Diwali, also known as the Festival of Lights, is one of the most important festivals for Hindus. Similar to Christmas in the west; it brings people together to celebrate, relax, pray, and eat. Visiting India during Diwali is a great time to come to the country. It gives visitors a unique opportunity to experience Hindu culture and celebrate with locals. Of course, all the pretty lights don’t hurt either!
What is Diwali?
The Diwali festival marks the new year in the Hindu calendar. Diwali is the day that the Hindu deities Rama and Sita returned to Ayodhya after their 14-year exile. Diwali symbolizes the spiritual victory of light over darkness, good over evil and hope over despair. We could all use some of that these days, hey?
When is Diwali?
The dates of Diwali change every year as it dependent on the moon cycle. The festival falls sometime between October and November. This year it was from November 5th-9th and in 2019 it will be October 25-29th. Make sure you check the dates online if you plan on visiting India during Diwali.
The 5 days of Diwali
The entire holiday takes place over five days with the main celebration, Diwali, celebrated on the third day.
The first day is for families to start preparing by cleaning the house and buying gifts. On this day the markets are lively and filled with beautiful Indian decorations and clothing. A great excuse to buy some gifts and souvenirs! Don’t forget to ask for your Diwali Discount 😉
The second day is another preparation day where Rangolis, art patterns made of flowers and coloured powder, are put on the front doors of peoples home to welcome their guests.
The third day, Diwali, is where friends and family come together to exchange gifts and light small oil lamps during the puja ritual. The ritual takes place to invite Goddess Lakshmi into their homes. They offer prayers to the Goddess, so that the New Year is filled with peace, wealth and prosperity.
Later in the evening, everyone goes out to celebrate on the street by lighting up fireworks. Similar to New Years Eve in the west, except there’s no regulations on the fireworks. The locals just shoot them off everywhere on the street, it gets pretty crazy!
On the fourth day, New Year’s Day, relatives and good friends visit each other to exchange gifts and bring food. Indians have a sweet tooth so expect lots of yummy (but sugar filled) treats. My personal favorite is Gulab Jamuns, a delicious fried ball of sweetness.
The last day of Diwali gets dedicated to brothers, it was much quieter from the days before. In my experience as a tourist, the days I enjoyed the most were the second and third day of Diwali.
Where can you celebrate Diwali?
Diwali celebrations take place all over the countries, however in the south of India they celebrate Diwali one day earlier. The extent of festivities will depend on where you are, but all over the country you will see families lighting their homes, setting off fireworks in the streets, and dressing up for the occasion.
The best way to celebrate Diwali is to either do a home stay with a family in India, or stay at an accommodation that puts on Diwali celebrations for guests. I stayed at Madpackers hostel in Pushkar which put on several Diwali activities for all the guests there including Rangoli making contests, a puja ceremony, fireworks, and a cultural dance in the desert. Madpackers hostels can be found all over India.
Pushkar is small in size compared to other Indian cities, but I enjoyed celebrating Diwali there. The town is a favorite among backpackers; filled with lovely cafes offering healthy options, some of the best markets I found in India, and friendly locals to talk with.
If you want to celebrate Diwali in a bigger city, I’d recommend Jaipur or Varanasi. Varanasi is famous for it’s nightly cremation/prayer ceremony and afterwards fireworks will go off over the ganges river. Jaipur is famous for Diwali as the entire market gets lit up.
Travelling around India during Diwali
All forms of transport get booked up far in advance for Diwali. It is a good idea to book any trains/busses well in advance and not move last minute. I met several travellers who were unable to get where they wanted because everything was sold out.
Another point to keep in mind about travelling during Diwali is that popular attractions are much busier then usual. Indians get the entire week off so many of them take advantage of this and travel around their own country. I think this is great, but just prepare yourself for massive crowds if you plan to do some sight seeing.
Safety during Diwali
The fireworks get crazy during Diwali. Families let their kids light them all over the street, so when walking around you have to be careful not to step right into one. The fireworks continue past Diwali into the 4th and 5th day, and I even saw some being shot off in Johdpur after the holidays was over.
Like any major festival, always keep your wits about you in large crowds. It’s easy for someone to grab something out of your bag in a crowded area, so when you go out bring the minimal that you need and stay cautious of your surroundings.
Visiting India during Diwali is a unique way to experience the country. It is so much fun to celebrate with the locals. They are hospitable and happy to have you be part of the celebrations. It actually felt like Christmas when I woke up the morning of Diwali! If you are thinking about coming to India, definitely consider visiting during Diwali.