Lights, sweets, gifts, and action!
It’s that time of the year when people celebrate togetherness and dispel the darkness within them by lighting up diyas on every corner of the house. It’s that time of the year when gleeful faces exchange sweets and gifts with fervor and enthusiasm and strengthen the ties of their relations. It’s that time of the year when flavor and folklore walk hand-in-hand and reflects the rich cultural history to which Indians identify themselves. It’s time to celebrate Diwali!
The Row of Lights and How Diwali Came to Be
Diwali or Deepavali (in Sanskrit) means “Row of Lights” is celebrated across five days which begins on the 13th day of the Karthik Mass according to the Hindu Lunar Calendar.
Diwali falls on the new moon night. According to the legends, it is the day when Lord Rama returned to the kingdom of Ayodhya along with wife Sita and brother Lakshman after 14 years of exile and victory over Raavana. It is just one of the many stories attached to the festival. Today, let’s revisit all the mythic tales that come from different parts of India and make this festival all the more fascinating and fun!
Five Days of Diwali and the Stories Behind Them
Day 1 – Dhanteras/Dhanvantari Trayodashi and the Goddess of Wealth
The 13th day of the waning moon is the first day of Diwali, the day of Dhan (wealth). Considered as an auspicious day to purchase gold or precious metal pieces, people also worship Goddess Lakshmi (goddess of wealth & purity) and Lord Kuber (lord of wealth & protector of the world) along with Ganesha (the remover of obstacles) by holding a small ceremony after sunset.
According to Hindu mythology, on this day, when Gods and Demons were roiling the ocean of milk to attain nectar (Amrut), Goddess Lakshmi appeared with an urn overflowing with gold and wealth in the physical form of Dhanvantari. And since then, the day is celebrated as Dhanteras. It is the time to remind oneself that all the agricultural and mineral produce comes from beneath the surface of Earth where Goddess Lakshmi resides. She is the subterranean goddess of wealth!
Day 2 – Narak Chaturdashi/Choti Diwali on the Fading Moon
The second day of the fading moon signifies the victory of good over evil. In Southern India, it is believed that on this day Lord Krishna killed the demon Narak, son of goddess Bhudevi and Varaha (the third avatar of Vishnu). Narak was born with a boon, a blessing that nobody can kill him except his mother. After the death of his mother, he was declared immortal.
With immense powers in hand, he started causing destruction, and hence, Indra asked Vishnu to kill Narkasur. Vishnu’s avatar Krishna set out to kill him along with his wife Satyabhama, who was the incarnation of Narkasur’s mother. The end of a demon by his mother denotes the prominence of this day. A traditional practice of bathing in oil (Abhyanga Snana) takes place before sunrise where men are bathed in oil by their wives just as Satyabhama bathed Krishna before the battle.
Day 3 – Diwali/Lakshmi Pujan on the New Moon
The big Diwali night arrives on the 15th day, on the new moon, when diyas are lit up to dispel the darkness, crackers are busted to ward off the silence and sweets are exchanged to dismiss the bitterness. All of these are manifestations of poverty and according to Hindu mythology, Alakshmi (Goddess of Misfortune), the twin sister of Lakshmi, should be driven away from the houses respectfully.
On this brightly lit day, people hold rituals of worshipping Goddess Lakshmi along with Lord Ganesha and Goddess Saraswati by performing Puja. People pray for good health, wealth, and prosperity and this day holds a great significance for business as the old books of accounts are closed and new ones are opened, in the hope of prosperity! People gamble and play cards on this day because it is considered that Goddess Lakshmi blesses those who skillfully take advantage of what they have.
Day 4 – Govardhan Puja and Saving the People of Gokul
On the 16th day, when the moon starts to wax, most of the northern states of India celebrate Govardhan Puja. It is believed that on this day, Lord Krishna lifted the Govardhan Parvat (mountain) to save the people of Gokul from Indra’s fury and thunderous showers.
On this day, people idolize Lord Krishna by offering 56 varieties of food items. The deities are bathed with milk and dressed in new vastras (clothes and ornaments). Some sections and communities also prettify their bulls and cows with garlands and put saffron tilaks. In Maharashtra, this day is celebrated as Padwa and women of the family put tilak on men’s forehead and receive gifts as a token of love!
Day 5 – Bhai Dooj/Yama Dwitiya and the Sacred Bond
The final day of the grand celebration signifies the sacred bond between brother and sister. According to mythology, on this day Yama (the god of death) visited his sister Yamini. It is also believed that if a brother visits his married sister on this auspicious day, he becomes free from all his sins. Sisters, on this day, put tilak on the forehead of their brothers and wish for their prosperity and well being.
To all those observing these sacred days, we wish you a very Happy Diwali!