Diwali

 

Deepavali or Diwali which literally means “rows of lamps” is one of the four main festivals of India. Throughout the world all Hindus celebrate Deepavali or Diwali with great pomp and enthusiasm.

 

The celebration of Diwali lasts six days, beginning on the 12th day of the month of Kartik (as per the North Indian lunar calendar). The day before Diwali, in order to evoke the grace of God, women fast. It is not that God wants you to go hungry or takes pleasure in your suffering – the principle is that you gain only by giving up. That evening, devotees worship Gomata (the cow) and her calf and feed them special food. Women pray for the welfare of the entire family. This holy day is called Vasubaras.

 

The first official day of Diwali falls on the 13th of Kartik. People set about cleaning houses and shops, and decorating doorsteps and courtyards with rangoli or multi-coloured designs. They purchase gold ornaments, new vessels, clothes, and other such items. Devotees arise early in the morning before sunrise and take oil baths. If possible, they wear new clothes. In the evening, people worship coins representing wealth. Families decorate houses and courtyards with lanterns giving a warm glow to the night. This day of celebration is called Dhantrayodashi or Dhanteras.

 

Dhanteras

Dhanteras marks the first day of five-days-long Diwali Festival. Dhanteras Festival, also known as Dhantrayodashi or Dhanwantari Triodasi, falls on the auspicious thirteenth lunar day of Krishna Paksha in the Hindu month of Kartik (October/November). In the word Dhanteras, “Dhan” stands for wealth. On Dhanteras Goddess Laxmi is worshiped to provide prosperity and well being. Hence Dhan Teras holds a lot more significance for the business community.

 

Dhanteras Legends

A very interesting story about Dhanteras Festival says that once the sixteen year old son of King Hima. was doomed to die by a snake-bite on the fourth day of his marriage as per his horoscope. On that particular fourth day of his marriage his young wife did not allow him to sleep. She laid all the ornaments and lots of gold and silver coins in a big heap at the entrance of her husband’s boudoir and lighted innumerable lamps all over the place. And she went on telling stories and singing songs.

 

When Yama, the god of Death arrived there in the guise of a Serpent his eyes got blinded by that dazzle of those brilliant lights and he could not enter the Prince’s chamber. So he climbed on top of the heap of the ornaments and coins and sat there whole night listening to the melodious songs. In the morning he quietly went away. Thus the young wife saved her husband from the clutches of death. Since then this day of Dhanteras came to be known as the day of “Yamadeepdaan” and lamps are kept burning throughout the night in reverential adoration to Yam, the god of Death.

 

According to another popular legend, when the gods and demons churned the ocean for Amrit or nectar, Dhanavantri (the physician of the gods and an incarnation of Vishnu) emerged carrying a jar of the elixir on the day of Dhanteras.

 

Dhanteras Preparations

To mark the auspicious day, houses and business premises are renovated and decorated. Entrances are made colorful with lovely traditional motifs of Rangoli designs to welcome the Goddess of Wealth and Prosperity. To indicate her long-awaited arrival, small footprints are drawn with rice flour and vermilion powder all over the houses. Lamps are kept burning all through the nights.

 

Dhanteras Traditions

On Dhanteras Hindus consider it auspicious to purchase gold or silver articles or at least one or two new utensils. It is believed that new “Dhan” or some form of precious metal is a sign of good luck. “Laxmi-Puja” is performed in the evenings when tiny Diyas of clay are lighted to drive away the shadows of evil spirits. “Bhajans”-devotional songs- in praise of Goddess Laxmi are also sung.

 

Dhanteras Celebrations

Dhanteras is celebrated with gusto and enthusiasm. “Lakshmi-Puja” is performed in the evenings when tiny diyas of clay are lighted to drive away the shadows of evil spirits. Bhajans ir devotional songs- in praise of Goddess Laxmi are sung and “Naivedya” of traditional sweets is offered to the Goddess. There is a peculiar custom in Maharashtra to lightly pound dry coriander seeds with jaggery and offer as Naivedya.

 

In villages cattle are adorned and worshiped by farmers as they form the main source of their income. In south cows are offered special veneration as they are supposed to be the incarnation of Goddess Lakshmi and therefore they are adorned and worshiped on this day.

 

Dhanatrayodashi

Dhan means wealth and trayodashi is the 13th day of the weaning moon in the month of Ashwin. Thus, on the day of Dhanatrayodashi all the sources of wealth are worshipped. Apart from this, Dhanatrayodashi is taken as a day to learn from the experience of one’s past deeds and pay homage to memory of ancestors from whom one inherits these traditions.

 

The farmers worship their cattle and their weapons. Women buy something in metal especialy silver, good for the house. On this day, doorways are hung with torans, garland made of mango leaves and marigolds and decorated with Rangolis drawn to welcome guests.

On this day, Dhanvantari, the God of health and welfare is worshipped by performing acts such as cleaning the entire house, buying new clothes, new vessels etc. Shri Dhanvantari is worshipped on this day because this is the day that he arose from the ocean during the famous Samudra Manthan. The God of Health is worshiped first because Hinduism gives tremendous importance to physical well being.

 

Dhan Teyras

The first festival of Diwali, Dhan Teyras falls on triyodashi of Kartik Krishna Paksha, two days before Diwali. Two legends are worshiped on this day. One of Lord Yamaraja, the other of Dhanvantri holding a pot of Amrit (immortal juice). Lord Yamaraj is worshiped to avoid untimely death Dhanvantri is worshiped for good health.

 

On Dhan Teyras, fast is kept and the worship is done by lighting an earthen lamp on the main entrance of the house and offering water, vermilion, rice, jaggery and flowers to Yamaraj. Dhanvanti is the physician of the gods. He appeared out of the churning of the ocean, as one of the fourteen jewels emerged from the churning. He came out of the sea, holding a pot full of Amrit (immortal juice). He is worshiped on Dhan teyras day, as advised by Yama and in order to be free from disease and fear of death.

 

On this day, “Bhajans” devotional songs- in praise of Goddess Laxmi are also sung and “Naivedya” of traditional sweets is offered to the Goddess. There is a peculiar custom in Maharashtra to lightly pound dry coriander seeds with Jaggery and offer as Naivedya. In villages cattle are adorned and worshiped by farmers as they form the main source of their income. In south cows are offered special veneration as they are supposed to be the incarnation of Goddess Lakshmi and therefore they are adorned and worshiped on this day.

 

The second day is called Naraka Chaturdashi. People take an oil bath in the early morning and then in the night they light lamps and burn firecrackers. People visit their relatives and friends, exchanging love and sweets.

 

Choti Diwali / Narak Chaturdasi

The day before Diwali is celebrated as Chhoti Diwali / Narak Chaturdasi or ‘small Diwali’. It is Diwali on a smaller scale, with fewer lights lit and fewer crackers burst. The morning after Choti Diwali, the women of the house make beautiful, colored rangoli in the doorway and courtyard. Tiny footprints made out of rice paste are a special feature of the rangolis made for Diwali. In Hindu homes, Chhoti Diwali celebrations involve a ritual puja to Goddess Lakshmi and also to Rama in the evening. Songs in honor of the god are sung and aarti is performed.

 

Legends behind Chhoti Diwali

The story goes that the demon king Narakasur ruler of Pragjyotishpur (a province to the South of Nepal) after defeating Lord Indra had snatched away the magnificent earrings of Aditi, the Mother Goddess (the ruler of Suraloka and a relative of Satyabhama, Lord Krishna’s wife) and imprisoned sixteen thousand daughters of the gods and saints in his harem.

 

On coming to know about this, Satyabhama was enraged by Narakasura’s malevolence towards women, and she appealed to Krishna to give her the golden chance to destroy Narakasura. The legend also says that Narakasura was given a curse that he would be killed by a woman. Krishna granted Satyabhama a boon to fight with Narakasura. With Krishna as the charioteer, Satyabhama entered the battle field. During the war, Krishna swooned for a while, a preordained divinely act adopted to empower Satyabhama to kill the demon. After Narakasura was beheaded, the imprisoned women were released, and Krishna accepted to marry them.

 

So on the day previous to Narakachaturdashi, Lord Krishna’s divine intervention led to the killing of the demon, Narakasura and liberation of the imprisoned damsels as well as recovery of the precious earrings of Aditi. As a symbol of that victory Lord Krishna smeared his forehead with the demon king’s blood. Krishna returned home in the very early morning of the Narakachaturdashi day. The womenfolk massaged scented oil to his body and gave him a good bath to wash away the filth from his body. Since then the custom of taking bath before sunrise on this day has become a traditional practice specially in Maharashtra.

 

It is interesting to note that Bhudevi, mother of the slain Narakasura, declared that his death should not be a day of mourning but an occasion to celebrate and rejoice. Since then, Deepavali is being celebrated by people every year with joyous celebrations with lot of fun and frolic, and fire works.

In South India that victory of the divine over the mundane is celebrated in a very peculiar way. People wake up before sunrise prepare a paste by mixing Kumkum in oil, symbolizing blood and after breaking a bitter fruit that represents the head of the demon King that was smashed by Krishna, apply that mixture on their foreheads. Then they have an oil bath using sandalwood paste.

In Maharashtra also, traditional early baths with oil and “Uptan” (paste) of gram flour and fragrant powders are a `must’. All through the ritual of baths, deafening sounds of crackers and fireworks are there in order that the children enjoy bathing. Afterward steamed vermicelli with milk and sugar or puffed rice with curd is served.

 

On the third day, people worship Lakshmi, the Goddess of wealth. People decorate their houses with lit lamps and lanterns to welcome Lakshmi to their home and hearts. On this day businessmen close old accounts and open new accounts. The earth is lit up by lamps and the skies are coloured by the multi-hued lights of fireworks.

 

Lakshmi Puja on Diwali

The third day of the festival of Diwali is the most important day of Lakshmi-puja and is entirely devoted to the propitiation of Goddess Lakshmi. On this very day sun enters his second course and passes Libra which is represented by the balance or scale. Hence, this design of Libra is believed to have suggested the balancing of account books and their closing. Despite the fact that this day falls on an amavasya day it is regarded as the most auspicious.

 

The day of Lakshmi-Puja falls on the dark night of Amavasya. The strains of joyous sounds of bells and drums float from the temples as man is invoking Goddess Laxmi in a wondrous holy “pouring-in” of his heart. All of a sudden that impenetrable darkness is pierced by innumerable rays of light for just a moment and the next moment a blaze of light descends down to earth from heaven as golden-footed Deep-Lakshmi alights on earth in all her celestial glory amidst chantings of Vedic hymns.

A sublime light of knowledge dawns upon humanity and this self enlightenment is expressed through the twinkling lamps that illuminate the palaces of thewealthy as well as the lowly abodes of the poor. It is believed that on this day Lakshmi walks through the green fields and loiters through the bye-lanes and showers her blessings on man for plenty and prosperity.

 

Lakshmi Pooja, or the worship of the goddess of wealth, is the main event on Diwali in North and West India. It is extremely important to keep the house spotlessly clean and pure on Diwali. Goddess Lakshmi likes cleanliness, and she will visit the cleanest house first. This is also the reason why the broom is worshiped on this day with offerings of haldi and kumkum (turmeric and vermilion). Lamps are lit in the evening to welcome the goddess. They are believed to light up Her path.

Lakshmi Puja consists of a combined puja of five deities: Ganesha is worshiped at the beginning of every auspicious act as Vighnaharta; Goddess Lakshmi is worshiped in her three forms – Mahalakshmi (the goddess of wealth and money), Mahasaraswati (the goddess of books and learning), and Mahakali; Kuber (the treasurer of the gods) is also worshiped.

 

In North India, the Govardhana Puja occurs on the fourth day of Diwali. Devotees in the North build large mounds made of cow dung, symbolising Govardhana – the mountain that Krishna lifted up with his finger to save the villagers of Vrindavan from rain – and decorate and worship them. North Indians observe this day as Annakoot, or the mountain of food.

 

Padwa & Govardhan Puja

Padwa
The day following the Amavasya is “Kartik Shuddh Padwa” and it is only on this day that the King Bali would come out of Pathal Loka and rule Bhulok as per the boon given by Lord Vishnu. Hence, it is also known as “Bali Padyami”. This day also marks the coronation of King Vikramaditya and Vikaram-Samvat was started from this Padwa day.

 

Gudi Padwa is symbolic of love and devotion between the wife and husband. On this day newly-married daughters with their husbands are invited for special meals and given presents. In olden days brothers went to fetch their sisters from their in-laws home for this important day.

Govardhan-Puja
Govardhan-Puja is also performed in the North on this day. Govardhan is a small hillock in Braj, near Mathura and on this day of Diwali people of Punjab, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh and Bihar build cowdung, hillocks, decorate them with flowers and then worship them. This festival is in commemoration of the lifting of Mount Govardhan by Krishna. As per Vishnu-Puran the people of Gokul used to celebrate a festival in honor of Lord Indra and worshiped him after the end of every monsoon season but one particular year the young Krishna stopped them from offering prayers to Lord Indra who in terrific anger sent a deluge to submerge Gokul.

 

People were afraid that the downpour was a result of their neglect of Indra. But Krishna assured them that no harm would befall them. He lifted Mount Govardhan with his little finger and sheltered men and beasts from the rain. This gave him the epithet Govardhandhari. After this, Indra accepted the supremacy of Krishna.

 

This day is also observed as Annakoot meaning mountain of food. Pious people keep awake the whole night and cook fifty-six or 108 different types of food for the bhog (the offering of food) to Krishna. In temples specially in Mathura and Nathadwara, the deities are given milkbath, dressed in shining attires with ornaments of dazzling diamonds, pearls, rubies and other precious stones. After the prayers and traditional worship innumerable varieties of delicious sweets are ceremoniously raised in the form of a mountain before the deities as “Bhog” and then the devotees approach the Mountain of Food and take Prasad from it.

 

The fifth day of the festival called Bhaiyya Dooj celebrates unique and fun customs. Every man dines in his sister’s house, and, in return, presents her with gifts. North India calls it Yama Dwitiya.

Thousands of brothers and sisters join hands and have a sacred bath in the river Yamuna.

 

Bhai Duj / Bhaiya Duj / Bhai Dooj

The fifth day of Deepavali or Diwali is celebrated as Bhaiya Dooj, popularly know as Bhai Dooj. The name itself denotes the day of the festival i.e it falls on Dooj, the second day after the new moon. This day Yamaraj went to his sister’s house who put an auspicious mark on his forehead for his welfare. Thus, on this day sisters perform puja for their brothers safety and well being. Brothers in return give gifts to their sisters as a token of love.

 

Another version is after killing Narakasur, Lord Krishna, went to his sister Subhadra who welcomed him in the traditional way by showing him a light and putting on his forehead a tilak of her sisterly protection. Another myth behind this begins as when Bhagawaan Mahavir found nirvana, his brother Raja Nandivardhan was distressed because he missed him and was comforted by his sister Sudarshana. Since then, women have been revered during this festival.

 

The festival of Diwali is not complete without “Bhaiyya-Duj” in the Hindi-speaking belt, “Bhav–Bij” in the Marathi-speaking communities, “Bhai Phota” to the Bengalees and in Nepal by the name of “Bhai-Tika”.

 

Diwali is a personal, people-oriented festival when enmities are forgotten, families and friends meet, enjoy and establish a word of closeness. Reflecting this essence, Bhai dooj has its own importance in continuing to maintain the love between brothers and sisters for it is the day of food-sharing, gift-giving and reaching out to the inner most depths of the hearts.

 

As a festival of light and beauty it encourages artistic expressions through home-decorations stage-plays, elocution competitions singing and dancing programmes, making gift items and making delectable sweets thereby discovering new talents of younger people. As a result innumerable communities with varying cultures and customs mingle together to make Bhai Dooj celebrations a very happy occasion for all.