Diwali is perhaps the most popular and well-known of the Hindu festivals. This five-day festival, which marks the start of the New Year for many Hindus, is also celebrated by Sikhs. The date of Diwali is set by the Hindu calendar which is based on the movement of the moon and so the timing varies in the Western calendar, but it usually takes place in October or November.
The word Diwali means "rows of lighted lamps" and the celebration is often referred to as the Festival of Lights because of the common practice of lighting small oil lamps (called diyas) and placing them around the home or other public buildings. Today candles or electric lights are often used instead of diyas.
Diwali is associated with the goddess of wealth Lakshmi, who is believed to visit those homes well lit up by lamps. People may start the new business year at Diwali and some Hindus will say prayers to the goddess for a successful financial year. A small altar is sometimes built to the goddess and decorated with money.
The theme for the festival is light and darkness, the victory of
good over evil and knowledge over ignorance. One of the stories
about how the festival got its name shows the triumph of good over
evil. Sita is kidnapped by the evil demon king, Ravana. Helped by
the monkey god, Hanuman, her husband Rama rescues her and they return
home after fourteen years of exile. To help Rama and Sita find their
way people put little lamps outside their houses, thus beginning
the tradition of the festival of lights.
During Diwali, Hindus in Northern Ireland may worship both at their
home temple with their family and/or with other members of the Hindu
community at the temple in the Indian Community Centre in Belfast.
(In the panorama photograph members of the Hindu community gather
in the Centre's temple to take part in prayers. People from all
parts of Northern Ireland had travelled to the centre to take part
in the Diwali celebrations which included entertainment and a meal.)
Families will gather together for a festive meal, gifts and sweets
are exchanged, and sometimes fireworks are let off.