Diwali is one of the most important Hindu festivals. During this festival, houses are illuminated with a myriad of candles and small lamps called Diyas. The name Diwali is an abbreviation of the word Deepavali which literally means “row of lights”. Most people refer to this holiday in English as the “Festival of Lights”. Diwali usually occurs between mid-October and mid-November and lasts for five days. Anyone living and working in India or doing business with Indian counterparts should be aware of the importance of this holiday and how it impacts Indian culture and life each year.
Celebrations of Diwali in India have ancient religious origins. Each of the five days of this festival celebrates a particular legend or story. The first day of Diwali, for example, is Dhanteras and usually marks the beginning of the financial year as it is believed to be a time for wealth and prosperity. On this first day of the festival people pray to the Goddess of Wealth, Lakshmi, who people guide into their homes by lighting candles and diyas in their houses and on the streets.
Another legend commemorated during Diwali is about Rama and his wife Sita who he saved from the demon Ravana before returning to Ayodhya to become king. On their way back, Rama and his wife could not see as it was a very dark night, so people placed lamps outside their houses to help them find their way home.
Diwali is celebrated in different ways across India and other countries. For example people in Northern India tend to celebrate Rama’s legend while in Gujarat and Maharashtra they celebrate the Goddess Lakshmi more. In Nepal the festival focuses on the defeat of the demon king Narakaasura by Lord Krishna, while in Bengal they tend to focus on celebrating the Goddess Kali. Despite these differences, there are a few main ideas that remain the same everywhere: light triumphs over darkness, good supersedes evil and knowledge prevails over ignorance.
Before the start of Diwali festivals people redecorate their homes and draw traditional motifs of ‘rangoli’ at the entrances. They also wear new clothes and prepare big festive meals. People also decorate their houses lighting Diyas and big firework displays in celebration are a tradition.
During Diwali one of the most important rituals is the exchange of gifts to show love and affection to family members and friends. Even people who live far from their families usually send greetings and gifts to their beloved at home. Common gifts are flowers, sweets, dry fruit and nuts, clothes and silver or gold items such as jewellery or other decorative objects.
Diwali is celebrated around the world by Hindus, Buddhists, Sikhs and Jains. Anyone living and working in India or other countries including Nepal, Sri Lanka, Malaysia and Singapore should be aware of how Diwali impacts daily life in this period.
Here are some tips to help you show respect and work effectively with your Indian counterparts during this holiday.
- Plan meetings without interfering with Diwali’s celebration. Be aware that a lot of business people will take the day off in preparation for a new accounting year and to spend time with their families.
- Don’t set any project deadlines that coincide with Diwali.
- If you work regularly with people who celebrate Diwali, you can show respect for their tradition and your relationship by giving them a small gift such as a box of sweets or nuts. If you cannot give them a gift, a small greeting by email would also be appreciated.
- Indians tend to spend lots of money on the first day of Diwali buying presents and shopping in general, so if you are with them accept any generosity graciously.
- Don’t say “no” to an invite to Diwali celebrations. This can be a great to way to build relationships with your colleagues and experience a unique cultural festival.
- If invited to Diwali celebrations, or if sharing a meal with colleagues who celebrate Diwali, avoid drinking alcohol.
Cross cultural awareness training programmes like Living and Working in India or Doing Business in India can provide you with the essential knowledge you need about the country and its culture. By showing an understanding of key Indian traditions or holidays like Diwali, you can build more effective social and business relationships which will create more value in the long-term.
Don’t forget to send your colleagues a traditional Diwali greeting in the appropriate language!
© Communicaid Group Ltd. 2011