The Heritage India Festival: Celebrating Diwali in the U.S.

Last updated on March 7th, 2024 at 02:34 pm

Remitly is proud to have served as a sponsor for the Heritage India Festival, the greater Washington, D.C. area’s premier South Asian cultural festival, held twice a year. Their Diwali festival is an ideal place for the whole family to kick off one of the most significant festivals of the year with shopping, live entertainment, and delicious cuisine from South Asian restaurants.

celebrate diwali away from home with decorations like this light

What does Diwali mean for Hindus?

Diwali is one of the most significant Hindu festivals of the year, but how people celebrate this important festival from region to region in India and around the rest of the world. The word Diwali originates from the Sanskrit word Deepavali, meaning “row of lights.”

The festival most likely began as a celebration of the harvest season, a time of thanksgiving for the food grown, and a chance to enjoy time with family before the arrival of winter. For most Hindus, especially in central and northern India, Diwali marks the return home of deities Rama, Sita, Lakshmana, and Hanuman to Ayodhya after 14 years of exile. On this holiday, people across India light oil lamps and candles to help guide Rama and his wife, Sita, home.

In South India, Diwali popularly celebrates a story of the Hindu god Krishna — a different incarnation of Lord Vishnu — in which Krishna frees 16,000 women from an evil king.

In the western state of Gujarat, one of India’s multiple New Year celebrations coincides with Diwali. Their Diwali celebration associates with the goddess Lakshmi, who is associated with prosperity, wealth, good fortune, and happiness. During the celebration, people often exchange gifts and coins to represent the spirit of giving associated with the goddess Lakshmi.

In eastern India, Diwali is a celebration of the triumph of good over evil observed in honor of the goddess Durga and her victory of good over evil. Hindus remember her victory over a demon king named Mahisasura.

People who live in West Bengal, India, focus their celebrations on the goddess Kali. Hindus in this part of India say prayers to the goddess and light lanterns positioned on long poles to help guide the souls of their ancestors on the journey from Earth to the next life.

A strong common thread shines through each Diwali celebration: the triumph of light over darkness and good over evil.

What does Diwali mean in non-Hindu communities?

While rooted in Hinduism, Diwali is widely celebrated throughout India, even by non-Hindu communities.

In non-Hindu communities, the important holiday has taken on other meanings. Among Jains, Diwali is celebrated as the day that Lord Mahavira achieved Nirvana. In honor of Lord Mahavira, they decorate their temples and homes with lights, and some fast for two days during the festival.

Sikhs associate Diwali with the liberation of Guru Hargobind, the sixth of the ten gurus of the faith, from prison. In honor of the national festival, Sikhs have family gatherings where they eat sweets, share in prayer, and hang lights.

Buddhists living in Nepal also observe the festival of Diwali. Like some Hindus, they associate the holiday with the goddess Lakshmi and offer a prayer for good fortune in her name.

In recent years, many Muslims in India have begun celebrating Diwali. Though they don’t assign any recent religious meaning to the festival, they may enjoy the delicious food, hang decorations like rangoli, and attend celebrations where Hindu people gather. In this way, the Muslim observance of Diwali in India is similar to how non-Christians celebrate Christmas by displaying a tree and exchanging gifts.

When is Diwali?

The date of Diwali is based on the traditional Indian calendar rather than on the Gregorian calendar used in the U.S. and elsewhere. As a result, the dates when Diwali is celebrated change each year, though the holiday typically occurs in October or November.

According to the Indian calendar, Diwali starts on the 15th day of the 8th month, known as Kartik. This date is a new moon day when the conjunction between the sun and moon forms a 12° angle.

In 2023, Diwali begins on November 12th in India, and in 2024, November 1st will mark the beginning of the important festival.

How is Diwali celebrated in India?

Diwali lasts for five days, and traditionally, each day is associated with a different event. Let’s take a look at each day.

First day: Dhanteras

On the first day of Diwali, Hindus focus on wealth and good fortune and celebrate the arrival of the holiday. Many people in India will buy something precious on this day.

In addition, it is customary to thoroughly clean your home in preparation for the important festival. After the house is clean, Indians may celebrate by hanging decorations like colorful rangoli and lanterns called diyas. Others may decorate on the second day rather than the first day.

In 2023, Dhanteras takes place on Friday, November 12.

Second day: Naraka Chaturdashi or Choti Diwali

On the second day of Diwali, many Hindus start their day by bathing in aromatic oils to purify themselves before they continue to celebrate. As previously mentioned, some people begin decorating for the celebrations.

Family members often gather later in the day and celebrate by lighting diyas and setting off firecrackers. For many people in India, the second day is a time to wear brand-new clothes. People may pose for photos during the celebration to show off their outfits.

Families may also perform a type of ritual prayer called a puja.

In 2023, the second day of Diwali will be celebrated on Saturday, November 13th.

Third day: Lakshmi Puja

The third day is the main day of celebration of the Diwali festival. It is when people light oil lamps, candles, and electric string lights. Often, neighbors give food and sweets to one another, and family members and friends may exchange small gifts.

People gather to watch large fireworks displays in New Delhi and other major cities to mark the occasion. The day is exciting for children who love seeing the lights.

The third day of Diwali will be on Sunday, November 14th in 2023.

Fourth day: Govardhan Puja or Padv

The fourth day of Diwali involves a spiritual harvest festival, which people in India celebrate in different ways. In some places, it is customary to create a pile of cow dung outside of the temple and decorate it with flower petals.

Another tradition involves staying up the previous night to produce elaborate meals that may include dozens of different kinds of food and then offering them to the god Krishna.

The fourth day of Diwali will be celebrated on Monday, November 15th in 2023.

Fifth day: Bhai Dooj

On the fifth and final day of Diwali, sisters often invite their brothers for a decadent lunch or dinner at a restaurant or their homes. In return, brothers present their sisters with gifts. In this way, the holiday is similar to World Siblings Day.

The fifth day of Diwali will occur on Tuesday, November 16th in 2023.

What is the Heritage India Festival?

The Heritage India Festival is an annual event organized by Rushhi Entertainment. It got started in the city of Washington, D.C., more than 20 years ago.

The festival draws thousands of South Asian Americans from the greater Washington area and beyond to experience and revel in their traditions. In addition, community members attend the event to join in the fun and savor the food.

For more information, check out their website or Facebook page.

When is the Heritage India Festival?

In 2023, the Heritage India Festival will take place October 28 and 29 at the Dulles Expo Center in the Chantilly Shopping Center in Chantilly, Virginia.

What happens during the Heritage India Festival?

Many things take place during the Heritage India Festival, including:

  • Shopping: The event is partially a commerce festival, with more than 250 vendors attending each year, selling garments, jewelry, home decor, and more.
  • Arts and crafts: Many Indian artists will have their works on display during the festival.
  • Activities for children: The festival includes a variety of activities that adults and children can both enjoy, such as face painting, henna and mehndi tattoos, and educational games.
  • Food: Many restaurant owners and street food vendors set up booths, offering everything from Indian sweets to kabobs to curries.
  • Fun: Raffles and giveaways take place throughout the event.

How to attend the Heritage India Festival

One of the best things about the Heritage India Festival is that it’s easy to join the fun. You and your family and friends can purchase tickets at the door for just $5. Children aged five and below can get into the festival for free.

Make plans to attend the event and experience one of the most significant festivals in South Asia for yourself.