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The Hindu Festival of Lights




Deepa means light, and Avali means row. Hence, Deepavali is symbolised by rows of lights. This festival is celebrated 20 days after Dussehra, on the 13th day of the dark fortnight of the month of Ashwin (October / November). Diwali is a New Year festival in the Vikrama calendar, where it falls on the night of the new moon in the month of Kartika. Though the festival is celebrated by both North and South Indians, their practices and customs differ. In North India, on this day people light tiny "diyas" (oil lamps, now replaced by caldles in most places) to fill their homes with bright light and decorate their home with lovely colorful designs which are known as "rangoli" art. Deepawali (also called Diwali) is not only a festival of celebrations such as lightings, crackers, social gatherings to exchange greetings and sharing sweets. It is also a festival that is filled with spiritualism and religious activities such as worship of Goddess Lakshmi, worship of Lord Ganesha, worship of Mother Kali, worship of Lord Chitragupta and worship of Govardhan Parvat. It is a festival of lights celebrating the victory of good over evil, light over darkness, and knowledge over ignorance.

South Indian Hindus celebrate Deepavali at dawn when the whole family wakes up before sunrise for a ritualistic oil bath. The head of the household dabs a drop of gingelly oil on everyone’s head before their bath. This symbolic purification rite marks a new beginning. Hindus then dress in their new best clothes and visit the temple to offer prayers to God and to make new resolutions. Diwali is one of the rare festivals in South India, which is not celebrated in temples. It is rather celebrated at home with family members.



Legends of Diwali / Deepavali

Main Legend - The Story of Rama and Sita

In the north, particularly in Uttar Pradesh, Punjab, Haryana, Bihar and the surrounding areas, Diwali is the day when King Rama`s coronation was celebrated in Ayodhya after his epic war with Ravana, the demon king of Lanka.

Lord Rama was a great warrior King who was exiled by his father Dashratha, the King of Ayodhya, along with his wife Sita and his younger brother Lakshman, on his wife's insistence. Lord Rama returned to his Kingdom Ayodhya after 14 years of exile, in which he put an end to the demon Ravana of Lanka, who was a great Pundit, highly learned but still evil dominated his mind. After this victory of Good over Evil, Rama returned to Ayodhya. In Ayodhya, the people welcomed them by lighting rows of clay lamps. So, it is an occasion in honor of Rama's victory over Ravana; of Truth's victory over Evil.


The Story of King Bali and Vamana Avatar (the Dwarf)

The other story concerns King Bali, who was a generous ruler. But he was also very ambitious. Some of the Gods pleaded Vishnu to check King Bali's power. Vishnu came to earth in the form of a Vamana (dwarf) dressed as priest. The dwarf approached King Bali and said, "You are the ruler of the three worlds: the Earth, the world above the skies and the underworld. Would you give me the space that I could cover with three strides?" King Bali laughed. Surely a dwarf could not cover much ground, thought the King, who agreed to dwarf's request. At this point, the dwarf changed into Vishnu and his three strides covered the Earth, the Skies and the whole Universe! King Bali was send to the underworld. As part of Diwali celebrations, some Hindus remember King Bali.

There are several other legends associated with the Festival of Lights, each related to one day of this beautiful five day festival.



The Five Days Celebration of Deepawali



Deepawali is celebrated for five continuous days and each day has its significance with a number of myths, legends and beliefs.

The First Day: Dhanteras

The first day of Diwali is called Dhanvantari Triodasi (thirteenth day) or Dhan Theras. It is the festival that marks the beginning of the diwali celebrations and therefore it is considered the first day of five days long festivities of diwali.

Legends have it that Lord Dhanvantari who is the physician of the Gods and an incarnation of Lord Vishnu came out of the ocean that was churned by the Gods and the demons on the day of dhanteras. Lord Dhanvantari appeared with Ayurvedic for the welfare of the mankind.


Dhanteras is also celebrated to seek blessings of Goddess Laxmi, the goddess of wealth. In this context the word Dhanteras can be considered to be made of two words "Dhan" meaning wealth, and "Teras" meaning the thirteenth day. The Lord of Death, God Yama is also worshiped on this day to provide prosperity and well being.

The Second Day: Narak Chaturdasi or Chhoti Diwali

The Second Day is called Narak-Chaturdashi (Chaturdasi means fourteenth day) or more popularly as Chotti Diwali which falls on the 14th day of the month of Kartik.


Legend talks about the Demon named Narakasur who had managed to acquire such awesome powers that he began to terrorize the three worlds. His ill treated subjects appealed to Lord Sri Krishna, the divine ruler of Mathura for help and Lord Krishna killed Narakasura in a battle. On Lord Krishna’s return, the city was in complete darkness as it was a new moon night. To celebrate the victory and welcome Lord Krishna, the people lit lamps to light the way. To this day, Hindus mark the victory of Lord Krishna over King Narakasura by lighting lamps.


This day is also celebrated as the birthday of Hanuman or Hanuman jayanti. Also, on this day Hanuman reached Ayodhya to deliver the long-awaited message of Lord Rama’s return. Just like Deepawali people light "diyas" on Chhoti Diwali to fill their homes with light, worship Goddess Laxmi and offer prayers to Her and they also burst firecrackers but all these things are not as grand as they are on the day of main diwali.

The Third Day: Diwali or Deepavali

The Third Day of this festival of Diwali is the most important day of Lakshmi Puja which is entirely devoted to the propotiation of Goddess Lakshmi. According to legend, on this day Mother Goddess Lakshmi emerged from the ocean of milk called the Ksheer Sagar. She brought with Her wealth and prosperity for mankind. On that day, people had performed "Lakshmi Puja" (Worship of Lakshmi) in her honour. Hence, every year on Diwali day, Hindus perform Her prayer and worship.


On this dark new moon night, the entrances to all homes are lit up wth "diyas" (or candles) and decorated with rangoli patterns to welcome Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth.


Diwali is the last day of financial year in traditional Hindu business and businessmen perform "Chopda Pujan" on this day on the new books of accounts. Diwali is the festival when the new business year begins it is said that Diwali is the "Time to shop or start new ventures".

The Fourth Day: Padwa or Varshapratipada

The fourth day of diwali celebrations is 'Padwa' or 'Varshapratipada'. In the North India Govardhan Puja is performed with great zeal and enthusiasm.


'Govardhan' is a small hillock situated at 'Braj', near Mathura. The legends in 'Vishnu Puraan' have it that the people of Gokul used to worship and offer prayers to Lord Indra for the rains because they believed that it was He who sent rains for their welfare. But Lord Krishna told them that it was Mount Govardhan (Govardhan Paevat) and not Lord Indra who caused rains therefore they should worship the former and not the latter. People did the same and it made Lord Indra so furious that the people of Gokul had to face very heavy rains as a result of his anger. Then Lord Krishna came forward to ensure their security and after performing worship and offering prayers to Mount Govardhan lifted it as an umbrella on the little finger of his right hand so that everyone could take shelter under it. After this event Lord Krishna was also known as Giridhari or Govardhandhari.


This day is also observed as Annakoot and prayers are offered in the temples. The day after the Lakshmi Puja, most families celebrate the new year by dressing in new clothes, wearing jewellery and visiting family members and business colleagues to give them sweets, dry fruits and gifts.

The Fifth Day: Bhratri Dwitiya (Bhaiya Duj)

Bhratri Dwitiya or Bhaiya Duj or Bhai Dooj is the festival that is celebrated on the fifth day of diwali and it falls on second day after diwali that is on 'Shukla Paksha Dwitiya' in the Hindi month of 'Kartik'. Bhaiya Dooj is observed as a symbol of love and affection between brothers and sisters.


The legends have that Lord Yama, the God of Death, visited his sister Yamuna on the 'Shukla Paksha Dwitiya' day in the Hindi month of 'Kartik'. When Yama reached Yamuna's home she welcomed Him by performing His aarti, applying 'Tilak' on His forehead and by putting a garland around His neck. Yamuna also cooked varieties of dishes and prepared lots of sweets for her brother and offered all those to Him. Pleased by this welcome Lord Yama showered blessings on Yamuna and gave her a boon as a gift that if a brother visits his sister on this day he would be blessed with health and wealth. This is why this day of is also known by the name of 'Yama-Dwitiya'. And thus it has become a tradition that on the day of Bhratri Dwitiya brothers visit their sisters' home and offer them gifts. Sisters also make various dishes for their brothers and also give gifts to them. Bhaiya Dooj is the festival that marks the end of diwali celebrations.

Other Legends

The Return of the Pandavas

The great Hindu epic 'Mahabharata' has another interesting story related to the 'Kartik Amavasyaa'. The story reads that 'the Pandavas', the five brothers Yudhishthhira, Bhima, Arjuna, Nakula and Sahdeva, were sentenced thirteen years banishment as a result of their defeat against 'the Kauravas', Duryodhana and his ninety nine brothers, at the game of dice. Therefore they spent thirteen years in the jungles and returned to their kingdom on the day of 'Kartik Amavasyaa'. On their return the people of their kingdom welcomed the Pandavas by celebrating the event by lighting the earthen lamps all over in their city.

Diwali of Sikh Community

In the Sikh community Diwali celebrations have special importance as for them it is popular as the day when their sixth Guru, Guru Har Govind ji came back from the captivity of the fort of Gwalior city. The people lighted lamps in the way to Shri Harmandhir Sahib, which is known by the name of 'the Golden Temple', in order to honour and to welcome their beloved Guru.

Diwali of Jain Community

For the Jain community the festival of Diwali again has special significance. It is the day when the famous Jain prophet Bhagvaan Mahaveer, the founder of Jainism attained 'Nirvana'. Therefore the people of Jain community celebrate the festival of Diwali in remembrance of Lord Mahavira.

Kali Puja

Goddess Kali is the fearful and ferocious form of the mother goddess Durga. She assumed the form of a powerful goddess and became popular with the composition of the Devi Mahatmya, a text of the 5th - 6th century AD. Kali Puja coincides with Diwali and is a major festival of the Bengalis. Every households clean their houses and light up candles all over their houses. Children and adults set off firecrackers all night. Goddess Kali appears in various forms as an embodiment of Shakti, the eternal energy and cosmic power. She is also the Goddess of Tantrism.



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