Diwali or the Festival of Lights is celebrated around the world over a period of five days during the Hindu lunisolar calendar month of Kartik, which usually occurs between mid-October and mid-November in the Gregorian calendar.
The two days prior to the main Diwali Day and the two days following it, are of special significance, with each day of the festival having different religious connotations based on different regions of India and beliefs of people celebrating it.
Here is a look at the five days of Diwali:
Dhanteras: In many regions, Dhanteras mark the start of Diwali. This day marks the birthday of Lakshmi – the Goddess of Wealth and Prosperity, and the birthday of Dhanvantari – the Goddess of Health and Healing. Diyas are lit and kept burning throughout the night in honor of Lakshmi and Dhanvantari. Dhanteras is also a major shopping day, particularly for gold or silver articles. A special Lakshmi Puja is performed in the evening.
Naraka Chaturdasi: The second day of the Diwali festival is Naraka Chaturdasi marking the vanquishing of the demon Naraka by Lord Krishna and his wife Satyabhama. Homes are decorated with rangoli and women embellish their hands with henna designs. Families are also busy preparing homemade sweets for the main Diwali.
Diwali: The third day of the five-day festival is usually celebrated as the main festive day of Diwali. People don their new clothes, diyas are lit and special pujas are offered to the Goddess Lakshmi. Windows and doors are left open to provide easy access for the Goddess. After the puja, people go out and celebrate by bursting fire-crackers. Visits to friends and relatives and exchange of gifts and sweets also take place on this day.
In some places, additional deities, usually Ganesha, Saraswati, and Kubera are honored on this day with offerings and pujas. Blessings are invoked from Lakshmi as she symbolizes wealth and prosperity, while Ganesha symbolizes ethical beginnings and is a fearless remover of obstacles. Saraswati symbolizes music, literature and learning and Kubera symbolizes bookkeeping, treasury and wealth management. Among some business communities, new account books for the year ahead are opened on this occasion.
Padwa: The day after Diwali celebrates the love and mutual devotion between the wife and husband. The husbands give gifts to their wives on this day. In many regions, newly married daughters with their husbands are invited to parents’ home for special meals. Sometimes brothers go and pick up their sisters from their in-laws’ home for this important day. The day is also a special day for the married couple, in a manner similar to anniversaries elsewhere in the world. The day after Diwali devotees perform Govardhan puja in honor of Lord Krishna.
Bhai Dooj: The last day of the festival, called Bhai dooj, celebrates the strong relationship and bonds of love between sisters and brothers. The day ritually emphasizes the love and lifelong bond between siblings and is a day when women and girls get together, perform a puja with prayers for the well-being of their brothers and then get together with the rest of the family to share food.
In each legend, myth and story of Diwali lies the significance of the victory of good over evil. It is with each Diwali and with the lights that illuminate our homes and hearts, that the truth behind this simple message resonates and finds new reason and hope. From darkness unto light — the light that empowers us to commit ourselves to good deeds, that which brings us closer to divinity.
During Diwali, lights illuminate every corner of India against a backdrop of loud sounds from bursting fireworks and with the scent of incense sticks and smell of gunpowder hanging thick in the air. Mingled in this riot of lights, colors, sounds and odors is a festival that symbolizes joy, togetherness and hope for the future.