Diwali is the equivalent of Christmas in India. It's the time when houses are spring-cleaned, old sofas re-upholstered, walls repainted, tatty old kitchen utensils replaced. On the day, people wear new clothes, exchange sweets and gifts, explode firecrackers and light up their homes with candles or traditional diya lamps. But an intrinsic part of the run-up to Diwali celebrations is gambling. The aim is not to make money or take it seriously, but just to have fun. Among the wealthy, of course, different rules apply. Here, the stakes can rise to hundreds, even thousands of rupees on a single play. These living rooms are not for the faint-hearted. The origin of Diwali gambling lies in the belief that the Hindu goddess Parvati played dice with her husband, Lord Shiv, on this day and she decreed that anyone who gambled on Diwali night would prosper throughout the year. It's also believed that Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth and prosperity, will particularly favour those who win at cards on Diwali. Visitors to India at this time can be taken aback by the gusto with which families gamble. The parties usually start with drinks and dinner. Appetites satiated and conversation exhausted, people get down to business and continue into the early hours of the morning. In the days and nights leading up to the festival, you find everyone grabbing a few hours sleep and rushing groggily through another day at work, where they regale one another with stories of their fluctuating fortunes before hurrying to another session that night. Each day's fortunes are forgotten by the time they are seated at another table, ready for the thrill of the next deal. Some people go to parties every night for a fortnight, others may attend only one, but anyone who doesn't play at all is regarded as a bit of a stick-in-the-mud. 'I look forward to it every year. We have great fun with our friends, particularly at the end because we play silly, loony versions of the game,' said Anu Sharma, a magazine editor. The game is usually flush, played with three cards being dealt to each player. The idea is to get a pair, a number sequence or a colour sequence or, best of all, a 'trail' when all three cards have the same face value. The more reckless play blind, putting money down without seeing their cards until the end. 'I can't imagine Diwali without playing cards,' said Abhinav Goel, 18, a call-centre executive. 'It's not the money, it's just such hilarious fun. After my first card party last year, I was desperate for an invitation to another one. When it didn't come, I organised my own.'