My first trip to India was made even more magical by me coincidentally being there during Diwali. Known as the Festival of Lights, Diwali is celebrated for 4-5 days and falls sometime between mid-October to mid-November of each year depending on the where days fall in the Hindu calendar. This year, Diwali is being celebrated from November 13th through the 17th. A national holiday in India, Diwali is also celebrated by Sikhs, Jains and Buddhists. Diwali is one of the most important festivals of the year and family members return home to celebrate together. One of the main activities is the lighting of small oil lamps, or diyas, which symbolizes the triumph of good over evil.
Diwali is definitely a holiday that a WanderShopper can get in to as it requires shopping for jewelry and new clothes. Indians are very superstitious and one of the most auspicious days of the year to buy gold is part of the Diwali celebration. Jewelry stores all over India are flooded with people making purchases of necklaces, earrings, bangles and rings. Being a novice shopper in Delhi that year, I didn’t realize that and missed the opportunity. When I went to buy a bangle for a friend a couple days later, I was chided for not coming in sooner so I could gain the additional merit from my purchase.
While sightseeing in Delhi, our WanderTours group happened upon a market selling supplies for Diwali. To stay competitive with the Jones’ and the Guptas’, you need to be concerned with the light display outside of your home. You may want to pick up hundreds of little clay pots, diyas, so you can fill them with oil or ghee, place the wicks in them and then you can ignite them all at dusk. In fact, the name Diwali is a shortened form of the Sanskrit word Deepavali which translates as “row of lamps.” It is a beautiful sight to drive around Delhi at night gazing at all the lines of lights flickering in front of everyone’s yard. It reminded me of the drives my family used to do at Christmas time admiring all the light displays.
The market we visited also featured a number of statues of both Ganesh and Lakshmi, two important Hindu Gods for Diwali. You will always find them together for the holiday in northern India. Ganesh represents auspicious beginnings and Lakshmi is known as the Goddess of wealth. The first day of Diwali marks the beginning of the financial year in many Indian businesses. The market had many choices and options were available for both really large statues as well as small statues for your personal shrine.
Back at our hotel, we were able to witness some of the hotel staff creating a rangoli in the lobby. A rangoli is a traditional design made of rice, flour, colored sand and flower petals. Rangolis are usually done in doorways or in the entry space of a home or business. Its purpose is to welcome and bring good luck to all who visit. Thousands of geometric patterns exist and each rangoli maker will bring her (or his) own family traditions. I was amazed at how quickly our rangoli was laid out with precision. The brass stands in the center are elaborate oil lamps that were lite in the evening to celebrate Diwali.
Diwali was made really special for our group when we were invited to a Diwali party by the WOW Club, Women on Wanderlust. They are a similar organization to Wanderlust and Lipstick and WanderTours in that they also promote travel for Indian women and offer tours all over the world. It was really fun to meet women who had the same passion for travel that I do. Sumitra Senapaty, the founder of WOW Club, and her ladies put together a fantastic party. Upon arrival, we were all bestowed with garlands of marigolds. At the party, we took part in a puja or blessing ceremony. Additionally, they taught us traditional games to play at Diwali. We enjoyed a feast of wonderful Indian food finished, of course, with some delicious desserts and sweets. Then the men at the party really came into their own as they brought out the fireworks. These explosive light displays drive away evil spirits that may be lurking around. We were able to hear the explosions going off at celebrations around Delhi. It was a night I will never forget as new friends were made and a beautiful holiday explored.
Want to host your own Diwali party this year? Here’s your Diwali shopping checklist:
Oil lamps or candles
Fireworks or sparklers
New Indian inspired tunic or scarf
Delicious food – Not a cook? Pick up some take-out from your favorite Indian restaurant.
An array of Sweets
WanderShopper source: One of my favorite places to buy Indian clothes in the U.S. is MarketPlace: Handwork of India. They are a non-profit organization that supports economic development for disadvantaged women in India. WanderShoppers love when they can help people through their purchases!
Jewelry Photo Credit: India Gifts World