The Covid-19 pandemic may have taken the sheen off the festival of lights last year, but large-scale festivities are set to return, albeit cautiously, on Diwali this year. In countries such as India, where it's a major festival, daily infections tallies around seven-month lows and climbing vaccination rates are boosting optimism for the five-day festival.
Symbolising the triumph of good over evil and light over darkness, Diwali usually falls in the early autumn, coinciding with the new moon, deemed the darkest night of the Hindu lunar calendar. This is why dates change every year.
This year, celebrations began on November 2, with the "main Diwali" falling on the third day, November 4, an official holiday in many countries.
While for many, Diwali honours the Hindu goddess of wealth Lakshmi, with lights and lamps said to welcome her and bring prosperity, for others it celebrates the return of the deity Ram to Ayodhya, having rescued his wife Sita from the clutches of the demon king Ravana.
How is Diwali celebrated?
Predominantly a Hindu festival, other faiths including Jains, Sikhs and some Buddhists also celebrate Diwali. On the first day of celebrations, called Dhanteras, Hindus clean their homes and workplaces, symbolising renewal. Diyas or earthen lamps filled with oil are lit for the next five days and homes are decorated with lights and lanterns.
Many consider the day auspicious to make major purchases, from cars to equipment. Jewellery, especially gold to appease goddess Lakshmi, is often bought, with jewellery shops in India usually enjoying massive surges in sales on the day.
Doorways and entries to offices are also decorated with rangolis, the colourful designs made from flower petals, coloured rice or sand, meant to bring good luck. In March, they even appeared at the doorstep of No 11 Downing Street, the current home of Rishi Sunak, Britain's first Hindu Chancellor of the Exchequer, on the UK's budget day.
On the second day, called "chhoti Diwali" or "small Diwali", a variety of Indian sweets are made at home or bought and then exchanged along with gifts to friends and family.
The third day of Diwali, often called the "main Diwali", is when those celebrating wear new clothes or their best outfits and light fireworks. Parties and special events are held everywhere to mark new beginnings. The fourth day is mostly ritualistic, with many celebrations coinciding with the end of the harvest season.
The last day of the festival is called Bhai Dooj or brothers' day and marks the bond between sisters and brothers. Similar to Raksha Bandhan, where sisters tie symbolic charms around their brothers' wrists to ward off evil, during Bhai Dooj, brothers often travel to meet their sisters and her family. On this day, sisters feed their brothers with their hands and receive gifts in return.
Commercial significance of Diwali
Workers often receive bonuses and special gifts ahead of Diwali while sales of coins and bars, purchased as investment, surge. According to data from World Gold Council, Indians bought 194.3 tonnes of gold in 2019’s October-December festival period and 186.2 tonnes during the same period last year.
“This is a big Diwali for online retail,” Manish Tiwary, vice president of Amazon India, told Bloomberg.
Anticipating the rising demand in India, online retailer Flipkart added 115,000 jobs this sales season, up from 70,000 in 2020, while Amazon is advertising as much as 70 per cent off on furniture and 40 per cent off on smartphones.
Scroll through the gallery below for pictures of how Diwali was celebrated around the world in 2019: