Indian festivals are rich with tradition and have an interesting narrative behind them. We share glimpses of the five-day long Diwali festival and share interesting facts about this most awaited season of the year.
There is more to Diwali than lights, firecrackers, rangoli and sweets. While these celebratory elements are extremely important for the festival of festivals, the rich tradition of Hindu faith marks each day of Diwali with a particular significance. Special traditions and rituals are followed in different parts of the country. Every ritual holds a special meaning for devotees as they remember the good work done by the gods to win victory over evil. Religious and cultural elements make the five day festival an exhilarating experience for all. So here’s a look at the five days of Diwali and what makes each of them important.
The first day of Diwali celebrations is called Dhanteras and it can be linked to Dhanvantari, the god responsible for Ayurveda who is also worshipped on the occasion of Dhanteras. Wikipedia explains: “According to a popular legend, when the devas and asuras performed the Samudra manthan (churning of the ocean) for Amrita (the divine nectar of immortality), Dhanvantari (the physician of the Gods and an incarnation of Vishnu) emerged carrying a jar of the elixir on the day of Dhanteras.”
Believed to be an auspicious day, people use this occasion to purchase precious items like gold, silver, gemstones, as well as new utensils and clothes. Symbolically diyas – traditionally made of clay or modern candles – are lit every evening so as to ward off evil spirits from entering the home. Often diyas will be lit around the home’s Tulsi plant and in front of the door. This custom is also seen as an offering to Yama, to prevent death during Diwali.
Additionally, each region will observe their own unique cultural elements on this day. For example, in Maharashtra, a sweet called Naivedya made from dry coriander seeds and jaggery is offered after pooja.
Since 2016, The Indian ministry of Ayurveda, Yoga and Naturopathy, Unani, Siddha and Homoeopathy observes Dhanteras, as the National Ayurveda Day.
2. Choti Diwali, Naraka Chaturdasi
One the second day of the festival called, Chhoti Diwali, a special tradition is carried out every morning. Before that we need to understand the religious significance of the day. Choti Diwali is also known as Naraka Chaturdasi and Roop Chaturdashi. Hindu mythology narrates that on this day Lord Krishna, Satyabhama and Kali defeated demon king, Narakasur, ruler of Pragjoytoshpur who had imprisoned 16,000 daughters of gods.
On this morning, a special ritual called Abhyang Snan is observed by devotees. Considered a “holy bath”, people will use til or sesame oil to apply a special face mask. After the bath, people will dress up in new clothes and enjoy a delicious breakfast. In some homes a special puja is performed with oil, flowers, and sandalwood. A special sweet prepared using sesame seed, jaggery and rice flakes (poha) with ghee and sugar will be offered. Few will use this occasion to take a dip in the holy Ganges River believing that it will absolve them of past sins and save them from hell.
Not many are aware that in Goa, devotees will make paper effigies of the demon Narakasura, and fill it with grass and firecrackers. At wee hours of the morning – often around 4pm, they will burn this idol and burst firecrackers too. Once home, they will end the ritual with a scented oil bath.
3. Diwali, Lakshmi Puja
It is the third day of the festival that is celebrated as Diwali. Since Goddess Lakshmi is worshipped on this day – sometimes along with other gods like Lord Ganesha – this day is characterised by the Lakshmi Puja that people perform with much enthusiasm and fanfare. After determining the shubh muhrut (auspicious time), aartis and bhajans are offered to the goddess. The house is decorated with the finest lights, rangoli, and an array of delicious sweets is prepared. On this occasion, many believe, goddess Lakshmi blesses every devotees’ homes with good fortune and wealth. The happier Lakshmi is with the visit, the more she blesses the family with health and wealth. Since it is believed that mothers are symbolic representations of Lakshmi, on Diwali, family members appreciate mother’s continuous hard work and recognise their role in bringing good fortune and prosperity in the household.
Vaibhava Lakshmi vrat is a special ritual observed by few people on this occasion too because it is believed that fasting on Diwali is equivalent to receiving the blessings of 21 vrats.
Businesses use this day to open new account books. The reason for this practice is because on this day, the sun enters its second course and passes the constellation Libra, which is represented by the balance or scale.
Unlike Dhanteras in India, it is on Lakshmi Puja that devotees in Nepal buy precious objects like gold and silver, as well as new utensils in copper, brass and bronze. These objects are used to worship Lakshmi at night and are believed to be as a sign of prosperity.
4. Annakut, Padwa, Govardhan puja
Up north, the fourth day of Diwali is marked by Govardhan Puja. This day is also called as Annakut or Annakoot, which literally means “a mountain of food”. It signifies the defeat of Indra by Lord Krishna after he lifted the Govardhan mountain. To this day, people remember this great victory and make a small “mountain” and worship it. In the meantime, western India celebrates this day as New Year. Some consider this as a philosophical wish since Diwali ushers in new light and prosperity, whereas some recognise it as the start of new financial year for businesses.
A culturally rich practice is carried out in all Swaminarayan mandirs on this day. Devotional hymns called ‘Thaal’ is sung by sadhus and devotees. These kirtans were composed by the poet paramhansas of Swaminarayan and describe the food items being offered by the devotees and the hymns requests the deities to accept their offering. After an hour of singing, a grand aarti is performed. Devotees then walk around the idols and offer food. Later in the evening, devotees take portions of the food that has been offered to God and received it as prasad.
5. Bhai Duj, Bhaiya Dooj
Ending the festivities is Bhai Duj, a fitting end to the festival of light. On this last day of Diwali, brothers make it a point to visit their sisters. A special ’tilak’ ceremony, using rice and vermilion, is performed along with an aarti. Through these rituals, sisters pray for their brother’s well being and brothers assure the sisters of their protection. It is interesting to note the real reason behind this tradition. Going back to the day when Lord Krishna defeated the evil demon Narakasura, legend says that Krishna visited his sister Subhadra, who welcomed the victorious brother by applying tilak on his forehead and offered him sweets and flowers.
Once again, different states will celebrate these days in their own unique way. Take for instance Haryana, where during the aarti, a special ritual is maintained. A dry coconut with klewa tied along its width is worshipped at the time of the aarti of the brother. On the auspicious occasion of Bhau-beej, women who do not have a brother worship the moon god instead.
We hope reading about the five days enriches your Diwali experience. May light, prosperity and hope find a home in your heart this Diwali! Happy Diwali, everyone!