Diwali 2021: What is Diwali? Who celebrates the 'Festival of Light', when Diwali is and how long it lasts

Diwali celebrations are taking place around the world this week as the ‘Festival of Light’ arrives for another year – but what is Diwali, who celebrates it and when is it this year?

Diwali 2021: What is Diwali? Who celebrates the 'Festival of Light', when Diwali is and how long it lasts (Image credit: AP Photo/Rajesh Kumar Singh)
Diwali 2021: What is Diwali? Who celebrates the 'Festival of Light', when Diwali is and how long it lasts (Image credit: AP Photo/Rajesh Kumar Singh)

After the pandemic saw many worshippers unable to celebrate the Indian festival of Diwali last year, people across the world are gathering together this week to make up for last year’s disruption with bigger and bolder celebrations for Diwali 2021.

Despite concerns of growing coronavirus case numbers in India and beyond, Diwali celebrations this year will see a number of religious believers and worshippers, mostly Hindus, come together to hold firework displays, light clay lamps and celebrate the triumph of light over darkness with bright, colourful feasts and festivities.

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The Akshardham Hindu temple decorated with oil earthen lamps is pictured on the eve of 'Diwali' festival in Gandhinagar, some 30 km from Ahmedabad on November 3, 2021. (Image credit: Sam Panthaky/AFP via Getty Images)
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But what is Diwali and when will it take place in 2021?

Here’s what you need to know about the Festival of Light, who celebrates Diwali and how long it will last.

What is Diwali?

Diwali is an annual festival which celebrates the triumph of light over darkness, good over evil and importance of knowledge over ignorance in October and November, in accordance with the lunar calendar.

Hindu devotees gather at a temple to offer prayers during Diwali, the festival of lights, in Colombo on November 4, 2021. (Image credit: ISHARA S. KODIKARA/AFP via Getty Images)

The name of the religious event is derived from the word deepavali, which is a Sanskrit term meaning "rows of lighted lamps".

It coincides with the arrival of a new moon anytime between mid October to mid November, which is also known as the Kartik month in the Hindu calendar.

The ‘Festival of Light’ sees families and friends gather all over the world to light candles, small, sometimes decorated oil lamps known as diyas and lanterns around homes, places of worship and public areas.

The bright and colourful festival also sees those celebrating participate in a range of Diwali traditions such as creating colourful rangoli designs on floors and doormats as a sign of celebration and welcome, and considerable feasts and festivities involving Indian sweets and confectionary collectively known as mithai.

Hindus will also use Diwali to pay tribute to the Goddess Lakshmi, symbolising wealth, prosperity, good luck and fertility, who they believe will enter the home through the main door on the night of Diwali if guided by enough lights – with the Goddess bestowing blessings upon Hindu households of the homes she enters.

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Who celebrates Diwali?

While Diwali is mostly worshipped by Hindus, it is also celebrated by Sikhs, some Buddhists and those who believe in Jainism – an ancient Indian religion considered to be one of the country’s oldest religious practices, worshipped by approximately 0.4% of India’s population.

Diwali is celebrated by Hindus according to the ancient text of Ramayana, with Diwali believed to mark the day on which Lord Rama triumphed over demon king King Ravana and was welcomed back to his homeland with wife Sita and brother Lakshman, with villagers lighting a path home for Rama, Sita and Lakshman with diyas and lights.

The festival is celebrated by millions of people across the world and is marked as an official holiday in countries such as India, Pakistan, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Malaysia, Myanmar and Singapore.

When is Diwali this year and how long will it last?

Diwali celebrations burst into life on the third day of the five day festival of lights, which falls between October and November with a changing date each year.

The five days are as follows:

Day 1 – Dhanteras

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Day 2 – Choti Diwali

Day 3 – Diwali

Day 4 – Padwa

Day 5 – Bhai Duj

This year, Diwali began on 2 November 2021 and will continue until Saturday 6 November – with celebrations coming to a head on Thursday 4 November.

Diwali 2021 celebrations are likely to see firework displays across cities in the UK as families and friends gather to enjoy food, welcome one another to their homes and unite in worship.

In India, over 900,000 lamps were lit and kept burning on the banks of the river Saryu in the northern city of Ayodhya, which holds a Guinness World Record for lighting oil lamps as part of the Diwali celebration.

Where are Scotland’s largest Diwali 2021 celebrations?

While the UK city with the largest Diwali celebrations every year is Leicester, England, which is thought to see the largest celebrations outside India take place in the city every year along its Golden Mile of restaurants, shops and businesses.

But celebrations will also be taking place across the UK and Scotland.

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In Edinburgh, Diwali celebrations will be taking place in 2021 as ‘Edinburgh Diwali’ in Princes Street Gardens on 21 November.

Events and celebrations will also be taking place in Glasgow, Aberdeen and other Scottish cities throughout the month.

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