By TIME Video
October 24, 2014

Diwali is a five-day festival of lights, celebrated by millions of Hindus, Sikhs and Jains across the world. The festival coincides with the Hindu New Year that celebrates the triumph of good over evil and light over darkness.

Diwali, which means “a row or series of light,” has both mythical and spiritual meanings. The holiday traces back to the legend of Lord Rama and his wife Sita.

Rama was the eldest of four sons and was to become king. However, Rama’s stepmother wanted to see her son Bharata rule instead. The old king had once promised to grant his wife any two wishes she desired, and so she demanded that Rama be banished and Bharata be crowned. To show good faith to his father, Rama agreed to leave. Sita, Rama’s wife, begged to accompany him.

When Bharata — Rama’s stepbrother — found out what his mother did, he pleaded with Rama to claim his rightful place as king. But Rama refused to go against his father and only agreed to return when his 14-year banishment was over.

Later, Ravana, the 10-headed evil king, kidnaps Sita. Rama builds an army and vanquishes Ravana. It is said that people light up their houses to celebrate his victory. Now Diwali is celebrated with large fireworks shows to commemorate Rama’s return.

During the days leading up to Diwali, it’s traditional for people to clean and decorate their homes and offices with earthen diyas, lamps and rangoli — patterns created on the ground using colored rice or powder. During Diwali, families and friends dress in new clothes and share sweets and gifts.

Contact us at editors@time.com.

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