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Festival of the month: Diwali

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Lights and diyas, crackers and sparklers, feasts and sweets, and of course, card games with a bit of gambling thrown in are all a quintessential part of Diwali celebrations.

Why it is celebrated 

The roots of this Hindu festival lie in the Ramayana which relates to the story of Lord Rama’s return to Ayodhya after not just 14 years of exile but also after annihilating Ravana, the evil king of Lanka. As the day Rama was to returning in triumph to Ayodhya was a dark moonless night of amavasya, residents lit up the entire city with diyas to help Him find his way back home safely. And lighting up homes with a myriad, twinkling lights is a tradition that has come down centuries and lends Diwali that special magical appeal.

But although Diwali commemorates the victory of good over evil, on this day devotees also pray to Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth, and Ganesha, the elephant-headed god of auspicious beginnings.

Enveloping people from all faiths into its fold, Diwali also holds special significance for Jains who believe that Lord Mahavira attained moksha on this day. Sikhs celebrate the festival to commemorate the release of their sixth guru, Guru Hargobind, who had been imprisoned by Mughal Emperor Jehangir in Gwalior for about 12 years.

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How it is celebrated 

Needless to say, from days before Diwali, the air turns festive as decorated markets entice shoppers with attractive deal and clothes, household items and decoration pieces fly off the shelves as people pick up gifts for families and friends.

Spring-cleaning starts weeks before the festival – and on the day of Diwali, the house sparkles with colour, festivity and often a whole new look as many change their décor in time for the festival. All family members pitch in to do their bit – making sweets like laddoos and shakkarpare and lovingly decorating the house with rangoli floor-decorations, flowers and diyas.

This is a time when even the most health-conscious forget about diets and splurge on the amazing range of sweets and dry fruits.

Right from the morning on Diwali, friends and relatives start visiting each other to exchange sweets and gifts. And as evening descends, the twinkling fairy-lights and diyas give the entire city a magical look. The celebrations continue with the puja, feasts of puri and halwa and bursting of crackers… and not to forget the card parties where everyone gets together for some gambling (with small stakes) that has become a symbol of prosperity and fortune on that night.

AUTHOR'S BIO: Life's come full circle for Purnima, who started out as a travel journalist. And now, after more than 20 years in mainstream journalism, she is once again packing her bags and putting on her travelling boots to pursue her first love.