct 2013Sanjeeev Gupta/EPA/Shutterstock

Preparing to honor Lakshmi

To make the Lakshmi feel welcome in the home, people decorate their floors with bright, geometric patterns called “rangoli.” Rangoli are made with loose, brightly colored powder like the powders pictured here. The powders are made of foods like rice, spices, and flour and can also be made of flower petals.

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BRITAIN, LONDON, United Kingdom EnglandKirsty Wigglesworth/AP/Shutterstock

The biggest Rangoli in the world

In 2006, school children from across the U.K. celebrated Diwali by trying to create the world’s largest rangoli. The colorful powders shown here are made from yellow split peas, green and red lentils, maize, and kidney beans. It covers 900 square meters, which, sadly, isn’t even close to record-breaking. The current world record rangoli measured 22,863 square meters.

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Diwali festival in Ahmedabad, India - 07 Nov 2018DIVYAKANT SOLANKI/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock

Fireworks abound

In India, Malaysia, Nepal, Singapore, and Sri Lanka, Diwali is celebrated every autumn with thousands of fireworks displays that span over the course of five days, according to Keystone Fireworks. “The celebration is so bright, it can be seen from outer space.” Unfortunately, the ubiquitousness of fireworks has caused problems in India in past years. In 2016, Diwali left New Delhi in a thick, choking smog, according to NPR, leading India to place restrictions on the sale of fireworks and firecrackers.

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Food at Diwali, Hindu FestivalPhotofusion/Shutterstock

Food is an essential part of Diwali…

“Indian sweets and desserts are called mithai and are a staple part of Diwali celebrations,” according to the Independent U.K. Many of the treats are fried foods made from sugar, chickpea flour, and condensed milk. Getting hungry? All 15 of these American food festivals are worth a pit stop.

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India Diwali, Allahabad, IndiaRajesh Kumar Singh/AP/Shutterstock

…So are marigolds

Marigolds, which come in brilliant orange and yellow shades, are considered auspicious by the Hindu religion and are therefore often associated with celebrations and milestones. Here a child sits beside a roadside marigold display in advance of Diwali in Allahabad, India.

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Diwali Festival , New York, USA - 07 Oct 2017 AP/Shutterstock

Diwali goes Bollywood

During the Times Square Diwali celebration in New York, New York, Bollywood-style dancers performed in colorful costumes. Have you seen how the Times Square Ferris Wheel has been repurposed?

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Singapore - Nov 2015Paul Brown/Shutterstock

Diwali in Singapore

Diwali in Singapore begins weeks in advance, with people shopping for new clothes and new carpets. On the actual day, Singaporean Hindus get up early in the morning to take a ritual oil bath to remove impurities from their bodies, after which they will dress in brightly colored clothes (and no black, which is considered inauspicious). The light displays in Singapore, as shown here, tend to favor a pristine look. Next, be sure not to miss these 80 gorgeous travel photos from all over the world.

Lauren Cahn
Lauren Cahn is a New York-based writer whose work has appeared regularly on Reader's Digest, The Huffington Post, and a variety of other publications since 2008. She covers life and style, popular culture, law, religion, health, fitness, yoga, entertaining and entertainment. Lauren is also an author of crime fiction; her first full-length manuscript, The Trust Game, was short-listed for the 2017 CLUE Award for emerging talent in the genre of suspense fiction.