Diwali, the festival of lights, is a grand Hindu occasion that commemorates the victory of good over bad. The lighting all over epitomizes the exorcism of evil, thus embracing exuberance, joy, and prosperity. However, different regions have different ways of commemorating the occasion. The religious significance of Diwali varies regionally within India and is associated with diverse deities, traditions, and symbolism.
Diwali commemorates Lord Rama, Sita, and Lakshman’s return to Ayodhya after a 14-year exile. As they had returned on a new moon day in the month of Kartik season, it was dark all around. But, to welcome their homecoming, the people of Ayodhya lighted the entire kingdom with diyas and fireworks and celebrated the occasion with great rejoice. The same tradition is followed even today, not just in Ayodhya, but the entire country.
Generally, Diwali celebrations last five days, where each day has its own rituals and significance. Interestingly, only one of these days is associated with the sacred epic Ramayana. So what are these five days? Why do we celebrate them? What are the legends associated with them? Let’s take a look!
Also See | Teachings of Gautam Buddha
Day 1: Dhanteras, Dhanatrayodashi
The beginning of Diwali starts with Dhanteras. While “Dhan” means wealth, “Teras” refers to the thirteenth day of the dark fortnight of Kartik month. This day holds considerable significance in Hindu mythology as Goddess Lakshmi, the Goddess of wealth, and Lord Dhanvantri, the God of Ayurveda, had emerged from the ocean during “Samudra Manthan” on this very day. While Goddess Lakshmi appeared with a big pot of gold, Lord Dhanvantri arrived holding the elixir of immortality (Amrit) in one hand and the sacred text of Ayurveda in the other. Thus, Dhanteras is also observed as the “National Ayurveda Day” in India.
On Dhanteras, both Goddess Lakshmi and Lord Dhanvantri are worshipped for bringing prosperity and good health. A lot of arrangements are made for their welcome. People clean their homes thoroughly as it is time for the Gods to arrive. Colorful Rangolis and floral designs are used to decorate the houses. Houses are lighted with diyas, lights, and lanterns as an offering to Yama, the God of Death, to ensure long life by averting untimely death. This day is also considered auspicious to make new purchases where people buy gold, silver articles, or even vehicles and home appliances.
A woman making Rangoli
Day 2 : Naraka Chaturdasi, Choti Diwali, Kali Chaudas
The second day, the Naraka Chaturdasi falls on the fourteenth day of Ashvija Krishna. This is the day when Narakasura, King of Pragyotispura, was slain by Lord Krishna, his wife Satyabhama, and the Hindu Goddess Kali. Hence, it is also called “Kali Chaudas.” The rituals associated with this day are believed to liberate souls from all kinds of sufferings and evil spirits. Since it is celebrated just before Diwali, it is most commonly known as “Chhoti Diwali.”
Although the entire country celebrates Diwali on Day 3, in some states such as Goa, Karnataka, and Tamil Nadu, Diwali is celebrated on Naraka Chaturdashi itself. While the festivities in Goa are similar to Dussehra celebrations involving the burning of Narakasura effigies, in Tamil Nadu and Karnataka, the occasion mostly comprises a ritual of scented oil baths, Lakshmi pooja, and lighting firecrackers.
Also See | Gurudev Rabindranath Tagore
Day 3: Diwali, Lakshmi Pujan
The third day is the Ashvija Krishna Amavasya or new moon, where we worship goddess Lakshmi for prosperity. According to popular belief, the Goddess of wealth, Lakshmi, visits her devotees and bestows prosperity and success on all of them on this day.
Ever wondered why our houses start getting rigorously cleaned before Diwali? It is because Goddess Lakshmi is believed to prefer clean houses. So the house that does not have a speck of dust on its floors or walls is likely to host the Goddess first! Hence, if you wish that the following year brings with it loads of wealth and success, ensure that your house is cleaned immaculately!
Apart from cleansing the house, Diwali celebrations involve placing lit lamps in all doorways and windows of the house that are kept open as the Goddess can arrive anytime! The celebrants wear new clothes and light up firecrackers, which are interpreted as a way to ward off all the inauspiciousness besides adding to the festive mood. Special prayers are offered to Lakshmi along with other deities such as Lord Ganesh, Goddess Saraswati, and Kubera at business institutions and houses. Sweets and gifts are shared among all the friends and relatives.
We've found the perfect Diwali gift for you and your loved ones. Click here to find out!
Day 4 : Annakut, Balipratipada (Padwa), Govardhan puja
On this day, a special puja to Shiva called "Kedara Gauri Vrata" is performed. It is believed that Goddess Parvati performed this puja and pleased by the goddess devotion Lord Shiva appeared in Ardhanarishwar form. This day celebrates the bond between the wife and husband. In another interpretation, this day is also associated with the story of King Bali's defeat at the hands of Vishnu. In the north, west, and central regions, this day is celebrated as Govardhan Puja to honor the Hindu god Krishna for saving the cowherd and farming communities of Gokul from incessant rains by lifting the Govardhan mountain. This legend is remembered through the ritual of building small mountain-like miniatures from cow dung as a symbol of agriculture. On this day, some people also pay reverence to Vishwakarma, the divine architect by worshipping their tools and machinery.
Day 5: Bhai Duj, Bhau-Beej
The last day of Diwali is the Yama Dwitiya, also called Bhratri Dwitiya. According to our scriptures, Lord Yama‘s sister, Yamuna, met him and offered him many sweets on this day, while others interpret it as the arrival of Krishna at his sister Subhadra's place after defeating Narakasura. Therefore, this day is dedicated for sisters to meet their brothers.
On this day, the women of the family gather and perform puja for the well being of their brothers. The celebration is similar to the festival of Raksha Bandhan as here also, sisters perform an “aarti” sincerely praying for the well-being of their brothers and get gifts (or even cash) in exchange!
Thus, it would be incorrect to say that the festival of Diwali only marks the arrival of Lord Rama, Sita, and Lakshman to Ayodhya. In fact, it is a celebration of the entire Hindu mythology with all its Gods and Goddesses. Diwali is not only a celebration of the victory of good over evil; but also of relationships, moral values, legends, beliefs, and the ethnic diversity of India.
Also See | Legends Associated with Holi
Pratha Content Writing Intern