From the long-stretching list of religious festivals that India follows, my favorite one is Diwali – the Festival of Lights. It feels more personal and more about people than stone idols and meticulously performed rituals. Of course, there is still an aspect of worship involved wherein the Goddess of wealth is worshiped on Lakshmi Poojan with doors thrown wide open, welcoming her into the home to shower it with her blessings. Also, behind it all is the spirit of celebration of the triumph of good over evil. But compared to other festivals, Diwali feels less tied-down and more like one big happy party! It extends for a maximum of five days, as per what the lunar calendar dictates. Everyone prepares for it eagerly, embarking on a cleaning spree, sprucing up their homes. Unlike other religious commemorations where they may or may not be followed on a grand scale in each and every home, Diwali makes its presence felt in all of them. Appetizing smells waft from kitchens where special food items are prepared to be enjoyed by all with no specific restrictions on when they can be consumed or no notion of fasting. My fondest childhood memories of Diwali are also associated with another kind of smell – the mixture of oil and fragrant powder, which is massaged on to the body before the special bath that is taken on the auspicious dawn of Naraka Chaturdashi. I still remember the pleasant sensation of my favorite aunt’s hard-working, calloused hands that lovingly applied it and that wonderful perfume staying hours after washing it off. Then there was the fun of fireworks. When lighting them, I used to keep pulling out my hand in fear and start to run away even before the firecracker was lit so that I kept doing this multiple times like a cartoon until the wick had caught fire, while the others cackled in amusement behind me. Unforgettable also were the forts my sister and I built and decorated with small statues of the King Shivaji, the people and animals in his kingdom. Sprinkling ‘ahleev’ (Garden Cress) seeds on the moist mud so that they rapidly sprouted green and covered the walls and the grounds of the fort, making it seem more real. Then, sticking lit-up sparklers at the sides to create one awesome display! Now, after all those years, I still feel gleefully immersed in the enthusiasm and goodwill that ride high in the air with people dressing up in their finest, showing off beautiful jewelry and exchanging gifts. Garlands of twinkling electric lights are put up, there are colorful rangolis adorning the ground, fireworks all around, while that special Diwali lantern flaunts itself as the star of the decoration. Painted and decorated little earthen lamps, fed on simple oil wicks, symbolize this bright and shining festival. With their flames flickering and nodding, they seem to be wishing everyone – “Happy Diwali”!