Diwali is undoubtedly one of India’s most prominent, brightest, and most important festivals. At the same time, It is popularly known as the ‘festival of lights. Hindus, Sikhs, and Jains mainly celebrate this festival. The celebration of Diwali as the “victory of good over evil” refers to the light of higher knowledge that dispels all ignorance. While the story behind it and the way the festival is celebrated varies greatly depending on the region, the essence of the festival remains the same – a celebration of life, its joy, and goodness.
Tale behind Diwali celebration
Diwali is derived from the Sanskrit title “Deepavali” which transcribes as “Rows of Lamps”. Based on the Hindu lunar calendar, Diwali falls on the Amavasya or moonless night between October and November. Celebrated as the victory of good over evil, the festival is associated with the legend of the Hindu god Lord Ram’s return to his kingdom of Ayodhya after 14 years in exile. The demon king Ravan of Lanka kidnaps Lord Rama’s consort, Sita, only to bring about his death. Lord Ram, his brother Laxman, and an army of monkeys defeated and killed Ravana and returned to his kingdom with Sita. According to mythology, the people of Ayodhya lit clay lamps known as diyas to welcome him on his return from exile.
Five days of Diwali
Day 1 Dhanteras
“Dhan” means wealth and ‘teras’, meaning thirteenth, so it is a festival that takes place on the thirteenth lunar day of Krishna Paksha, the Hindu month of Kartik (October-November), which falls only two days before Diwali where people cover themselves to be blessed with prosperity and good health. A fascinating story about the festival of Dhanteras says that once the sixteen-year-old son of King Hima. According to the horoscope, he was sentenced to death by snakebite on the fourth day of the wedding. On that particular fourth day of his marriage, his young wife would not allow him to sleep. She placed all the ornaments and a lot of gold and silver coins in a big pile at the entrance to her husband’s boudoir and lit countless lamps everywhere. And she continued to tell stories and sing songs. When Yama, the god of Death arrived there in the guise of a snake, his eyes were dazzled by the glare of those brilliant lights and he could not enter the prince’s chamber. So he climbed on top of a pile of ornaments and coins and sat there all night listening to melodious songs. He left quietly in the morning. A young woman thus saved her husband from the clutches of death. Since then, this Dhanteras day has come to be known as ‘Yamadeepdaan’ day and lamps are kept burning all night in reverent adoration of Yama, the god of death. This day is considered auspicious for buying items related to prosperity, such as utensils or gold. Dhanteras is celebrated yearly on the thirteenth lunar day of Krishna Parksha in the Hindu calendar month.
Day 2 Choti Diwali
Choti Diwali, also known as Naraka Chaturdashi in parts of east and south India, and Kali Chaudas in Gujarat and Rajasthan. “Naraka” cites Narakasura, the monarch of demons, and Chaturdashi means the fourteenth day. It is celebrated on a smaller scale than the main Diwali. The demon king Narakasura conquered the territory of the Vedic goddess Aditi. He also kidnapped and tortured many women. In mythology, there are different versions of how Narakasura was killed. According to one story, Lord Krishna and Satyabhama killed him in battle, while others believe that the goddess Kali ended his life. This is why the community also witnesses the day as Kali Chaudas and Naraka Chaturdashi. Hindus rise before dawn, clean their houses, take a fragrant bath, apply kajal, and dress in festive clothes. People decorate their homes with great excitement to invite Goddess Lakshmi and rejoice on this occasion by singing aartis or religious hymns while participating in the pooja. Naraka Chaudas is a reminder that ultimately evil will never survive.
Day 3 Diwali
On the primary day of Diwali Lakshmi Pooja is held. The day is dedicated to Goddess Lakshmi – the Goddess of Wealth and Lord Ganesha, the “Lord of Auspicious Beginnings” and the “Remover of Obstacles”. Devotees worship them and seek prosperity and wealth. People wear new clothes, light days, and candles in their homes and millions of crackers and fairy lights are on the streets across India. Sweets and gifts are exchanged among families, friends, and relatives.
People celebrate Diwali for different purposes in different regions of India.
- For the Jain community, the festival commemorates Mahavira’s enlightenment and rescue (moksha), the most current of the Jain Tirthankaras, from the circle of life and death (samsara). The lighting of the lamps celebrates the light of Mahavira’s divine knowledge.
- Since the 18th century, Diwali has been celebrated in Sikhism as the time of Guru Hargobind’s return to Amritsar from captivity in Gwalior – an echo of Ram’s return to Ayodhya. The people of Amritsar lit lamps all over the city to celebrate the occasion.
- In Buddhism, Diwali is celebrated by some Buddhists to commemorate the day Emperor Ashoka converted to Buddhism in the 3rd century BCE. It is noticed by the Vajrayana Buddhist minority among the modern people of Nepal. They celebrate by lighting lamps, decorating temples and monasteries, and worshiping the Buddha.
Day 4 Govardhan Puja
Govardhan Puja is also acknowledged as Annakut or Annakoot which means “mountain of food” in which the crowd worships the Govardhan Parvat (hill) and offers 56 combos (Chappan Bhog) of vegetarian food and sweets as a souvenir of gratitude. Govardhan is derived from Govardhan mountain in Gokul (Uttar Pradesh) where Lord Krishna raised Govardhan puja from Brijbhoomi as a thanksgiving ceremony to the most beloved Lord Krishna and gradually spread all over India. According to the Hindu calendar, people in India celebrate this holy festival on the first day of Shukla Paksha in the month of Kartik. During the day people wake up in the morning and wear clean clothes after taking the bath. Govardhan mountain is made from cow dung and it is decorated with flowers. It is mandatory to worship the cow on this day. Offer Kumkum, water, fruits, flowers, naivedya, etc. to the Govardhan mountain and light an incense lamp. After worship, people walk around the Govardhan mountain seven times. All the while, water is also dropped from the jar while sowing barley.
Day 5 Bhai dooj
Bhai Dooj marks the end of the five days of the Diwali festivities. It is a festival celebrating the love between brother and sister. This festival is celebrated because Lord Krishna visited his sister Subhadra after killing the demon Narakasura. His sister welcomed him with flowers and aarti and put a tilak on his forehead. He showered her with gifts in return. This gesture gave birth to a festival where the sisters prayed for the long life of their brothers. This festival is similar to the Rakshabandhan, On this day, the sister applies a red sindhur tilaka (tikka) on the forehead of his brother for their long life. Gifts and sweets are given to the sisters by their brothers. And the best thing a brother gets at this festival is the best food in the world cooked by his sister. Like the Raksha Bandhan festival, Bhai Dooj symbolizes brother-sister love.
Things to do on Diwali
- Shopping- Shopping is the most exciting thing people love to do on Diwali. Diwali shopping starts many days before the venture week. People shop for sweets, gifts, crackers, and majorly for clothes for every day at Diwali. The men usually wear Kurtas and Dhotis and the women also go for traditional clothes and hunt for the best outfit.
- Crackers- Burning crackers is the most favorite part of both children and adults. A variet of crackers are available in the market. Standard types of firecrackers include mild flower pots, electric crackers, the popular earth wheel (charka), high-flying rockets, popular sparklers, and of course explosive and deafening bombs. From low priced to high priced crackers both are been sold for this day.
- House cleaning- Cleaning and dusting is a part of the Diwali process to ensure the home looks clean and attracts positive energy. People start cleaning their homes 10 days earlier than Diwali. It is said in Bhagvad Gita, “Cleanliness is next to divinity, and so the opportunity to clean and tidy up!
- Rangoli- Rangoli is made on the door or courtyard of the home as a part of Diwali celebrations. . Women in the house make creative designs using various ingredients- Rangoli powder, colorful flower petals, rice powder, Khadiya, and Geru.
- Sweets- Sweets play an important role in Diwali celebrations. People greet Diwali by serving sweets. Some people prefer to make a variety of sweets at home and some prefer to purchase from the markets. Sweets like laddoos, Sonpapdi, Kajukatli, peda, and burfi are common in the celebration.
- Gift exchange- Gift exchange is a wonderful Diwali tradition, a unique way to strengthen personal, social, and business ties. The importance of exchanging gifts is that Diwali gifts show love, respect, gratitude, togetherness, and also appreciation.
Diwali is a festival that brings with it a sense of harmony. Apart from the religious ceremonies, people on Diwali light diyas in the entire home, and decorate the home with the lights. The idea is to attract Lakshmi’s attention and guide her to these flickering lamps, which bestow her blessings and prosperity for the coming year. Diwali is the season of parties, open-air food festivals, and craft fairs, all of which help build excitement before the celebration. During the night-time, people come on the streets to burn the crackers. Crackers fascinate young and old alike. Despite the growing campaign against crackers, there is no decline in its popularity. As the rocket soars high and bursts into an umbrella of colored embers, the people on the ground watch the spectacle rain down on them. Diwali is indeed the favorite festival of every Indian.