Diwali is celebrated on the 15th day of the month of Kartik according to the Hindu calendar. This is the new moon day, also known as amavasya in Hindi. This five-day long festival is celebrated in different ways across the country but the one common link through all the celebrations is the lighting of lamps around the house. The lamps are a symbol of hope and joy, which are meant to dispel darkness and bring new faith. Each day of Diwali has a different significance.
FIRST DAY OF DIWALI
The first day of Diwali is known as Dhanteras. People decorate their houses and workplaces on this day and make traditional rangoli motifs at the entrance of their homes to welcome Goddess Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth. Lamps and candles are lit throughout the night. It is considered auspicious to buy gold and silver on this day. Many people also buy new utensils on this day. In Maharashtra, offerings of lightly pounded dry coriander seeds with jaggery are made to the Goddess. Rural people revere their cattle on this day as cows are considered auspicious.
SECOND DAY OF DIWALI
The second day of Diwali is known as Narakchaudas, Narka-Chaturdashi or Chhoti Diwali. It is a day that
celebrates the dispelling of all evil. This day celebrates the killing of the demon Narakasur by Lord Krishna.
Bengalis believe that Goddess Kali killed the demon Raktavija on this day. On this occasion, people take a bath before sunrise and anoint themselves with oil and uptan, a scrub made of gram flour and fragrant powders. A general custom followed during the second day of Diwali is to burst crackers. People also place 14 diyas made from flour and butter across their home.
THIRD DAY OF DIWALI
The third day is the main day of Diwali. On this day, people wear new clothes and share gifts and sweets with their friends and relatives. Special foods and delicacies are prepared and houses are illuminated with diyas and candles. People also decorate their doorsteps with rangolis to welcome the gods and goddesses into their homes. In the evening, Goddess Lakshmi is worshipped in a ceremony called Lakshmi Pooja. According to mythology, it is believed that on this day Lord Ram returned to Ayodhya after 14 years in exile. To welcome him home, lamps were lit throughout Ayodhya and this tradition is followed to date. Within the Jain community it is believed that Lord Mahavir attained nirvana on the day.
FOURTH DAY OF DIWALI
The fourth day is the day of Govardhan Pooja or Annakoot, which is a ceremony that is performed in remembrance of when Lord Krishna lifted the Govardhan mountain. It is customary to prepare a small mound of mud and decorate it with flowers in his honour. In the temples of Mathura and Nathdwara, the idols of Lord Krishna are bathed with milk and adorned with new clothes and precious ornaments. Offerings of a large variety of delicacies are then made to them. This day is also dedicated to the worship of tools. Farmers worship their cattle and farm tools and businessmen, their business. On this day, people pray to the gods to bless them for the rest of the year. This day is also the first day of the Gujarati New Year.
FIFTH DAY OF DIWALI
The fifth and final day of Diwali is called Bhai Dooj. This day is a day of bonding between brothers and
sisters. On this day, sisters are supposed to prepare delicacies to feed their brothers.
TRADITIONS AND RITUALS ASSOCIATED WITH DIWALI
Cleaning of the House: One of the most important traditions associated with Diwali is cleaning one's house and decorating it with flowers and rangolis. It is believed that Goddess Lakshmi enters the house only after Alakshmi is driven out of the house. Alakshmi is the goddess of bad luck, poverty and misfortune and she has to be driven out from the house by the oldest woman in the house. This is done by cleaning the house and then decorating it so that Goddess Lakshmi can arrive. In some villages people also build an altar for Goddess Lakshmi and decorate it with symbols of prosperity and money.
Making Rangolis: During the five days of Diwali, people make beautiful designs called rangoli on the floor outside their homes to welcome Goddess Lakshmi. The tradition of making rangolis is believed to have started in Maharashtra and then spread to other parts of the country. The legend behind the rangoli is that a particular kingdom was in deep sorrow due to the death of the priest's son. The entire kingdom prayed to Lord Brahma. Pleased by the prayers, Lord Brahma asked the king to draw a figure of the child on the ground into which he would breathe life. The king did as he was told and to everyone's surprise, the son was reborn. Since then, the making of rangolis has become a tradition. These rangolis are based on different themes. Some of the common themes are dancing figures, birds, flowers, swastiks, human figures, chakras, stars and geometrical figures.
Exchanging Gifts: The exchanging of gifts is an integral part of all Indian festivals. On the day of Diwali, people generally worship Goddess Lakshmi, light their houses with lamps and exchange gifts with their friends and relatives.
Playing Cards: It is a very old tradition to play cards on the day of Diwali. Hindus believe that gambling with money will impress the goddess of wealth, Goddess Lakshmi and bring prosperity for the coming year. The tradition has a mythological significance as well. It is believed that on this day Goddess Lakshmi played dice with her husband Lord Shiva. At the end of the game, she announced that whoever plays with money on this day will prosper throughout the year.
Lighting Firecrackers: This commemorates and celebrates the triumph of good over evil.
Lighting Lamps: Diwali is known as the Festival of Lights and the lighting of lamps and decorative lights is a way of showcasing the victory of good over evil. Traditionally, only mustard oil lamps were used. According to Hindu mythology, on the day of Diwali, Lord Ram returned to Ayodhya and the entire kingdom was lit up by oil lamps to light his path and welcome him home. This tradition has been one of the most important elements of Diwali celebrations.
Floating Chirags: A chirag is a small diya that is placed in a bowl made of dried leaves. In certain parts of the country, young girls and women often set chirags afloat on the Ganga River. If the chirag makes it to the other side of the river, this is taken as a sign of good luck.
LEGENDS OF DIWALI
Return of Lord Ram to Ayodhya: The most famous legend associated with the celebration of Diwali is about Lord Ram defeating the King of Lanka, Ravan, who had kidnapped his wife Sita from the jungle where they were staying during their 14-year exile. When Ram, Sita and Lakshman came back to Ayodhya, people decorated their homes and the city of Ayodhya by lighting tiny diyas all over. This tradition continues till date and symbolises the victory of good over evil.
Incarnations of Goddess Lakshmi: It is believed that on the auspicious new moon day, which is the Amavasya of the Hindu month of Kartik, the goddess of wealth and prosperity, Goddess Lakshmi was incarnated. She appeared during the churning of the ocean, which is known as Samudra Manthan, by the demons on one side and gods on the other side. Therefore, the worship of Goddess Lakshmi through the Lakshmi Pooja on the day of Diwali has become a tradition.
Destruction of Demon Narkasur by Lord Krishna: One famous story behind the celebration of Diwali is of the demon king Narakasur, who was the ruler of Pragjyotishpur, a province to the south of Nepal. After defeating Lord Indra during a war, Narakasur snatched away the magnificent earrings of Mother Goddess Aditi, who was not only the ruler of Suraloka, but also a relative of Lord Krishna's wife, Satyabhama. Narakasur also imprisoned 16,000 daughters of the gods and saints. With the support of Lord Krishna, Satyabhama defeated Narakasur, released all the women and restored the magnificent earrings of Mother Goddess Aditi.
The Return of the Pandavs: The Mahabharat has another interesting story related to the Kartik Amavasya. According to the story, the five Pandav brothers Yudhishthhir, Bhim, Arjun, Nakul and Sahdev were sentenced to 13 years exile as a result of their defeat against the Kauravs Duryodhan and his 99 brothers at a game of dice. Therefore, the Pandavs spent 13 years in the jungles and returned to their kingdom on the day of Kartik Amavasya. On their return, the people of their kingdom welcomed the Pandavs and celebrated the event by lighting earthen lamps all over in their city.
Coronation of King Vikramaditya: Another legend associated with Diwali celebrations relates to one of the greatest Hindu kings, Vikramaditya. It is believed that he was coronated on this day and the people celebrated this event by lighting earthen diyas.