Photo by Udayaditya Barua
Words by Niladri Singh Rajput
Diwali, which is also known as the Indian festival of lights, is celebrated every year with great enthusiasm and zest around the country. It is celebrated exactly 20 days after the end of Durga Puja or Navratri. The festival has been part of the Indian sub-continent for years and is also mentioned in early Sanskrit texts such as Padma Purana and the Skanda Purana, which were both completed in the second half of the 1st millennium. It is celebrated by Hindus, Sikhs, Jains and Newar Buddhists around the world and although it marks different historical events for each faith, the core of the festival lies in the celebration of good over evil, light over darkness and knowledge over ignorance. The celebration of Diwali varies amongst various regions of India and even within the Hindu tradition. It lasts for five days during the Hindu solar-month of Kartika (between mid-October and mid-November) with each day holding a significance of its own.
Day 1 – Dhanteras
Dhanteras is derived from the word ‘dhan’, meaning wealth, and ‘teras’, meaning thirteenth, which marks the thirteenth day of the month of Kartik, the beginning of Diwali. Festivities start during the day with the cleansing and decorating of the house. On this day, Goddess Lakshmi is the focus of worship and people tend to invest in items such as jewellery and utensils according to one’s capability. Houses are decorated with fairy lights, oil lamps, diyas (clay lamps) and flowers. The day also signifies the end of the harvest season and people look forward to a fruitful and successful new year.
Day 2 – Chotti Diwali
Chotti Diwali, which is also known as Naraka Chaturdashi or Yama Chaturdashi, marks the fourteenth day of the Lunar Month and is seen as a day of remembrance for the souls of our ancestors. The word ‘Chotti’ means little, ‘Naraka’ means hell and ‘Chaturdashi’ means fourteenth. Yama is the deity of death and the ruler of the underworld. According to the Vedas, Yama is said to be the first mortal to die and was therefore given the said position. In a few places around the country, such as Darjeeling and Kalimpong, people also celebrate ‘Kukur Tihar’. With ‘Kukur’ meaning dog and ‘Tihar’ meaning celebration, on this day all dogs, whether they are pets or strays, are offered treats and are worshipped by placing garlands of marigolds around them and putting a tika on their foreheads.
Day 3 – Lakshmi Puja
The third and most important day of the festival is Lakshmi Puja. It is believed that Goddess Lakshmi roams around the Earth on this day and people leave their doors and windows open to welcome the Goddess into their homes and their lives. People leave their houses sparkling clean and decorate the house to the best of their ability. It is believed that the Goddess visits the cleanest house first, therefore explaining the importance of cleanliness and decorations during the day. Also, in the eastern part of the Indian sub-continent, the focus of the festival lies on the Goddess Kali, the Goddess of war.
The third day of Diwali always falls on ‘Amavasya’, the night of no moon. It is believed that the day Lord Rama returned to the kingdom of Ayodhya it was a pitch black ‘Amavasya’ night. It is for this reason that the people light diyas and lanterns to rejoice in the return of their beloved King and pave the way for him during the darkest night. People also worship and celebrate the cow on this day by feeding them and worshiping them with tikas and garlands.
Day 4 – Govardhan Puja
Govardhan Puja, according to the Hindu religious text Bhagvata Purana, is the day that commemorates the incident where Lord Krishna lifted the Govardhan Hill to provide the villagers of Vrindhavan shelter from torrential rain. People therefore offer a ‘mountain’ of food, which includes a variety of vegetarian dishes and sweets, which represents the hill. In temples around the country idols of Lord Krishna are given a bath in milk and dressed in new clothes and ornaments. People also visit other family members and relatives and offer gifts and have a feast to celebrate.
Day 5 – Bhai Dooj
Bhai Dooj is the celebration of the bond between a brother and a sister and is also called Bhai Tilak or Bhai Tika around the country. The word ‘bhai’ means brother and ‘dooj’ means day. Most sisters fast during the day, prepare an array of dishes and offer prayers for the long life, protection and prosperity of their brothers. The ceremony is performed regardless of whether the brother is older or younger than the sister. He bows his head in adoration and respect at the end of the ceremony and offers her various gifts and money in the form of blessings.
Throughout the festivities we remember the virtues and beliefs that surround the victory of good over evil. Amongst all the delicious foods, sweets and celebrations, we remember to stay humble at the peak of our success and resilient in the face of adversity. It is a time when families come together to pray, sing and make merry. While this year Diwali must’ve not had the same level of zest in the country, we are always and most definitely looking forward to the coming year and the celebration of love, light and life.