Diwali or Deepavali is the great Festival of Lights in the Hindu calendar. It celebrates the return of Lord Rama after a long absence and exile from his family as well as the killing of demonic forces by Krishna. Jains commemorate the enlightenment of Lord Mahavira during the same period. Sikhs remember that their 6th guru, Guru Hargobind, along with his compatriots, was released from imprisonment on this day.
Everywhere in India, this time also marks the end of harvest and the flush of abundance. Despite the presence of victorious kings, Lakshmi, Lord Vishnu's wife and the goddess of wealth, presides over the festival.
Diwali is also the beginning of the fiscal year for Hindu businessmen and is considered one of the seven great festivals of Hinduism which basically everyone observes in one form or another. Gifts and greetings are sent to family, friends and neighbors and temples are decorated brightly with multicolored lights.
The stories of Lord Rama, Lakshmi and Krishna are told by street performers and in the temples. This might be confusing to westerners, because Lord Krishna and Lord Rama are understood to have lived at different times, but since they are both considered incarnations, or avatars, of Vishnu, it's all good. Lakshmi's energy can be present all the way through, regardless of which god is presenting at any given time.
It is a time to make and send special sweets to loved ones and, after cleaning their homes, light candles in beautiful little clay pots as a prayer and offering to the goddess. Special fireworks are ignited in some Indian communities and everywhere the darkness is pushed back just a little.
The festive, colorful and sweet nature of this celebration has made Diwali popular all over the world, wherever Indian immigrants have settled. There are now large gatherings in London, Berlin, Sydney and New York City.