Diwali or Deepavali,
the festival of “rows of lights” , is one of the most important of all Hindu festivals. It is also a significant festival for the Sikh and Jain faiths. Of all the festivals celebrated in India, Diwali is by far the most glamorous and important. Enthusiastically enjoyed by people of every religion.
Diwali is celebrated 20 days after Dussehra, on the 13th day of the dark fortnight of the month of Ashwin (October / November). Diwali is a New Year festival in the Vikrama calendar, where it falls on the night of the new moon in the month of Kartika.
It is a festival of lights celebrating the victory of good over evil, light over darkness, and knowledge over ignorance. On this day homes are decorated, sweets are distributed by everyone and thousands of lamps lit to create a world of fantasy. The festival symbolizes unity in diversity as every state celebrates it in its own special way.
Diwali is very enthusiastically celebrated for five continuous days and each day has its significance with a number of myths, legends and beliefs.
The First Day : Dhanteras
The festival of Dhanteras is also known by the names of Dhantrayodashi and Dhanvantari Trayodashi. Dhan Teras falls on the thirteenth day of the dark fortnight in the month of Kartik (October-November), i.e. two days before Diwali. It is the festival that marks the beginning of the diwali celebrations and therefore it is considered the first day of five days long festivities of diwali. Dhanteras is celebrated to seek blessings of Goddess Laxmi, the goddess of wealth. In the amalgamation of Dhan teras ‘Dhan’ means wealth. God Yama is also worshiped on this day to provide prosperity and well being.
On this day, houses and business centers are renovated and rangoli designs to welcome the Goddess of wealth and prosperity. To indicate her long-awaited arrival, small footprints are drawn with rice flour and vermilion powder all over the houses. Lamps are kept burning all through the nights.
Being a day dedicated to the festival of wealth, on this people purchase a new utensil, silver or gold coin or some other precious metal as a sign of good luck on the day of dhanteras. This is also a tradition related with celebrations of the festival of Dhanvantari Trayodashi.
Dhanteras festival is ideal time for setting up businesses, commencing new projects, housewarming, deciding wedding dates, buying cars and jewellery.”Lakshmi-Puja” is performed in the evenings when tiny diyas of clay are lighted to drive away the shadows of evil spirits.
The Second Day is called Narak-Chaturdashi or more popularly as Chhoti Diwali which falls on the 14th day of the month of Kartik. This festival is observed to commemorate the victory of Lord Krishna over the demon king, Narkasur. This day is also celebrated as the birthday of Hanumanji or Hanuman jayanti. Also, on this day Hanumanji reached Ayodhya to deliver the long-awaited message of Lord Rama’s return. Just like diwali people light diyas on chhoti diwali to fill their homes with light, worship Goddess Laxmi and offer prayers to Her and they also burst firecrackers but all these things are not as grand as they are on the day of main diwali .
The Story of Narakasur :
The story goes that the demon king Narakasur ruler of Pragjyotishpur (Province to the South of Nepal) after defeating Lord Indra had snatched away the magnificent earrings of Aditi, the Mother of Goddess and imprisoned sixteen thousand daughters of the gods and saints in his harem. On the day previous to Narakchaturdashi, Lord Krishna killed the demon and liberated the imprisoned damsels and also recovered those precious earrings of Aditi. His destruction made all happy and the women in particular saw his end as a moral victory for them.
With his valour Bali conquered every bit of space, thus he became the most powerful king on earth. In his kingdom, justice was mere word, truth had no place and happiness was a dream. His form of charity was an occasion for pomp and show and those who went to seek Alms from the king Bali suffered the indignity of insults and humiliation. In fact, he felt that the vast wealth will remain and the pittance he handed out now and again could not affect even an iota of his asset. His false beliefs, arrogance and misrule ended when the Lord disguised as beggar and humble proved to Bali that his concepts were totally wrong and even his vast wealth could disappear in seconds. King Bali asked the dwarf beggar to ask for anything in his kingdom and with three steps even his crown vanished. With his first step Lord Vishnu covered the entire heaven and with the second step the earth and asked Bali where to keep his third step. Bali offered his head and became spiritually enlightened. Thus, this festival has a far deeper significance than a mere exhibition of gaiety and splendor. The Narak chaturdashi day therefore is dedicated to lights and prayers heralding a future full of joy and the elimination of greed.
In South-India, people wake up before sunrise prepare a paste by mixing Kumkum in oil, which is called ‘Ubtan’, on their foreheads and then take bath. The breaking of the fruit represents the head of the demon King, Narakasur and the kumkum-oil paste symbolizes the blood that Lord Krishna smeared His forehead with.
In Maharashtra also, traditional early baths with oil and “Uptan” (paste) of gram flour and fragrant powders are a `must’. All through the ritual of baths, deafening sounds of crackers and fireworks are there in order that the children enjoy bathing. Afterward steamed vermicelli with milk and sugar or puffed rice with curd is served.
“In Bengal and east India, this day is called Kali Chaudas and celebrated as the birthday of Ma Kali. In Bengal Kali Ma’s murti’s are set up in pandals and Kali puja is performed on this day.”
The Third Day : Diwali or Deepavali
The Third Day of this festival of Diwali is the most important day of Lakshmi Puja which is entirely devoted to the propotiation of Goddess Lakshmi.On this dark new moon night, the entrances to all homes are lit up and decorated with rangoli patterns to welcome Lakshmi, the radiant consort of Vishnu and the goddess of wealth and lustre.
Diwali is the last day of financial year in traditional Hindu business and businessmen perform Chopda Pujan on this day on the new books of accounts. Diwali is the festival when the new business year begins it is said that Diwali is the “Time to shop or start new ventures”.
The Fourth Day : Padwa or Varshapratipada
The fourth day of diwali celebrations is ‘Padwa’ or ‘Varshapratipada’. In the North India Govardhan Puja is performed with great zeal and enthusiasm. On this day, Goverdhan Pooja is performed. This day is also observed as Annakoot and prayers are offered in the temples. The day after the Lakshmi Puja, most families celebrate the new year by dressing in new clothes, wearing jewellery and visiting family members and business colleagues to give them sweets, dry fruits and gifts.
The Fifth Day : Bhai Dooj
Bhaiya Duj or Bhai Dooj is the festival that is celebrated on the fifth day of diwali and it falls on second day after diwali that is on ‘Shukla Paksha Dwitiya’ in the Hindi month of ‘Kartik’.Bhai Dooj is observed as a symbol of love and affection between brothers and sisters. Bhai Dooj is the festival that marks the end of diwali celebrations.