Imagery Celebrating Diwali: The Hindu Festival of Lights

How does a festival so dear to the hearts of Hindus translate into photos, video, or illustrations? Here’s how to capture Diwali celebrations in visuals.

If there’s one holiday in Hinduism that’s going to unite families, it’s Diwali. Also known as Deepavali and the Festival of Lights, Diwali is the brightest holiday on the Hindu calendar. Celebrants use unique decorations like clay lamps, intricate powder and sand art (called rangoli) made with dazzling colors, and massive fireworks displays to mark the holiday. Hindus also commemorate the triumph of good over evil during the beloved festival, with the wealth and prosperity goddess Lakshmi at the center of worship during all five days.

Diwali has no set dates. Instead the festival usually falls somewhere between mid-October and mid-November during the Hindu calendar month Kartika.

As with holidays celebrated the world over, there’s no one group of people who celebrate the Festival of Lights. While Diwali originated in India, Hindu devotees in countries including Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Nepal, and Guyana also observe the holiday. The centuries-old celebration also has different origins and is called by different names, depending on which group is celebrating where. Jains, a religious group in India, celebrate Diwali because of the end of their Lord Mahavir’s reincarnation cycle. Nepal’s Tihar festival also occurs at the same time as Diwali, but reserve their honor for the Hindu god Yama.

Hindu Festival of Lights
Also known as Deepavali and the Festival of Lights, Diwali is the brightest and most festive holiday on the Hindu calendar. Image via K M Chaudary/​AP/​Shutterstock.

Let’s take a look at how to successfully capture Diwali celebrations in visuals.


The History of Diwali

The long and storied history of Diwali varies depending on what region of India is celebrating. Each region’s celebration involves gods and goddesses in human forms, and demons or evil-doers banished from Earth or defeated. Regardless of the tales, the cause for celebrating Diwali remains the same—good defeats evil, so devotees pull out all of the stops to symbolize light overcoming darkness.

In Southern India, Hindus believe that Lord Krishna, a significant religious figure in Hinduism, defeated the demon Narakasura. At the time, Narakasura ruled over Pragjyotishapura—where Assam would be today—and held over 16,000 girls captive. After Narakasura’s defeat, Hindus celebrated with bright, colorful revelry.

Hindu Goddess
An artist sits dressed as a Hindu goddess during celebrations marking Diwali in Ayodhya, India. Image via Rajesh Kumar Singh/​AP/​Shutterstock.

In Northern India, it’s believed that Prince Rama, who had been in exile for the past fourteen years, returned to his kingdom of Ayodhya after rescuing his wife Sita from the evil king Ravana. The residents of Ayodhya greeted the prince with colorful oil lamps upon his return, leading to the continued use of oil lamps during present-day Diwali celebrations. The lamps are a throwback to the origins of the holiday, but also symbolize good triumphing over evil.

In a similar vein, Western India celebrates Diwali because of Lord Vishnu, a major god in Hinduism, banishing King Bali back to the netherworld.

Elaborate Diwali Food Presentation
The elaborate food presentation at a Diwali celebration. Image via Photofusion/​Shutterstock.

While the origin story of every Diwali celebration varies depending on the region of the country, one goddess stands at the center of it allLakshmi, the goddess of wealth and prosperity. Lakshmi is honored and worshiped throughout Diwali, and celebrations come to a head on day three. “Lakshmi puja,” as the festivities are called on the third day, sees Hindus wearing their finest clothes, crafting rangoli, feasting together, and setting out oil lamps for Lakshmi.


How to Represent Diwali in Images

Visuals play a large role in Diwali celebrations. Colors abound, from the neon-colored powders in rangoli, the sarees worn during Lakshmi puja, and fireworks blasting into the sky. These items help make Diwali what it is. So, capturing them in photos, videos, illustrations, and graphic design is necessary to convey the essence of the holiday. Here are the visual necessities you need to properly represent Diwali from behind the camera.

Oil Lamps

The Sanskrit word “Deepavali” translates to “rows of lighted lamps,” signifying how important these oil lamps are to the holiday. As it’s the Festival of Lights, oil lamps are in abundance during the five-day holiday, decorating homes inside and out. In the origin story featuring Lord Krishna, Hindus lit the oil lamps to celebrate his return to Ayodhya with his wife Sita. Overall, the lamps symbolize the light that overcomes the darkness.

Flowers

Marigold Garlands for Diwali Festival
A Nepalese flower vendor puts burning incense amidst marigold garlands for good luck at a local market for the Diwali festival. Image via Narendra Shrestha/​EPA/​Shutterstock.

Colorful flowers are standard decorations for celebrating Diwali. Marigolds are among the most common, and feature widely in festivals throughout India. So, they always have a place in garlands and flower art around the home and dinner table during Diwali.

Fireworks

Children from the Pakistani Hindu Community
Children from the Pakistani Hindu community hold fireworks during a special ceremony to celebrate the Diwali festival in Peshawar, Pakistan. Image via AP/​Shutterstock.

Fireworks and flaming fire sparklers add to the festive element of the Diwali holiday. It isn’t uncommon to see families staring in awe up at fire crackers bursting in the sky above their homes or playing with sparklers in their front yards.

Large Food Spreads

Food is a delicious highlight of Diwali. Families purchase or prepare main courses, snacks, and desserts ahead of family members and loved ones coming together. Sweets, or mithai, take center stage. These can be gelatinous cubes stuffed with nuts, sugar cookies that taste of cardamom, and pastries filled with coconut.

Rangoli

Colorful Rangoli Decoration
Indian women light lamps around a colorful rangoli decoration that they made on the eve of Diwali festival celebrations in Bhopal, India. Image via SANJEEV GUPTA/​EPA-EFE/​Shutterstock.

Celebrants create rangoli, intricate art made of colorful powder, rice, or sand, to usher in good luck to loved ones. Each design is unique and is passed down over the years in the name of tradition. Flowers and birds are common designs, and looping, swirling patterns are also popular choices.

A Clean House

In Hinduism, Lakshmi is believed to enjoy visiting a clean home. On the first day of Diwali, families clean their homes from top to bottom in anticipation of Lakshmi’s arrival. When they finish, they set up the oil lamps and leave out mithai Lakshmi.

Gold

The Significance of Gold
An Indian woman shops for jewelry in a shop on the occasion of the Dhanteras festival in Bhopal, India. Image via SANJEEV GUPTA/​EPA-EFE/​Shutterstock.

Gold is symbolic of good fortune during Diwali. Hindu families often hold off on buying gold to save up for purchases during celebrations like the Festival of Lights, according to Quartz.


Why Visuals Are Important to the Holiday

Earthen Oil Lamps
A woman from the Hindu community holds earthen oil lamps while taking part in a ceremony to celebrate the Diwali festival at the Krishna temple in Lahore, Pakistan. Image via K M Chaudary/​AP/​Shutterstock.

Hindu devotees have celebrated Diwali since at least 1AD. The ancient Hindu scriptures Padma Purana and Skanda Purana record the earliest known celebration. While Diwali is, at its core, a religious holiday, and worship and honor is reserved for goddess Lakshmi, Diwali also showcases how important celebratory elements are to the eye. Gold, clothing, rangoli in a host of color, and a clean home are things that Diwali guests can see. So, properly capturing them during celebrations is a must.

Being one of the most important celebrations of one of the world’s largest religions puts Diwali on a globally mainstream radar. Properly capturing centuries-old traditionswhile understanding their originsis a necessity for any photographer, artist, or videographer. Hindus put their pride and joy into worshiping the goddess Lakshmi with Diwali gatherings, and artists can properly depict this once they know what shining, colorful markers of the day to look for.


Cover image via SANJEEV GUPTA/​EPA-EFE/​Shutterstock.

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