Diwali, a five-day festival of lights, celebrates a number of themes, including joy, forgiveness, knowledge, the goddess of wealth, Lakshmi, and the legend of Rama and Sita. Put simply, the festival represents the triumph of good over evil.
Hindus, Sikhs and Jains both in India and across the world usually take part by decorating houses and public spaces with thousands of lights, candles and colourful designs. As well as the bright colours and glittering lights, there’s music, dancing, delicious food and a cresting wave of community feeling.
So, when is Diwali this year, and how will people be celebrating?
When is Diwali 2021?
The festival always falls during October or November – depending on the new moon – on the 15th day of the Hindu month of Kartik.
While the full festival runs for five days, the third day is usually the main event – though each day has its own unique significance.
- Day one: “Dhanteras”. Dedicated to celebrating prosperity and the arrival of the goddess Lakshmi, who is believed to have emerged from the ocean on this day. “Dhan” means wealth and “teras” refers to the 13th day of a lunar fortnight on the Hindu calendar.
- Day two: Naraka Chaturdasi or Chhoti Diwali (small Diwali). The demon Narakasura was destroyed by Lord Krishna and Kali on this day. This day is celebrated with early morning rituals or puja.
- Day three: Amavasya (new moon day) or Lakshmi Puja. The darkest day of the month is also the most significant, being dedicated to the celebration of Lakshmi, the Hindu goddess of wealth, fortune, prosperity and beauty.
- Day four: Govardhan Puja. Frequently celebrated as the day when Lord Krishna defeated Indra, the god of thunder and rain, and also the start of a new year.
- Day five: Bhai Dooj. A day for celebrating the bond between siblings, with sisters praying for long and happy lives for their brothers and sharing food and gifts.
It is thought that this year Diwali is from November 2 to 6.
How will Diwali be celebrated in the UK this year?
Diwali is a calendar highlight across the globe, and the UK is no exception. Here are the best celebrations across the country that you can attend this year.
London’s main Diwali celebration, which attracts around 35,000 people annually, is being held in Trafalgar Square on October 23. Organisers have promised food vendors, light effects, performances on cinema screens and a Rangoli – a type of art originating in the Indian subcontinent – competition. Further details will be released at diwaliinlondon.com.
Greenwich’s National Maritime Museum is also a Diwali event on October 31. It has created a programme of workshops and performances before a lantern parade will draw the day to a close. For more information visit rmg.co.uk.
Leicester’s Diwali celebrations are famous for being one of the largest outside India. This year, the Diwali lights switch-on will take place on October 24 before Diwali Day.
The cultural programme on the day features dance, music and religious ceremony that will be shown on the giant screens every hour from 5.30pm to 8.30pm. It will also boast fire performers, giant puppets and funfair rides. More detail can be found at visitleicester.info.
Edinburgh’s Princes Street Gardens and its surroundings will transform into a haze of colour, music and dance for the city’s Diwali celebrations on November 21. Further detail is yet to be released but you can keep up to date at edinburghdiwali.co.uk.
Birmingham’s Victoria Square usually hosts Festival of Light celebrations every year, a full day of free celebrations, with food, dance and singing all on offer. Further details are yet to be released.
The Welsh capital usually celebrates Diwali with a “Diwali Mela” event at the St Fagans National Museum of History. The event was cancelled last year amid the coronavirus pandemic but it is hoped it will return for celebrations in 2021.
What to eat during Diwali
Food plays a central role in the festivities. Mithai – traditional sweets and desserts made with ghee, sugar, chickpea flour and a smattering of nuts and spices – are a popular choice.
On the first day of Diwali, lapsi halwa, a sweet dish of large-grain cracked wheat cooked in ghee, sugar and dried cardamom is a festive speciality and will often be followed by a yardlong bean curry, to symbolise longevity.
Many extravagant versions of mithai will be made by sweet makers for the occasion; vibrant piles of crisp deep-fried chirote, balushahi (similar to doughnuts), barfi or karanji (sweet dumplings) are handed round to friends and family, often with a cup of steaming masala chai. There is also laddoo, little balls of densely packed sweets, which are reportedly the favourite sweet of elephant-headed god Lord Ganesh.