Not only is Diwali the most significant Hindu festival, it is also the most enchanting. Right from the mythological tales about the origin of the festival to the quaint tradition followed to this day, the festival has all the elements that make it an enthralling experience. The most beautiful part about the festival is that despite being a predominantly Hindu festival, it capture the secular nature of India perfectly. Everyone is encouraged to take part in the festivities, be they Muslims, Christians or Jews. And it is common to see people from different religions enjoying themselves along with their Hindu counterparts.
Truly, there is great unity in diversity. India is a large country and the people are as different from one another as water and fire and yet Diwali is celebrated by one and all. One of the most common aspects of the festival is the tradition of lighting Diyas (oil-lamps).
It is believed that people of Ayodhya illuminated the entire town with diyas upon the return of Lord Rama from 14 years in exile.
That tradition is carried on till today and people light hundreds of Diyas to decorate their homes. That is also how Diwali got its name as the Sanskrit word 'Deepawali' means rows of lights. It is believed that since it is a no-moon night, the light from the diyas helps Goddess Lakshmi to find her way to people's houses. Therefore it is tradition to leave the diyas burning all night.
Another tradition, particularly in North India is the making of Rangolis, paintings from powdered color on the floor. These Rangolis have long been a part of Indian culture and there are many stories about their origin. People make these Rangolis to decorate their houses and to welcome guests into their homes.
Over the past few years, as the Indian economy has strengthened and the advent of globalization have given rise to a new tradition, the exchange of gifts. It is now very common to see people exchanging gifts and sweets with each other on Diwali. This festival of lights is a testament to the fervent religious nature of the people at the heart of India. It is primarily a religious festival in nature, and is yet open to followers of all religions.
It is a time bound custom to perform a ritual Pooja on this day for Goddess Lakshmi, goddess of wealth and prosperity. People invoke her blessing for a prosperous New Year. The most believed of all the Gods in the Hindu pantheon, the elephant headed Ganesha who is believed to be the remover of all obstacles is worshipped as well. In Bengal, Goddess Kali, the destructive avatar of Durga is worshipped.