This year, Diwali, the mother of all Hindu festivals, will be celebrated on October 29. Diwali is a five day festival celebrated in the month of October or November. The festival begins on the 13th day of the dark half of Ashwin month of the Hindu calendar and ends on the 2nd day of the bright half of the Kartika month. It is a pan-India festival. Diwali is celebrated in different ways in different parts of the country.
Dhan Teras (Dhanvantari Triodasi) (October 27, 2016) is the first day of the festival. The second day is called Narak Chaturdasi. The third day is the day celebrated as Diwali in most parts of the country. Legend has it that Krishna’s wife Satyabhama killed the demon Narakasur on Narak Chaturdashi and restored peace on earth. On Diwali (the third day), Goddess Lakshmi is worshipped with great devotion. Since Lakshmi is the Goddess of wealth and prosperity, buying gold, real estate or vehicles on the occasion of Diwali is considered auspicious. Actually, Diwali is the Indian equivalent of Christmas in the west.
Goverdhan Pooja is performed on the fourth day. Goverdhan is the name of the mountain that young Krishna lifted on his small finger to protect the people of Vrindhavan from torrential rains unleashed by the King of Gods, Indra. The fifth day of Diwali is called Bhratri Dooj. On this day it is customary for brothers to visit their married sisters and give them gifts. While Navaratri is essentially a religious festival, Diwali has a strong financial angle to it.
Popular Diwali legends
Diwali is a five day festival and the day that is celebrated as Diwali is actually the third day of the festival. According to one very popular legend, Diwali commemorates the return of Rama, Sita and Lakshmana to Ayodhya after spending 14 years in the jungle.
Rama was the eldest son of King Dasharatha and his first wife Kausalya. He had three brothers – Bharatha, Lakshmana and Shatrughna. Bharata was born to Dasharatha’s second wife Kaikeyi and Lakshmana and Shatrughna were born to the third wife Sumitra. The king had a special fondness for his eldest son (Rama) and was eagerly looking forward to his coronation as the King of Ayodhya. The date of coronation had been fixed and the entire country was overflowing with joy and enthusiasm.
Of his three wives, Dasharatha loved Kaikeyi the most. A feisty queen, she accompanied him wherever he went. Once she even accompanied him to the battlefield and played a crucial role in his victory. Impressed with her courage and devotion, the King granted her two wishes. However, Kaikeyi didn’t ask for anything at that time. Years went by and she would occasionally remind the king of the two wishes and he would reassure her that she could ask for anything. And one day, she did just that. Kaikeyi wanted her son Bharata to ascend the throne. However, as per custom, Rama was to be the next king because he was the eldest son. Kaikeyi found a simple solution to this problem. She approached the king and made two wishes. The first one was that her son Bharata should be the next king. The second one was that Rama should be sent to the jungle. The king was horrified to hear these wishes, but he didn’t dare to break his promise. When Rama heard of this, he readily agreed to abdicate the throne and go to the forest. A devoted son, he didn’t want his father to break his promise and invite dishonor.
Sita insisted on accompanying Rama to the jungle and so did his brother Lakshmana. When Kaikeyi made this wish, her son Bharata was away. Upon his return he discovered what had happened and became furious. Bharata loved his brother dearly and refused to ascend the throne. And when Rama insisted on going, Bharata pleaded that he should at least leave his sandals behind. For the next 14 years, Bharata ruled the country on behalf of his brother. He would keep Rama’s sandals on the throne and sit at its feet. He never sat on the throne and never considered himself the king. Their father died of grief shortly after Rama left for the forest.
After 14 years, Rama returned to Ayodhya with his wife Sita and brother Lakshmana. The entire country was desperately waiting for them. And to welcome them, people of Ayodhya cleaned their homes and lit oil lamps (diyas) to light their path. Even today, Diwali is celebrated as the festival of lights. On this occasion, people clean their homes, prepare beautiful floral decorations using colored or rice powder and lit oil lamps. Firework displays are another integral aspect of the Diwali celebrations.