Diwali: What is the festival of lights – and how is it celebrated around the world?

The festival of Diwali is being celebrated by millions of Hindus, Sikhs and Jains this week

One of the most significant festivals in Indian culture, Diwali, the festival of lights, sees millions attend firework displays, prayers and celebratory events across the world every autumn.

The festival is celebrated by Hindus, Sikhs and Jains for a variety of reasons, although the main theme which runs throughout is the triumph of light over darkness and good over evil.

To celebrate, houses are decorated with candles and colourful lights and huge firework displays are held while families feast and share gifts.

What is Diwali?

Diwali is the five-day festival of lights, celebrated by millions of Hindus, Sikhs and Jains across the world. The festival, which coincides with the Hindu New Year, celebrates new beginnings and the triumph of good over evil and light over darkness. The actual day of Diwali is traditionally celebrated on the festival's third day, which this year falls on Thursday, October 23. The festival usually falls between the middle of October and the middle of November, although this is decided upon by the Hindu lunar calendar. While each faith has its own reason to celebrate the festival, one of the most popular stories told is the legend of Lord Rama and his wife Sita returning to their kingdom in northern India from exile after defeating the demon king Ravanna in the 15th century BC.

How is Diwali celebrated?

The festival is marked by large firework displays, to remember the celebrations which, according to the legend, took place upon Rama's return as locals set off their own version of fireworks. Those celebrating the festival also light traditional earthen diyas (candles) and decorate their houses with colourful rangoli artworks - patterns created on the floor using coloured rice or powder. During Diwali, families and friends share sweets and gifts and there is also a strong belief in giving food and goods to those in need. It is also traditional for homes to be cleaned and new clothes to be worn at the time of the festival.

What is eaten during Diwali?

The food most closely associated with the festival is Indian sweets, which come in a range of colours and flavours. The celebration however features various rich savoury and sweet dishes, and while eating out is popular, families will mostly prepare food at home for when guests arrive to exchange gifts and watch fireworks. Unlike the traditional roast turkey at Christmas, each family celebrating Diwali will more than likely have its own favourite meal for the festival, and the food will most often play a central theme to the celebrations.

Where can I celebrate Diwali in the UK?

Celebrations will be taking place across the UK this week, although some of the biggest are most often held in Leicester and London. Thousands are expected to turn up to the Diwali Day celebrations in Leicester on Thursday, which will feature hundreds of fireworks, street arts and live entertainment. In the capital meanwhile, large celebrations were held at the Diwali on Trafalgar Square event on Sunday, October 12.