Exploring the Cultural Contrasts: Diwali Celebrations in North and South India

Pravin Chandan
11 min readOct 28, 2023

Welcome to a journey of lights, colors, and cultural contrasts as we delve into the vibrant festivities of Diwali in both North and South India. From bustling streets adorned with intricate rangoli designs to the mesmerizing glow of diyas illuminating every corner, this festival holds deep significance for millions across the country. Join us as we explore how this joyous occasion is celebrated differently in these two regions, highlighting the unique traditions, customs, and flavors that make Diwali an unforgettable experience wherever you may be. Get ready to immerse yourself in a celebration like no other — let’s embark on an enchanting adventure through the cultural tapestry of India!

Introduction to Diwali and its significance in India

Diwali, also known as the festival of lights, is one of the most significant and widely celebrated festivals in India. It holds a special place in the hearts of people belonging to different religions and regions, making it a truly diverse and inclusive festival.

Significance of Diwali:

The word “Diwali” is derived from the Sanskrit word “Deepavali”, which means rows of lighted lamps. This festival symbolizes the victory of good over evil, light over darkness, and knowledge over ignorance. The legend associated with Diwali varies across different regions in India but its essence remains the same — to celebrate the triumph of good over evil.

In North India, Diwali marks the return of Lord Rama from exile after defeating Ravana, an evil demon king who had abducted his wife Sita. In South India, it commemorates the day when Lord Krishna defeated Narakasura, a demon king who terrorized his kingdom. Thus, both North and South India celebrate this festival as a victory of good over evil.

Preparations for Diwali:

The preparations for Diwali start weeks before its actual date. People clean their houses thoroughly and decorate them with colorful rangolis (patterns created using colored powder), diyas (clay lamps), candles, and fairy lights. It is believed that these decorations invite Goddess Lakshmi -the goddess of wealth and prosperity- into homes.

On the day of Diw ali, people dress up in new clothes and offer prayers to Goddess Lakshmi, seeking her blessings for a prosperous year ahead. They also visit temples and seek the blessings of their deities.

Celebrations:

The main highlight of Diwali is the lighting of diyas and bursting of firecrackers. The night sky is illuminated with colorful fireworks, adding to the festive atmosphere. Families come together to exchange gifts and sweets, share meals, and enjoy various traditional activities.

In addition to its religious significance, Diwali is also a time for social gatherings and strengthening bonds with friends and family. It promotes unity, harmony, and joy among people of all backgrounds.

Origins and history of Diwali in North and South India

Origins and history of Diwali in North and South India

Diwali, also known as the Festival of Lights, is one of the most widely celebrated festivals in India. It is a five-day celebration that takes place between mid-October to mid-November, depending on the lunar calendar. While it is celebrated throughout the country, there are some distinct differences in how it is observed in North and South India.

The origins of Diwali can be traced back to ancient Hindu mythology. In North India, it is believed that Diwali marks the return of Lord Rama, his wife Sita, and brother Lakshmana from their fourteen-year exile after defeating demon king Ravana. The people of Ayodhya welcomed them by lighting diyas (earthen lamps) all around the city. This tradition has been carried on for centuries and symbolizes the triumph of good over evil.

In South India, Diwali has a slightly different origin story. It is believed that this festival commemorates Lord Krishna’s victory over Narakasura — a powerful demon who had been causing chaos on Earth. To celebrate this victory, people lit lamps to guide Lord Krishna and his consort Satyabhama into Narakasura’s palace.

Over time, Diwali has evolved into a multi-cultural festival with varying interpretations across different regions in India. However, its significance remains unchanged — the triumph of light over darkness and knowledge over ignorance.

North Indian Celebrations:

In North India , Diwali celebrations typically start with Dhanteras, a day dedicated to the worship of Goddess Lakshmi — the goddess of wealth and prosperity. This is followed by Choti Diwali or Naraka Chaturdashi, which is observed the day before Diwali. On this day, people wake up early and take a bath with oil and scented water to cleanse themselves.

Diwali is celebrated on the third day, when families get together for puja (prayer) and offer sweets and gifts to each other. The evening is marked by lighting diyas, exchanging gifts, and bursting firecrackers. The festival culminates with Bhai Dooj — a celebration of the special bond between brothers and sisters.

South Indian Celebrations:

In South India, Diwali celebrations start with Naraka Chaturdashi or Choti Diwali. On this day, people take an oil bath in the morning before sunrise to honor Lord Krishna’s victory over Narakasura.

The main festivities take place on the second day — Diwali. People wear new clothes, decorate their homes with colorful rangolis (patterns made from colored powder), light diyas, and burst firecrackers. They also offer prayers and sweets to Goddess Lakshmi, Lord Ganesha, and other deities.

The third day is celebrated as Bali Padyami or Padwa in some parts of South India. This day commemorates the defeat of demon king Bali by Lord Vishnu. It is also considered an auspicious day for marriages.

In conclusion, while the origins and stories behind Diwali may differ between North and South India, the spirit of the festival remains the same — to celebrate light, knowledge, and prosperity. Diwali truly showcases the diversity and unity of India’s rich cultural heritage.

Traditional customs and rituals observed during Diwali in both regions

Diwali, also known as the Festival of Lights, is one of the biggest and most significant festivals celebrated in India. While it is a national holiday, it holds different meanings and traditions in different regions of the country. In this section, we will delve into the traditional customs and rituals observed during Diwali in both North and South India.

North India:

In North India, Diwali is primarily associated with the return of Lord Rama to Ayodhya after his 14-year exile and victory over the demon king Ravana. This region celebrates Diwali for five days, with each day holding its own significance.

The first day is Dhanteras, where people worship Goddess Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth. It is believed that buying gold or silver on this day brings good luck and prosperity to the household.

The second day is Naraka Chaturdashi or Choti Diwali when Lord Krishna defeated Narakasura, a powerful demon. People light diyas (oil lamps) around their homes to symbolize good triumphing over evil.

The third day marks the main festival of Diwali when families come together to celebrate with fireworks, exchange gifts, wear new clothes, decorate their homes with rangoli (colorful patterns made from powdered colors), and indulge in a grand feast called “mithai” (sweets).

The fourth day is Govardhan Puja when Lord Krishna lifted Mount Govardhan to protect villagers from heavy rains caused by Lord Indra, the god of rain and thunder. People make small Govardhan hills with cow dung and worship them.

The fifth day is Bhai Dooj, when sisters put a tilak (mark) on their brothers’ foreheads, symbolizing their love and protection for each other.

South India:

In South India, Diwali is celebrated as the victory of Lord Krishna over Narakasura. The festival is known as Naraka Chaturdashi or Kali Puja in this region.

The celebrations usually last for three days, starting with Naraka Chaturdashi when people wake up early in the morning to take an oil bath to ward off evil spirits. They then wear new clothes and burst firecrackers before having a festive breakfast with traditional delicacies like payasam (sweet pudding).

The second day is Diwali, when families gather to worship Goddess Lakshmi and Lord Ganesha for prosperity and success. They decorate their homes with colorful kolams (patterns made with colored rice flour) and light diyas.

The third day is Bali Padyami or Govardhan Puja when people remember King Bali’s sacrifice and seek his blessings for wealth and prosperity.

Decorations and lighting used for Diwali celebrations in North and South India

Decorations and lighting play a significant role in the Diwali celebrations across both North and South India. The festival of lights is all about bringing warmth, joy, and prosperity into one’s home, and the decorations serve as an integral part of this celebration.

In North India, Diwali is celebrated with great enthusiasm and grandeur. The most common decoration used during this time is the traditional “Rangoli,” which is a colorful design made on the floor using colored powder or flowers. These intricate designs are believed to bring good luck and ward off evil spirits from entering the house.

Apart from Rangolis, people also adorn their homes with beautiful strings of marigold flowers, mango leaves, and colorful lanterns known as “kandeels.” These lanterns are hung outside homes to light up the streets and add a festive touch to the surroundings. Many households also use clay diyas (earthen lamps) to illuminate their homes. These diyas are often decorated with vibrant colors and intricate designs to make them more appealing.

In contrast, South India has its unique way of decorating for Diwali celebrations. Instead of rangolis, they use elaborate kolams or muggulu made with rice flour on their doorsteps or courtyards. These designs can be geometric patterns or religious symbols that hold significance in Hindu mythology. In some regions like Tamil Nadu, women decorate their doorstep with a special kind of rangoli called “Kolam Kalam,” where they draw pictures of deities to welcome them into their homes.

In addition to kolams, South Indian households also use strings of mango leaves and marigold flowers to adorn their homes. The marigold flowers are believed to bring prosperity and happiness, while the mango leaves signify fertility and abundance. In some states like Kerala, people decorate their homes with intricately designed lamps made of brass or silver called “nilavilakku.” These lamps are lit during Diwali puja (prayer) and serve as a symbol of the victory of good over evil.

Apart from traditional decorations, both North and South India also use modern lighting techniques to illuminate their homes during Diwali. People use decorative lights, lanterns, and candles in various shapes and sizes to make their houses look more festive. Many cities in India also have grand light displays on major streets and buildings that attract thousands of visitors during Diwali.

In conclusion, whether it is the vibrant rangolis or the beautiful Kolams, the colorful flowers or the mesmerizing lights, decorations play an essential role in adding joy and warmth to Diwali celebrations in both North and South India.

Regional variations in delicacies and traditional dishes prepared for Diwali

Diwali, also known as the Festival of Lights, is one of the most widely celebrated festivals in India. This five-day festival marks the triumph of good over evil and is a time for families to come together and celebrate with joy and enthusiasm. While the essence of Diwali remains the same throughout India, there are significant regional variations in the delicacies and traditional dishes prepared during this festive season.

North India:

In North India, Diwali celebrations are incomplete without indulging in some mouth-watering delicacies. The traditional dishes prepared during this time reflect a rich blend of Mughlai and Punjabi cuisine. One of the must-try dishes is “Gujia”, a sweet dumpling filled with khoya (dried milk) and dry fruits, which is deep-fried and dipped in sugar syrup. Another popular dish is “Chole Bhature”, a spicy chickpea curry served with fried flatbread made from maida (all-purpose flour). Other favorites include “Aloo Tikki” (potato patties), “Pav Bhaji” (vegetable curry served with buttered buns), and “Ladoo” (sweet balls made from gram flour).

South India:

In South India, Diwali celebrations revolve around traditional sweets that are an essential part of their culture. The most famous sweet dish prepared during this festival is “Mysore Pak”, a rich fudge-like dessert made from ghee (clarified butter), sugar , and gram flour. Another popular dish is “Payasam”, a sweet rice pudding flavored with cardamom and saffron. Other traditional Diwali dishes in South India include “Murukku” (fried savory snack made from rice and lentil flour), “Athirasam” (deep-fried sweet made from jaggery and rice flour), and “Coconut Burfi” (coconut fudge).

East India:

In East India, Diwali is celebrated with great fervor, and the delicacies prepared during this time reflect the unique flavors of Bengali cuisine. One of the most popular dishes is “Rasgulla”, a spongy cheese ball soaked in sugar syrup. Another must-try dish is “Chhena Poda”, a baked dessert made from cottage cheese, sugar, and cardamom. Other traditional Diwali dishes in East India include “Malpua” (pancakes made from refined flour and semolina) and “Sandesh” (sweet made from cottage cheese and sugar).

West India:

In West India, Diwali celebrations are incomplete without indulging in some spicy snacks that are a perfect accompaniment to the festive spirit. One of the most famous dishes is “Dhokla”, a steamed savory cake made from gram flour and served with a tangy chutney. Another popular dish is “Khandvi”, a savory snack made from gram flour and yogurt, topped with grated coconut and cilantro. Other traditional Diwali dishes in West India include “Fafda” (crispy fried snack made from chickpea flour) and “Gathiya” (deep-fried savory snack made from chickpea flour).

Overall, the diversity of Indian cuisine is reflected in the regional variations of delicacies prepared during Diwali. However, no matter where you are in India, one thing that remains constant is the joy and happiness that this festival brings to people’s lives.

Differences in the way Diwali is celebrated with family and friends

Diwali, also known as the Festival of Lights, is one of the most significant and widely celebrated festivals in India. It is a time for joy, togetherness, and new beginnings. While the essence of Diwali remains the same throughout the country, there are some noticeable differences in how it is celebrated with family and friends in North and South India.

1. Rituals and Traditions:
In North India, Diwali celebrations revolve around traditional rituals and customs passed down through generations. Families come together to perform puja (prayer) to Goddess Lakshmi for wealth and prosperity, followed by lighting diyas (oil lamps) around the house. This is often accompanied by chanting mantras and offering sweets to deities.
In contrast, Diwali celebrations in South India are more inclined towards religious rituals rather than cultural traditions. A major aspect of Diwali here is Govardhan Puja or Bali Pratipada where Lord Krishna’s victory over demon king Bali is commemorated. Other prominent rituals include placing colorful rangolis (patterns made from colored powders) outside homes and bursting firecrackers.

2. Food:
Food plays an important role in any Indian festival, especially during Diwali when families come together to share delicious meals with each other. In North India, households prepare a variety of sweet dishes like gujiya (stuffed pastry), ladoos (sweet balls), kheer (rice pudding), etc., while savory snacks

Influence of religion on the way Diwali is celebrated

Religion plays a significant role in shaping the way Diwali is celebrated in India. As one of the biggest and most widely celebrated festivals, Diwali holds great cultural and religious importance for Hindus. It is believed to symbolize the triumph of good over evil and the victory of light over darkness.

In North India, where Hinduism is predominantly practiced, Diwali holds immense significance and is celebrated with great enthusiasm. The festival marks the return of Lord Rama to Ayodhya after 14 years of exile and his victory over the demon king Ravana. To commemorate this event, people light diyas (oil lamps) and burst firecrackers as a symbol of dispelling darkness and negativity.

On the other hand, in South India, where a majority of people follow Dravidian religions such as Hinduism, Jainism, or Buddhism, Diwali has a slightly different meaning. Here it marks the day when Lord Krishna defeated Narakasura, an evil demon who had caused chaos on earth. In some regions, Diwali also coincides with harvest season celebrations where farmers thank God for their bountiful crops.

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Pravin Chandan

I have had a career in marketing that spanned over two decades. Now, I am here to share the learnings from my experience with young marekters