Also known as the Festival of Lights, Diwali, or Deepavali is celebrated by Hindus across the world to mark the triumph of good over evil. While lighting oil lamps and bursting firecrackers are the norm during this occasion, did you know that there are actually different significances and ways of celebrating the festival in different parts of India?
It is a great time for culture-hungry travellers to travel around India during this auspicious time – with communities from North to South India celebrating Deepavali in different ways. The vastness and diversity of India and the richness of its history truly come to life during this sacred festival.
Get ready to eat, pray, love as Hotels.com sheds some light on the different ways this festival is celebrated in our country.
Deepavali, or Diwali in North India is believed to be the time when Lord Rama, an incarnation of the God Vishnu, defeated and killed the evil King Ravana, returning to his home after fourteen years in exile according to the great Hindu epic ‘Ramayana’. Lord Rama’s homecoming was celebrated with lights, fireworks and the bursting of crackers, a tradition that is continued to this day in many northern Indian states.
For travellers looking to experience a traditional Diwali celebration, there is no other place like Haridwar in Uttarakhand in northern India, home to a fascinating bevy of sadhus (holy men), pundits (Hindu priests), pilgrims, guides, and beggars. Considered one of the seven holiest places in India and one of the oldest cities in the subcontinent, Haridwar is drenched in the rich aromas of incense sticks during Diwali as devotees make offerings to their gods. Diyas (clay lamps) and flowers adorn the temples and the River Ganges comes to life as priests from the temples lead the local community in a worship procession, chanting ancient Sanskrit prayers and floating the diyas down the river in a devotional ritual to Maa Ganga, goddess of the most holy river in India.
Where to stay: Located near the sacred Har-ki-PauriGhat (steps leading down to the river), which is lit up with diyas and adorned with flowers during Diwali, the Haveli Hari Ganga provides travellers with a great base for exploring this important pilgrimage city. The3-star hotel is just minutes away from the popular Mansa Devi Temple and enables guests to easily take in historical sights and immerse themselves in traditional Diwali celebrations at the same time. Rooms start from Rs, 5,517 a night on Hotels.com.
As the spiritual home of Sikhism, the city of Amritsar in the northwestern state of Punjab is the epicentre for the celebration of BandiChhorh Divas, a Sikh festival that coincides with the third day of Diwali. Known as the Day of Liberation in English, the festival celebrates the release of Guru HargobindJi and 52 princes in 1619. The Guru’s subsequent arrival in Amritsar several days later in the midst of Diwali celebrations has since associated his liberation with the Festival of Lights, and hundreds of years later, this momentous occasion is still commemorated with thousands of candles and lamps, literally lighting up the whole city.
Travellers will be hard pressed to find a better-lit city than Amritsar during Diwali, in particular the Sri Harmandir Sahib (Golden Temple), a Sikh Gurdwara surrounded by a large lake. The temple is a sight to behold during Diwali, as the entire building is literally set aglow by the lights on and around it. Devotees set oil lamps and candles floating in the water surrounding it and rounding off the celebrations with a spectacular fireworks display and endless rounds of bursting firecrackers.
Where to stay: Located less than 100 metres the Golden Temple, the Hotel CJ International is your best bet for a front row view of the Diwali extravaganza in Amritsar. Other nearby points of interest include the Jallianwala Bagh public garden, home to the memorial that commemorates the massacre of more than 1,500 peaceful celebrators on the Punjabi New Year in 1919, as well as the Durgiana Temple, also known as the Silver Temple for its carved silver doors. Rooms start from Rs. 1,672 a night on Hotels.com.
Hyderabad, Andhra Pradesh
While Deepavali commemorates Lord Rama’s homecoming in the North, during this festival Hindus in the South pay homage to Lord Krishna’s defeat of the demon Naraka, a powerful king of Assam who controlled all the kingdoms on earth and imprisoned thousands of people. This day was henceforth known as NarakaChaturdashi – the first day of Deepavali and the beginning of four days of festivities in South India.
With its rich history as the capital of Andhra Pradesh, the oldest state in India, Hyderabad celebrates Deepavali with much pomp and splendour. In commemoration of the victory of good over evil, the local community makes effigies of the infamous demon Nakara and burns them on the outskirts of the city. Travellers to the Silicon Valley of India can expect to see lots of lights, fireworks and traditional Hindu rituals. Better yet, why not immerse yourself in a time-honoured South Indian Diwali celebration by lighting some diyas yourself and sharing some traditional sweets with the locals?
Where to stay: Get a breather from the full-day Deepavali celebrations with the locals at the luxurious The Park Hyderabad, a contemporary hotel boasting a façade reminiscent of the Nizam’s legendary jewellery collection. Inspired by the Jalis of ancient Indian palaces, this five-star hotel offers guests the opportunity to live like royalty, if only for a night, for a truly inspired and relaxing vacation. Rooms start from Rs. 5,286 a night on Hotels.com.
Travellers looking for something different to the North should head to Mumbai in the state of Maharashtra, where Diwali celebrations typically last for four days.Comprising rituals that honour the bond between mother and child, husbands and wives as well as brothers and sisters, Diwali celebrations in Mumbai tend to carry a more sacred and holy aura to it compared to the North.
Lucky enough to be in Mumbai during Diwali? If you don’t mind the crowds, head to the colourfully decorated markets and shops, where you can find Indian handicrafts, jewellery and souvenirs at fabulous festival discounts. Step into a sweetshop and sample various Indian sweets, or simply admire the houses decorated with Rangolis – colourful designs drawn on the entrances with powder. At night, take part in the celebrations by lighting a diya and try your hand at bursting crackers, or simply sit back and enjoy the atmosphere as the entire city lights up.
Where to stay: One of the most fashionable places for Diwali celebrations in Mumbai is Marine Drive, a 3km long boulevard along the coast that’s also known as the Queen’s Necklace for the street lamps that resemble a string of pearls at night. Just a stone’s throw away is the Intercontinental Marine Drive Mumbai, the perfect base that not only provides travellers respite from the bustling city but also keeps you close to the action. Rooms start from Rs. 10,641 per night on Hotels.com.
*Prices accurate as of 28thOctober 2012. Tax and fees not included