The five-day-long Diwali Festival is the biggest and most celebrated of all festivals in India. Deevali is also popularly knows as the Festival of Lights as it marks end of darkness of ignorance and the beginning of light that enlightens all. Divali falls on the 15th day of the dark fortnight in the Hindu month of Kartik (October - November). This day comes on amavasya or the no moon day 20 days after the popular festival of Dussehra. Hindus, Sikhs and Jains celebrate Diwali with pomp and gaiety. For farmers, Diwali marks the end of a rainy season and time for harvest.
To live up to the meaning of the word Deepavali (rows of lamps) people illuminate their houses with traditional earthen lamps, candles and strands of electric bulbs. Firecrackers are also burnt to express joy and to mark the victory of good over evil. For the business community, Diwali marks a New Years time for their business. Lakshmi-Puja and spring cleaning of the house is another significant feature of this festival that marks a joyful family reunion time for Hindus.
Legends of Diwali
According to a popular legend in North India, Diwali is celebrated to commemorate the coronation of Lord Ram as the King of Ayodhya. Lord Rama returned to his kingdom after 14 years of exile with wife Sita and brother Laxman and slaying the demon King Ravana. People of Ayodhya were happy and they lit diyas to celebrate the victory of their dear King.
Another legend says that lighting of lamp on Diwali is done to welcome Goddess Lakshmi - the mythological Goddess of Wealth. It is believed that Lakshmi Ma visits every house on Diwali to bless people with fortune and good luck. This explains why Lakshmi - Puja is a significant part of Diwali celebrations.
Sikhs celebrate Diwali to commemorate the day when their fourth Guru, Ram Das, laid the foundation stone of the Golden Temple at Amritsar. They also celebrate Diwali to mark the release of Guru Hargobind from prison by the Mogul Emperor Jahangir.
For Jains, Diwali marks the day when Lord Mahavira attained Nirvana.
Rituals and Celebrations of Diwali
There are set rituals for all five days of the festival and these are followed with sincerity even in modern times. It may be noted that some of the rituals vary from one region to another because of the difference in culture and also because legends behind the occasion vary in different states.
First Day of Diwali: Dhanteras / Dhantrayodashi
Goddess Lakshmi is worshiped on the day of Dhanteras that falls on the thirteenth lunar day of Krishna Paksha in the Hindu month of Kartik. A lot of shopping activity goes on this day as it considered auspicious to buy gold and silver ornaments or coins besides utensils. Markets wear a festive look and houses are decorated with diyas.
Second Day of Diwali: Choti Diwali / Narak Chaturdasi
On the second day Narakasur-Vadh or the death of demon Narakasura by Lord Krishna is celebrated. Lamps are lit and crackers are burnt but the celebrations are subdued as every one anxiously wait for Badi Diwali.
Third Day of Diwali: Diwali / Lakshmi Puja
This is the most important day of the festival and is celebrated by following the prescribed rituals. Lakshmi - Puja is the major feature of this day. People wake up early and clean up their houses as it is believed that Laxmi Ma visits the cleanest house first. In the evening houses are decorated with lamps and rangolis to welcome the Goddess of Wealth. Dressed in new clothes all members of the family gather in worship room and propitiate Lord Ganesha and Goddess Lakshmi in the traditional way. Prasad is distributed at end of the ceremony. Later, people burn crackers and visits friends and relatives for an exchange of gifts.
In villages, there is a tradition to worship cattle as it is the main source of income for them and also because cows are regarded as the incarnation of Goddess Lakshmi.
Fourth Day of Diwali: Padiwa / Goverdhan Puja
Goverdhan Puja commemorates the incident of Lord Krishna lifting Mount Gowardhan to protect the people of Gokul from Lord Indras wrath. The day also marks the crowning of King Vikramaditya and beginning of Vikram Samvat.
Fifth Day of Diwali: Bhai Dooj
With Bhai Dooj celebration Diwali comes to an end. In tune with the rituals of Bhai Dooj, sisters pray for their brothers long life by applying sacred red tilak on their forehead and performing arti. Brother pampers sister with gifts and promises to protect her from adversities.