The Five Days of Diwali


Diwali is one of the most popular festivals in India. There are many legends in Hindu scriptures like the Puranas, which explain the importance of Diwali and why it is celebrated. While these legends may vary, the central theme that binds them all is the age-old truth that good wins over evil. In fact, the lamps and diyas that we light to celebrate the festival of Diwali are meant to remind us to light the lamp of knowledge and goodness within ourselves. No matter what the reason for celebration, every day of Diwali is special in terms of its significance. 

Dhanteras marks the first day of the five-day long festival of Diwali. Also known as Dhantrayodashi, it falls on the auspicious 13th day of the Krishna Paksha in the Hindu month of Kartik (October/ November). The word 'Dhanteras' is made up of two words - 'dhan' meaning 'wealth' and 'teras' meaning '13th day'. On this day, people worship Goddess Lakshmi, the Goddess of Wealth, and pray to her to provide them with prosperity and well-being. Dhanteras therefore holds a lot of significance in the business community. 
To indicate Lakshmi's long-awaited arrival, small footprints are drawn with rice flour and vermilion powder all over the house. Lamps are kept burning through the night to show her the way to individual homes. People perform poojas in their homes and offices in which they worship symbols of wealth such as silver coins, machinery and ornaments. 
In many parts of the country, this day is also celebrated as Dhanatrayodashi. Apart from being the day when wealth is worshipped, Dhanatrayodashi is considered to be the day to learn from the experiences of one's past deeds and pay homage to the memory of ancestors from whom one inherits one's knowledge and traditions.
In rural areas, farmers worship their cattle and their weapons as these are their main sources of income. Women buy something in metal, especially silver goods for the house. The main door of homes and offices are decorated with garlands of mango leaves and marigolds. The entrances to homes are decorated with rangolis that are created to welcome guests as well as Goddess Lakshmi. Devotional songs are sung in praise of Goddess Lakshmi and a Naivedya, a meal for the gods that consists of traditional sweets, is also offered to the Goddess. In Maharashtra, people lightly pound dry coriander seeds with jaggery and offer it as Naivedya.
In North India, the day is also celebrated as Dhanvantari. Dhanvantri is the God of Health and Welfare and he is worshipped by performing acts such as cleaning the entire house and buying new clothes and vessels. It is believed that Dhanvantari is worshipped on this day because it is the day he arose from the ocean during the famous Samudra Manthan. The worship of Dhanvantri indicates the importance of physical health and well-being in the Hindu religion.
Dhanteras is also known as Yamadeepdaan in North India. On this day, lamps are kept burning through the night as a sign of respect to Lord Yama - the God of Death. According to legend, the horoscope of King Hima's 16-year-old son showed that he was fated to die by snakebite on the fourth day of his marriage. On that fateful day, his young wife kept him awake all night by singing songs and reading stories. She laid all her ornaments and lots of gold and silver coins in a big heap at the entrance of her husband's room and lit an infinite number of lamps all around her house. When Yama arrived in the form of a snake, he was blinded by the dazzling coins and jewels and could not enter the Prince's chamber. In fact, he was so completely enamoured by the voice of the young wife that he forgot why he had come there. Instead, he climbed on top of the heap of ornaments and coins and sat there through the night. In the morning, Yama quietly went away. The wise wife had thus saved her husband from the clutches of death. Since then, this day came to be known as the day of Yamadeepdaan and lamps are kept burning throughout the night in memory of Yama.
In many states, women light 13 lamps made of wheat flour and place them outside the house, facing the south, which is considered to be the direction of Yama. A lamp is never kept facing the south except on this day. 
In South India, this day is observed as Asweyuja Bahula Thrayodasi, a day that signifies the importance of money in our lives. On this day, people pray to Lord Kuber to attain prosperity and wealth. Kuber is known for his ever-growing wealth and endless treasures. People believe that by praying to Kuber on this day, their financial needs will be taken care of. Kuber is offered honey, jaggery and dry dates and a lamp with pure ghee is lit. Most business people whitewash their shops and close their accounts. They also worship Goddess Lakshmi and their accounting books with coins.

The second day of Diwali is known as Narakachaturdashi and celebrates the victory of Lord Krishna over the demon Narakasur. People make an effigy of Narakasur and carry it to the outskirts of their city or to open lands and burn it. Once the effigy is burnt, people take a bath and rejoice. In the evening, diyas with four wicks are lit at various places. This day is most elaborately celebrated in Goa. 
There are many popular stories associated with this day, but the most widely accepted one is that of Krishna's wife Satyabhama and Narakasur. Narakasur was a demon king who ruled over Pragjothishyapur, a southern province in present-day Nepal. Lord Brahma granted Narakasur a boon whereby he could only die at the hands of a woman. Armed with this boon, he grew into a cruel king and became known for his wicked ways and high disregard for gods and women. Addicted to power, he defeated the King of the Gods, Lord Indra, and stole the earrings of the heavenly Mother Goddess, Aditi. Aditi also happened to be a relative of Satyabhama. Over time, Satyabhama got to hear about Narakasur's injustices against women and his behaviour with Aditi. She went to Krishna and asked him to grant her the permission to wage a war against Narakasur. Krishna not only agreed, but also offered to drive her chariot to the war zone.
At the first available opportunity, Narakasur aimed an arrow at Krishna, hurting him slightly and causing him to fall to the ground. This made Satyabhama furious. She doubled her attack on the demon king and killed him. Her victory over Narakasur brought freedom to all his prisoners and restored Aditi's lost honour. To announce the death of Narakasur, Krishna smeared the demon's blood on his forehead and returned to his kingdom with Satyabhama. On their arrival, preparations were made to cleanse Krishna of the demon's blood. At dusk, the whole city was lit with lamps to celebrate the peace after the death of the demon king. Thus, Narakachathurdashi is a celebration of the end of evil.
In north Indian states like Uttar Pradesh, Haryana and Madhya Pradesh, the second day of Diwali is also known as Roop Chaturdashi. On this day, people indulge in a ritual bath and perform sadhana (meditation). On Roop Chaturdashi, people pray for a healthy and beautiful body. In Maharashtra, people wake up early and take a traditional bath with oil and an uptan (paste) made of gram flour and fragrant powders. This day is also known as Soundarya Siddhi Diwas, a day when people pray for beauty and magnetism. The rituals performed on Roop Chaturdashi lay emphasis on the duty of every human being to take care of one’s body and maintain one's looks.
This day is also celebrated as Kali Chaudas, a day when devotees pray to keep evil at bay. 'Kali' means 'dark' or 'evil' and 'chaudas' means '14th day'. Kali Chaudas is the day allotted to the worship of Mahakali or Shakti and it is believed that on this day, Goddess Kali killed the wicked demon Raktavija. 
In Bengal, people worship Mahakali, also known as Mahanisha, and this day is thus known as Mahanisha. 'Kal' means 'darkness' and Goddess Kali is called upon to take the darkness out of our lives. The pooja is always held at night amidst the sounds of the dhol. Devotees dance and pray throughout the night in worship of the Goddess. The pooja starts with the worship of Lord Ganesh, who is considered to be the Remover of Obstacles. In homes, the pooja is performed in the verandah of the house after which the verandah is decorated with colourful drawings called alpana. During the entire pooja, worshippers chant the holy names of Kali and the pooja ends with the offering of an aarti (flame), which symbolises a conscious union with god.
This day is also attached to the legend of Lord Hanuman. One day, when Hanuman was a baby, he was very hungry. Whilst lying down, he saw the Sun in the sky and thinking it was a fruit, he went to pick it. He flew into the sky and put the whole Sun in his mouth causing darkness throughout the entire universe. Lord Indra requested Hanuman to return the Sun, but when he refused, Indra unleashed his Vajra, knocked Hanuman down to Earth and released the Sun. Thus, on this day, a pooja is also offered to Hanuman to protect us from evil. This pooja is performed with oil, flowers, chandan (sandalwood) and sindur (vermilion). Coconuts are also offered to Hanuman and ladoos made with sesame seeds, rice, ghee and sugar are offered as prasad. 
In the southern states of India, this day is known as Divili Panduga or Divvela Panduga. People wake up very early in the morning, take a ritual bath and wear new clothes. Parents invite their daughters and sons-in-law to their home and present them with new clothes. For merchants and business communities of Andhra Pradesh, Divvela Panduga is a day to worship the Goddess of Wealth, Lakshmi, and usher in the New Year.
The third day of the festival of Diwali is the most important day. It is devoted to Goddess Lakshmi and is celebrated as Lakshmi Pooja. The day marks the beginning of a new business year and a time to start new ventures. On this day, the Earth enters into the second course of its journey in relation to the position of the Sun and passes through the constellation of Libra, represented by a balance or scale. Hence, this day is celebrated with a ceremony wherein businessmen balance their account books. On this day, the previous year's accounts are closed and new accounts are opened for the New Year. All new account books are inked with the words 'shubh' meaning 'auspicious' and 'labh' meaning 'merit' to invoke the deity of wealth. This ceremony is called Chopda Poojan among Gujarati and Rajasthani business communities. 
Despite the fact that this day falls on Amavasya (New Moon Day), it is regarded as an auspicious day. It is believed that on this day, Lakshmi walks through the green fields and loiters through the by lanes, showering her blessings of wealth and prosperity.
It is believed that the Goddess visits the cleanest house first so people clean and whitewash their homes in anticipation of her visit. Certain communities even worship the broom on this day with offerings of haldi (turmeric) and kumkum (vermilion). Lamps are lit in the evening to welcome the Goddess and guide her path.
Lakshmi Pooja consists of a combined pooja of five deities. Lord Ganesh is worshipped at the beginning of every auspicious act as Vighnaharta or the Remover of Obstacles. Lakshmi is worshipped in her three forms—Mahalakshmi, the Goddess of Wealth, Mahasaraswati, the Goddess of Books and Learning, and Mahakali. Finally, Kuber, the Treasurer of the Gods, is worshipped.
This day is also considered as the last day of the year according to the Hindu calendar. People therefore pray to god to forgive them for all the mistakes of the past year and give them the wisdom and strength to step forward into the New Year. 
On the fourth day of Diwali, Govardhan Pooja is performed in the northern parts of India. Govardhan is a small hillock in Braj, near Mathura, which was lifted by Lord Krishna in order to protect the people of Govardhan. On this day, people of Punjab, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh and Bihar build small cow dung hillocks, decorate them with flowers and then worship them.
According to the Vishnu Puran, the people of Gokul used to celebrate a festival in honour of Lord Indra wherein they worshipped him after the end of every monsoon season. One particular year, the young Krishna stopped them from offering prayers to Indra. In anger, Indra sent a flood to submerge Gokul. People were afraid that the downpour was a result of their neglect of Indra, but Krishna assured them that no harm would befall them. He lifted Mount Govardhan with his little finger and sheltered men, women, children and animals from the rain. This earned him the nickname Govardhan Nath. After this, Indra accepted the supremacy of Krishna. This day is also observed as Annakoot, which means 'mountain of food'. People stay awake all night and cook 56 or 108 different types of food for the bhog, an offering of food to Krishna. In temples, especially in Mathura and Nathadwara, the deities are given a bath with milk and dressed in shining clothes, diamonds, pearls, rubies and other precious stones. After the prayers and traditional worship, several delicious sweets are ceremoniously raised in the form of a mountain before the deities as bhog, which is then distributed among the worshippers as prasad.
In Gujarat, this day is celebrated as Bestavaras or New Year. People dress in new clothes and jewellery and visit family members and business colleagues to give them sweets, dry fruits and gifts. This day is popular among business communities as on this day, the new business year begins. The day is considered to be an auspicious time to start new ventures and projects.
For farmers, this is a festival that marks the end of one harvest and the beginning of another.
The fifth or last day of Diwali is celebrated as Bhaiya Dooj, popularly known as Bhai Dooj. This day derives its name from the fact that it falls on the second day after the new moon or 'dooj' day. It is a day to pray for the long life of one's brother, bhaiya or bhai.
According to religious scriptures, the God of Death, Lord Yama went to visit his sister's house after a period of long separation. His sister, Yami was very happy to see him and welcomed him by putting an auspicious mark on his forehead after which they shared a meal. Yama was so pleased with his sister's reception that he proclaimed that every year on dooj day, if a sister puts a tilak on her brother's forehead, no one can harm the brother.
Another religious scripture says that on this day, Subhadara placed a vermilion tikka on the forehead of Krishna after he emerged victorious from the battle against Narakasur. Till date, this tradition is followed. Sisters perform a pooja for their brothers' safety and well-being and in return, brothers give sisters gifts as tokens of their love.
This day is referred to as Bhaiyya Dooj in Hindi-speaking areas, Bhav Beej in Maharashtra, Bhai Phota in Bengal and Bhai Tika in Nepal. In Maharashtra, sisters worship their brothers with an aarti. A special, squareshaped space is created on the floor and lined with various designs in corn powder to worship the brother. Before stepping into this square-shaped space, the brother tastes a particular bitter fruit called karith in Marathi, which Krishna is said to have tasted before setting out for the kill.
In Nepal, a royal astrologer gives the appropriate time to put the tika through the national radio a day before the event and all the sisters in the nation abide by this time to ensure their brothers' longevity. Even His Majesty the King of Nepal receives a tika from his sisters. When His Majesty receives a tika, a 31-gun salute is given to honour the function.
Though most of us end Diwali celebrations with the fifth day of Diwali, traditionally the celebrations lasted much longer, right up to Dev Diwali, which is celebrated on the 10th day after Diwali. For the Jains, it is the day Lord Mahavir, the 24th Tirthankara, achieved Nirvana. According to Jain legend, the first disciple of Mahavir, Ganadhar Gautam Swami also attained complete knowledge on this day, making Dev Diwali a really special occasion for the Jains. In fact, it is said that the first scriptural reference to Diwali is found in the Jain scripture, Harivamsha Purana by Acharya Jinasena. On this day, Lord Mahavir is worshipped, Jain holy books called Agams are read and homes and temples are illuminated. Lamps are lit under the moonlit sky and a family feast is held. Thousands of Jain pilgrims from all over India also flock to the sacred Mount Girnar in Gujarat where special celebrations are held.
Kashmiri Pundits celebrate the day as Sukhsuptika, which literally means 'sleep with happiness'. The celebrations start from Ekadeshi and last until the day of Dev Diwali. On this day, elders worship Goddess Lakshmi after sunset. Earthen lamps are then placed in temples, houses, shops and cowsheds and on road crossings, cremation grounds, hills, banks of rivers, streams and lakes and the foot of trees.
This day is also celebrated as Tulsi Vivah. Traditional Hindu homes will only allow marriages in the family to commence after this day.