A 5-day Escapade in New Delhi to bask in the Diwali Festivities
Diwali, better known as Deepavali in Singapore, is the most significant celebration of the year for Hindus all around the world. The term “Diwali” is typically used in North India while “Deepavali” is a Sanskrit word with 3,500 years of history that is widely used in South India. With a meaningful translation to “a row of lamps”, the five-day Festival of Lights is India’s largest holiday to celebrate the victory of good over evil and light over darkness.
The ancient Hindu festival is celebrated throughout the whole of India and other parts of the world where Hindus reside. But nothing beats immersing yourself in the festivities in New Delhi, the capital of India. In this guide, you will learn all you need for a fruitful trip to New Delhi during Diwali.
When is Diwali?
Diwali is based on the Hindu lunar calendar and usually takes place in October or November, depending on the cycle of the moon. In 2019, the festival will commence on 25 October and end on 29 October, with the main celebrations falling on the 27 October. Which explains the one-day public holiday for the festival in Singapore.
Why New Delhi?
As the capital of India since 1931, New Delhi is one of the most fascinating cities in the world. The unique blend of “old meets new” is evident as you will see ancient religious structures, palaces, forts and beautiful gardens alongside modern nightclubs, a diverse range of international cuisines and local delights, and shopping malls. This is definitely the place you will want to be in for the annual Diwali celebrations.
Where to stay?
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3. The Leela Palace New Delhi
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How is Diwali celebrated?
Each day of Diwali holds a different meaning, with different celebrations or rituals conducted.
Day 1: Dhanteras
This is the start of Diwali, symbolising the Day of Fortune. Traditionally, it is an auspicious day to buy gold and silver. It is also the day when homes are cleaned to welcome and worship Lakshmi, The Goddess of Fortune.
Day 2: Choti Diwali
Also known as the Day of Knowledge, it is believed that Lord Krishna and Goddess Kali slew the Narakasura demon and rescued 16,000 captive princesses on this day. Coloured rice is used to make rangoli in doorways and courtyards of homes, accompanied by firecrackers to celebrate this day.
Day 3: Diwali
The main celebration takes place on the Day of Light. Numerous diyas (small cup-shaped oil lamps made of baked clay) and candles are lit in front and inside the houses of Hindus. Fireworks are set off as a highlight of the festival. Such acts symbolise the victory of good over evil, as the people believe that Lord Rama defeated Ravana demon in a bid to rescue his wife on this day.
Day 4: Annakut
This is the first day of a new year for businesses in many regions. In North India where New Delhi is, food is piled up at Hindu temples to commemorate Lord Krishna‘s defeat of Indra, the Rain God. The mountain of vegetarian food is offered to Lord Krishna as a act of gratitude during the Govardhan Puja Festival.
Day 5: Bhai Duj
The fifth and last day of the festival is the day to celebrate the love between siblings. Traditionally, this was a day when brothers could visit their married sisters’ homes, to show them respect and offer protection. Nowadays, this is the day when siblings get together for a meal to honour the bond between them.
What to do in New Delhi for unique Diwali experiences
1. Celebrate with a local Indian family in Delhi
There is no better way to gain real insights into authentic Indian culture than to celebrate with a local Indian family in New Delhi. Expect a traditional welcome when you visit the home of the host family during Diwali. Sip chai tea and savour light Indian snacks as you learn about the ancient Hindu festival while chatting with the hosts.
Join in the hustle and bustle of festive shopping in a local market and experience aarti (the Hindu religious worship ritual) at a temple with your host. You can also receive a henna tattoo and lit up diyas and candles. The host family will cook up a legit Indian feast with your small group for dinner. End the memorable day as you join the locals in lighting firecrackers on the street and catch the dazzling fireworks display at night.
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2. Attend a Taash Party
In case you are wondering, a taash party is a gathering of a group of friends and family during Diwali. Everyone dresses up for the occasion, revels and gambles with an array of card games. Diwali in New Delhi is only complete when you attend a taash party and play the most popular teen patti (three-card brag). Hindus believe that gambling during Diwali, particularly on the first day brings good luck and wealth. This is because Lakshmi, the Goddess of Fortune, may shower blessings in your house for the entire year.
A little bit of gambling is fun, but do remember not to play high stakes and overindulge in the activity. The best place to join in this fun exercise? Head to one of the popular farmhouses of Chattarpur.
3. Catch a show or two in the capital’s performing arts season
Besides being the biggest holiday of the year, Diwali is also a time when the performing arts scene turns vibrant in New Delhi. Arts lovers can rejoice, with a vast selection of outdoor theatre, concerts and dance performances. Check out the event calendar at various popular venues including the India Habitat Centre, Kamani Auditorium and Oddbird Theatre.
4. Shop to your heart’s content at the Diwali mela and markets
In the lead up to Diwali, the capital is buzzing with tons of mela (fairs) and markets. Afterall, this is the time of the year when you spring clean your house, purchase new clothes, and attend fun taash parties. Join in the festive shopping at Khan Market, one of India’s oldest and most classy markets. The market is all lit up and offers an amazing range of products to cater to every need.
There is also Dilli Haat, Delhi’s biggest and most famous market, set up by the government to provide a platform for artisans to come and sell their wares. Alternatively, make your way to the Blind School Diwali Mela, an annual event on every Delhiite’s calendar. Discover a myriad of local brands on sale such as elegant shawls, saris, embroidery, aromatic bath and beauty products, and hand-painted ornaments and artwork.
If that’s still not enough, head to the annual extravaganza Meri Dilli Utsav from 18 to 20 October 2019. Enjoy 3 days of non-stop masti along with unique shopping bonanza for the whole family. Take your pick from the long list of mela and markets in the shopping haven of India!
5. Partake in a spellbinding night tour in the Old City
You can’t visit New Delhi without going to the Old City. Also known as the “Old Delhi”, this is the oldest area of Delhi that is filled with ancient streets and architecture. While the typical tourist checks out the chaotic Old City in the day, experience a different side of the city at night.
After dark, the Old City eludes a mesmerizing charm as many of its iconic mausoleums are illuminated. Relish in the romantic air as you witness the enchanting sound and light shows at historic attractions like the Red Fort, Purana Qila, Safdurjung Tomb and Qutub Minar.
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Plan ahead to relish the biggest holiday of the year in New Delhi
Visiting New Delhi during the family-oriented Diwali festival makes a heartwarming experience for an unforgettable trip. However, do firm up your plans as early as possible, as this is the peak travel period in India. Do anticipate crowds in popular destinations. Furthermore, expect air and noise pollution as a result of countless fireworks and firecrackers going off too. Other than that, just be merry and soak in the festive mood like the locals!
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