Thousands of colored lights fill the sky as lanterns rise into the air while fireworks explode alongside them. Smells of freshly made sweets sweep down local eastern streets as families gather together in their homes decorated with rangolis, floor designs made of colored sand. Candles are lit in honor of Vishnu, the Hindu god who is believed to sustain the universe, to celebrate his victory over evil and the return to balance. This is Diwali—the festival of lights.
Taking place every autumn, the festival lasts five days with each new day encouraging different cultural traditions. From creating beautiful sand pictures to baking delicious sweets, entire Hindu families get involved in Diwali.
The stories and legends behind the festival vary from region to region, but they all tell the tales of men—each an incarnation of Vishnu—and their fabled victories over evil spirits. Perhaps the most common of these is the legend of Prince Rama. In northern India and surrounding regions, Diwali is the celebration of his return from a 14-year exile.
Prince Rama won the hand of Princess Sita, but he, his wife, and his brother were exiled because of his stepmother’s deception. During the exile, Ravana, the King of Lanka, captured Princess Sita. Ravana received a wish from the god Brahma after serving penance for 10,000 years and was unable to be killed by the gods. Prince Rama—being a reincarnation of Vishnu—knew this and assembled an army of all kinds of animals to search for his wife. He rescued his wife and his army of monkeys and bears defeated Ravana because they were not from the spiritual realm. Upon his victory, Prince Rama returned home with Princess Sita. His reign marked the beginning of the golden age of humanity.
The first day of Diwali encourages families to gather together. They bake sweets and pray to Lakshmi, the Hindu goddess of wealth and beauty, to receive a blessing for their families. Hindus spend much of this day cleaning and preparing for what comes tomorrow.
As the next day dawns, families decorate their now clean homes with beautiful rangolis on the ground. These stunning sand pictures cancel out the irregular lines and vibrations of their previously swept floors. Common rangoli designs include proportionally drawn cones and circles, flowers, trees, and birds.
The third day is dedicated for Hindus to gather together in their temples to honor Lakshmi. The night is marked by hundreds of fireworks lighting up the black sky as families share food among themselves.
After a night of celebration, the fourth day officially marks the beginning of the new year on the Hindu calendar. Families once again gather to spend time with one another, this time giving each other gifts.
The last day of Diwali is set aside to honor siblings. It is a time to celebrate the bonds of brothers and sisters, but the sisters especially make sure to pray for the prosperity of their brothers.
For Christians, the bright lights of Diwali serve as a good reminder of what Jesus once said.
“When Jesus spoke again to the people, he said, ‘I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.’” -John 8:12
This is the gospel. Jesus is the light that overcame the darkness (John 1:5). When He defeated death, He promised new and everlasting life to those who would seek after Him. Just as good won over evil in the story of Prince Rama, Jesus also defeated the evils of this world when He rose from the dead. This, ultimately, should be the spark for our greatest celebration. Jesus, the light of the world, has prepared the way for anyone to be brought into a relationship with Him. For those who have received Him, Jesus commands that they follow in His footsteps.
‘“Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead, they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.’” -Matthew 5:15-16
This means that each of us has an amazing opportunity to proclaim Jesus to our neighbors and the nations. This fall, whether you know Hindus across the ocean or right across the street, take time to ask them about what light means to them. Pray that God will use you to show them the light of Jesus that now lives inside of you.