The Covid-19 pandemic may have taken the sheen off the festival of lights the past two years, but large-scale festivities are returning for Diwali this year. In countries such as India, where it's a major festival, many have waited until this time to splash out on big purchases, from jewellery to televisions, new cars, and even homes.
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 Saturday, with the "main Diwali" falling today, Monday October 24, which marks the third day It is 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. Last year, they even appeared at the doorstep of No 11 Downing Street, the home of Rishi Sunak, then 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. 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 in 2020.
The Confederation of All India Traders forecasts that, with Covid-19 curbs lifted, sales during Diwali this year will be up 30 per cent compared to last year, for the industry group's 80 million small and medium-sized businesses, which generate more than $1.5 trillion in sales annually.
“Consumption tends to spike significantly during Diwali,” Ram Kalyan Medury, founder and chief executive of Jama Wealth, an investment advisory, told Bloomberg. “Even [the risk of] an inflation-ridden recession on the global front cannot dampen the festive spirit.”
“Sales, discounts and across the board increase in footfalls in shops and digital footfall for e-commerce websites alike means demand increases. More festive demand means more to cheer for the businesses.”