Diwali Festival of Lights: Across India people celebrate Diwali via symbolic diyas or kandils (colorful paper lanterns) as an integral part of Diwali decorations. Rangoli, decorations made from colored powder are also popular during Diwali.
While Diwali is popularly known as the "festival of lights", the most significant spiritual meaning is "the awareness of the inner light". Central to Sanatana Dharma is the assertion that there is something beyond the physical body and mind which is pure, infinite, and eternal, called the Atman [soul]. Just as we celebrate the birth of our physical being, Diwali is the celebration of this inner light, in particular the knowing of which outshines all darkness (removes all obstacles and dispels all ignorance), awakening the individual to one's true nature, not as the body, but as the unchanging, infinite, immanent and transcendent reality. With the realization of the Atman comes universal compassion, love, and the awareness of the oneness of all things (higher knowledge). This brings Ananda (inner joy or peace).
Deepavali celebrates this through festive fireworks, lights, flowers, sharing of sweets, and worship. While the story behind Diwali varies from region to region, the essence is the same - to rejoice in the inner light (Atman) or the underlying reality of all things (Brahman).
Diwali – Five Day Festival of Lights
Diwali or Dīpāvali (In Sanskri means a row of lamps) the most colourful Indian festival, is celebrated on the Kartika Amavasya or New Moon, which falls during October/November. This year it is on the 17th October, 2009. Rituals and celebrations as well as the main day vary all over the world. Diwali, as the festival is known today comes from the Sanskrit word Deepavali meaning garland of lights. There are many legends and important events associated with this highly auspicious day. Hence it is said that any Pooja, mantra japa or stotra recital on this day gives 100 times more benefits. Actually it is a 5 day festival with each day having its own legend, customs and rituals.
Diwali Interesting Historically :
1. Lakshmi, the Goddess of wealth, took refuge in the ocean of milk when the gods were sent into exile. Lakshmi was reborn during the churning of the ocean known as Ksheera Sagara Manthan by the Devas and Rakshasas.
2. Lord Vishnu rescued Lakshmi from the prison of King Bali on this day.
3. On the day before Deepavali, Lord Krishna killed the demon king Narakaasura and rescued 16,000 women from his captivity. The celebration of this freedom is the Diwali - a victory festival.
4. The Pandavas returned from their 12 years of vanavas on this day and the people celebrated the day by lighting lamps [Gita].
5. Lord Rama killed Ravana on the Vijaya Dashami and returned to Ayodhya on this day and the people of Ayodhya celebrated the occasion by decorating the entire city with lamps[Ramayana].
6. On this day Lakshmi goes around visiting her devotees and sets up residence in the house she finds best spruced up and most hospitable. Diwali is an occasion for cleaning, painting the walls, decorating the floor with attractive rangoli designs.
7. The great king Vikramaditya was coronated on the this day which started the Vikrama era and the people of Ujjain celebrated it by lighting lamps.
8. This is also the nirvana or passing away day of the great Mahavira Jain. The lighting of the lamps is a symbolic substitute for the light knowledge that was extinguished with Mahavira's passing.
9. Deepavali is celebrated as the homecoming of Rama after a 14-year exile in the forest and his victory over Ravana at many places of India and Nepal. The people of Ayodhya (the capital of his kingdom) welcomed Rama by lighting rows (avali) of lamps (dĭpa), thus its name: dīpāwali.
10. In South India, it marks the victory of Krishna over Narkasura. Over time, this word transformed into Diwali in Hindi and Dipawali in Nepali, but still retained its original form in South and East Indian Languages. In Dravidian languages it is called as Deepavali and the same is used in Malaysia and Singapore.
11. In Janism, Diwali marks the attainment of nirvana by Mahivira.
12. Deepavali has been significant in Sikhism since the illumination of the town of Amritsarrcommemorating the return of . Sikhs often refer to Diwali also as Bandi.
13. The festival is also celebrated by Buddhists in Nepal, particularly the Newar Buddhists.
In India and Nepal, Diwali is now considered to be a national festival, and the aesthetic aspect of the festival is enjoyed by most Indians and Nepalese regardless of faith.
[Source of some of this information: Wikipedia]