One of the most important and celebrated festivals of the Hindu calendar is Deepawali, which falls on the 15th day after Dusshera. On the first new moon day in the month of Karthik, this festival sees the houses, lanes, cities, and the entire country light up with diyas and firecrackers. Spread over five days, this festival signifies the victory of good over evil and light over darkness. This festival also marks the beginning of the new year for the baniyas – the traders and business people in India. Deepawali constitutes of Deep meaning lamps and Awali meaning a line or string, thus a string of diyas.
From the epic Ramayana, this day is marked as the homecoming of Lord Ram, Goddess Sita, and Lord Lakshman from their 14-year long vanavaas. After defeating Ravan, with the help of Lord Hanuman and his vaanar sena, the trio returned to Ayodhya and established Ram Rajya. To welcome their king, and to express and celebrate the joy of their return, the people lit up the entire kingdom with a million oil lamps. This tradition is carried on to this day in the form of Deepawali.
Rituals and Puja
Spread over five days, Deepawali celebrates every aspect of life and relationships.
Dhanteras: This word constitutes of two Sanskrit terms – Dhan, which means wealth and Teras, which signifies the 13th day of the Krishna Paksha of the Hindu lunar calendar month of Kartik. Also referred to as Dhantrayodashi, on this day, devotees worship Lord Kuber, the God of wealth. Another legend speaks of the Sagar-Manthan – the churning of the milky sea – where Dhanvantri, God of medicine came out of it holding a conch, a Sudarshan chakra, Amrit – the nectar of eternity, and herbal medicines in each of his four hands. This is an auspicious day when people buy gold, silver, and precious metals to invoke the God of wealth.
Naraka Chaturdashi: Also known as Choti Deepawali, on this day, devotees wake up early in the morning and bathe with herbal scrubs called ubatan. Legends talk of Lord Krishna and his wife Satyabhama fighting a demon called Narakasura and defeating him, thus observing Naraka Chaturdashi in honour of the victory.
Lakshmi Puja: This is the main day of Deepawali, where Goddess Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth is propitiated and worshipped. Devotees everywhere hold grand rituals of puja and doorsteps are decorated with small rangolis of dainty feet coming into the house at the entrance to invite the Goddess into their homes. Various delicacies are prepared to celebrate the occasion throughout the day. At sunset, all houses are lined with earthen oil lamps and lit up. Families exchange sweets and firecrackers are burst to celebrate the return of Lord Ram.
Govardhan Puja: This day honours the feat of lifting the Govardhan Parvat by Lord Krishna near Mathura. Legends say that once Lord Indra punished the people of Mathura for not appeasing him and he rained thunderstorms on them causing floods and havoc. Lord Krishna then lifted the Govardhan mountain on his small finger and held it above his head to provide shelter to all townspeople and cattle who assembled underneath it. On this day, miniature clay and cow-dung figures are made to depict the event.
Bhai Dooj: Also known as Bhai Phonta, the last day of the festival is reserved for brothers and sisters. On this day, siblings get together for a tikka ceremony, where sisters perform aarti and pray for the long life of their brothers.