Question: "What is the Diwali festival in Hinduism?"
Answer: The word diwali comes from a Sanskrit word dipavali (or deepavali), literally meaning “row of clay lamps.” Diwali is the Festival of Lights, celebrated in India, Fiji, Malaysia, Nepal, Singapore, and other Eastern nations. The festival is the biggest and most important festival in Hinduism, but it is also observed by Buddhists, Sikhs, and Jains. Diwali occurs on the night of the new moon during the month of Kartika, according to the Hindu lunisolar calendar. It falls between mid-October and mid-November on the Gregorian calendar. The festival signifies a triumph of light over darkness, knowledge over ignorance, and good over evil.
Worship of the goddess Lakshmi—the goddess of fertility and wealth—is common during the Diwali festival season. People also decorate and clean their homes, buy gifts for their family members and friends, share sweets, and place lights on their rooftops and around their homes. Many people open their doors as an invitation to Lakshmi to enter their houses. Women often create beautiful patterns on their floors and walkways in preparation for Diwali, and on Diwali night fireworks are set off. Children listen to legends about goodness triumphing over evil and hope triumphing over despair.
The spiritual significance of Diwali is rooted in the Atman, which is the Hindu concept of that which is beyond the physical body and mind, the pure and immortal aspect of all that exists. Atman is the light of higher knowledge that dispels ignorance and awakes compassion and unity, and it is something that Hindus and Buddhists strive to achieve. Though, cross-culturally, there are many different interpretations of the Atman and differing practices associated with this belief, the main idea is the same: the triumph of inner light over inner darkness.
The Diwali festival shows the universal desire for goodness to triumph over evil and for knowledge to extinguish ignorance. However, the false gods of Hinduism are not the source of goodness and light. Lakshmi is a false goddess; Vishnu and Krishna are not the heroes they are portrayed to be. We cannot find enlightenment by looking within the Self.
The Bible says that Jesus Christ is the Truth (John 14:6). “In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind” (John 1:4). Jesus warns that there is a “light” that is actually darkness (Matthew 6:23) and admonishes us to take care: “See to it, then, that the light within you is not darkness” (Luke 11:35). In the Garden of Eden, the serpent came with a lie and proffered knowledge (Genesis 3:4–5), and he deceived Eve into disobeying God, who is the true source of light. “Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light” (2 Corinthians 11:14). The point is that good things are often used by evil spirits to deceive well-meaning people. Light and hope and knowledge are wonderful things—things God wants us to have. But Diwali represents a search for those things in the wrong place.
Those who follow Jesus will be like the blind man in John 9 whose eyes were opened. He had lived in the dark, but now he lives in the light. When the Diwali festival ends, the lights go out, and people resume their lives, but Jesus Christ offers a continual light in the soul that is never extinguished. “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it” (John 1:5).