WELCOME: Bring in the good times. Photo: Ch. Vijaya Bhaskar | Photo Credit: Ch. Vijaya Bhaskar
Is Deepavali celebrated to rejoice the victory of good over evil, to honour Ram as he defeated Ravan and returned to Ayodhya? Or is it for the birth of Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth, from the churning of the cosmic ocean, and her wedding with Vishnu, the sustaining force? Wait, I’ve heard a story about Deepavali signifying the return of the Pandavas after their exile in the Mahabharat. So, which of these stories is true?
Well, all of them are, depending on which region of India you come from. Besides the legends of Rama, Ravana, Lakshmi, Vishnu and the Pandavas, people from Odisha and West Bengal pray to Kali Mata instead of Lakshmi and call their festival Kali Puja. People from Uttar Pradesh perform the Govardhan Puja, celebrating it as the day when Krishna lifted the Govardhan mountain on his finger to save his people from incessant rain.
Largely, Deepavali is celebrated for five days, but these days never fall on the same English calendar date every year. The Hindu calendar is followed for this reason. Also, would you believe it if I told you that the celebrations are on in different parts of the world, and not just India? Deepavali is a public holiday (for a day) in Singapore, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Fiji, Malaysia, Mauritius, Guyana, and Trinidad and Tobago as well.
The five days of Deepavali:
Dhanteras marks the beginning of Deepavali festivities. Homes and offices are cleaned or renovated before this day, and beautiful rangolis are designed at the door. People light diyas from this day onwards. They buy something new — mostly of silver or of gold. Besides performing the Lakshmi aarti, people also worship Dhanvantri, the healer, the teacher of all physicians and the author of Ayurveda.
Also known as Choti Diwali, Naraka Chaturdashi is the second day of celebrations. Kali or Shakti is worshipped on this day, and hence, it is also called Kali Choudas. People wake up early to have a bath and go to temples and pray, or complete the puja at home. Sandalwood and aromatic oils are applied before their bath to remove impurities and evils. This is the day the asura Naraka was killed by Kali, Krishna and Satyabhama.
The third day of Deepavali is when goddess Lakshmi is supposed to roam the earth and settle in homes. So, people keep their doors open to welcome her. The main Lakshmi puja happens on this day, along with aartis for Ganesh, Kuber, Saraswati and Vishnu. Yes, it is the day you will hear the maximum firecrackers and eat the most sweets!
The fourth day of Deepavali is known as Padwa or Balipratipada. It is celebrated as a special day for couples, and most parents invite their married daughters and their husbands for lavish meals. This was the day when, Vishnu in his Vamana avatar (dwarf) humbled and tricked king Bali. He asked the asura king for land just enough to take three steps. Then, Vamana increased in size and covered all of the earth and sky in two steps. As there was no space left for the third step, Bali offered him his head. Pleased with the king, Vishnu blessed him saying that once a year, he would be worshipped in all his glory. This day came to be known as Balipratipada. In some parts of India, this is the day of Govardhan Puja.
This is the last day of Deepavali, and is dedicated to brothers and sisters. Sisters invite brothers to their homes for a lip-smacking meal and apply tilak on the forehead and give them a token of their love.