Deepavali is a Hindu festival held in Sri Lanka, India, and other countries around the world with significant Hindu populations. A one-day public holiday is observed in Sri Lanka as part of the celebrations.
The festival covers a five-day period, with the main celebration falling on the final day. The date is based on the Hindu lunar calendar and occurs during the first month of the hindu year. However, Deepavali falls during October or November on the Western solar calendar.
While 70 percent of Sri Lanka’s 20 million people are Buddhists, about 13 percent are Hindus, by whom Deepavali is widely regarded as the most important festival of the year. The majority ethnic group, the Sinhalese, is Buddhist, and most of the Hindus belong to the Tamil ethnicity. Tamils originally hail from the South Indian state of Tamil Nadu, but they have been a major component of Sri Lanka’s population since the 3rd Century B.C. They have so co-mingled, in fact, with the Sinhalese that the ethnic lines are blurred, which makes the religious lines all the more important in identifying one’s heritage.
The legend behind Deepavali is recorded in the Hindu holy writings, where Lord Krishna destroyed the tyrant Narakasura in battle. Hindu temples will hold special services on this day, and Hindus of all walks of life will meditate and celebrate what they consider “the triumph of light over darkness” that happened on this day so long ago. In Sri Lanka, Deepavali rituals and observances are much like those of the Tamil of Tamil Nadu. The goddess of wealth, called “Lakshmi,” is worshiped, while the people don brand new clothing and exchange gifts and well-wishes with family and friends.