Diwali 2011: Celebrating the Festival of Lights (PHOTOS)

Diwali, also known as Deepavali, is celebrated in the Hindu calendar months of Ashwin and Kartika, and in the western calendar on Oct. 26, 2011.

Diwali is a joyful, festive occasion for all who celebrate in India and throughout the diaspora. For many in the Hindu community, Diwali is also the beginning of a new year. A common greeting is Shubh Diwali (Happy Diwali).

Sacred to Hindus, Sikhs and Jains, the celebration of Diwali symbolizes the victory of good over evil, light over darkness and knowledge over ignorance. In the Hindu tradition, Diwali commemorates the return of Lord Rama, Sita and Lakshmana to their kingdom Ayodhya after defeating the demon king Ravana. This story is recounted in the ancient Sanskrit epic, Ramayana. In the Sikh tradition, Diwali, known as Bandi Chhor Divas ('prisoner release day'), is celebrated to mark the release of the sixth Guru Hargobind from imprisonment by the Mughals. Jains celebrate Diwali as the day when Lord Mahavira, the leader who laid down the central tenets of Jainism, attained enlightenment.

Also known as the festival of lights, in most parts of the world Diwali will be celebrated for one day on Oct 26, 2011 with people cleaning and decorating their homes, visiting temples, lighting lamps, conducting special prayers and gathering with family and community.

in India, however, Diwali celebrations are spread over five days. The first day is Dhanteras during which most Hindus buy gold and other precious metals with the belief that it will invoke prosperity. The second day is Naraka Chaturdashi and according to legend, it was on this day that Lord Krishna defeated the demon Narakasura. In many places, this day is also known as chhoti diwali ('small' Diwali) when Hindus make rangolis (colorful floor decorations made of rice or sand) and buy clothes, sweets and other delicacies. This is the major day of celebration in many parts of South India.

On the third day, Lakshmi, the Goddess of wealth and prosperity, is worshipped. This is the major day of Diwali celebrations in most parts of India when many Hindus visit each other's homes, light diyas and set off firecrackers. The fourth day is Govardhan Puja during which Hindus worship Lord Krishna, pay special respect to cows and express appreciation for nature and food. The fifth day is Bhaiduj when brothers and sisters express their love and affection for each other.

Diwali Celebrations Around The World (PHOTOS)