According to the Hindu calendar, Diwali or Deepawali falls on the 15th day in the month of Kartik and this year the festival of lights will be celebrated in India on October 24. While diyas, fairylights, lamps, firecrackers and rangoli are common sights on Deepawali, the Hindu festival is celebrated in varied ways in different parts of the country.
For Hindus in Northern India, Diwali symbolises the return of Ram with wife Sita and brother Laxman to Ayodhya after being exiled for 14 years. When he returned, Ram was welcomed home with diyas and fireworks which were lighted throughout the kingdom since it was a new moon day in the month of Kartik season and it was dark all around.
Hence, the lighting of diya signifies the triumph of good over evil when people are united during the occasion of Diwali and there are celebrations happening all around. The tradition of lighting diyas and fireworks continue even today in Uttar Pradesh, Punjab, Himachal Pradesh, Haryana, Bihar and neighbouring areas while in Himachal Pradesh, Delhi and Punjab, people also engage in gambling on Diwali night as it is considered to be auspicious.
The gurdwaras in Punjab are illuminated on Diwali night even though the Sikhs do not celebrate Diwali but they are a part of the celebrations and light their houses with candles and diyas. In Delhi, UP and other surrounding Indian states, houses are decorated with candles, lights, diyas, bandhanwars and rangolis with Laxmi puja being performed at night.
The devotees in some houses even put a silver coin in a tumbler of milk, which is then sprinkled in all the rooms as a tradition along with indulging in shopping, cleaning, gambling, redecoration, whitewashing, home decoration, exchanging of gifts and sweets are part and parcel of the celebrations.
Diwali’s history can be traced back to ancient India, with several legends associated with it. Many believe that Diwali is the celebration which marks Lakshmi’s wedding with Vishnu while others mark it to be a celebration of Lakshmi’s birth, as it is believed that she was born on the new moon day of Kartik.
In Bengal, the Goddess of strength Kali is worshipped during Diwali. In certain homes, Ganesha is worshipped since he is a symbol of auspiciousness. In Eastern India, the rituals of lighting of lamps, candles, diyas and bursting firecrackers remain the same but additionally, some devotees keep the doors of their lit houses open for Lakshmi to enter as it is believed that the diety does not enter a dark house.
West Bengal celebrates Diwali as Kali Puja where late-night worshipping of Kali is done on Diwali night, there are Kali Puja pandals in various areas, rangoli is drawn and the night of Diwali is believed to be the night of the ancestors or Pitripurush where diyas are lit on long poles to guide their souls on the way to heaven – a practise followed in rural Bengal even in contemporary times.
The Hindu community in Odisha too pays tributes to ancestors on Diwali while the festival in Western India is mostly associated with business and trade where new ventures, buying of properties, the opening of offices and shops and special occasions like marriages are considered auspicious. Few days before Diwali, the markets of Western India are crowded with Diwali shoppers while rangoli making and painting footprints to welcome Laxmi is an integral part of Diwali celebrations, which is New Year for Gujaratis.
A very auspicious Diwali custom in Gujarat is to keep a diya lit with ghee and left burning the whole night then collect the flame from this diya the next morning and use it to make kajal, which is applied by women on their eyes, as it is believed to bring prosperity for the whole year. Hindus in Maharashtra celebrate Diwali for four days with Vasubaras being the first day and marked by performing an Aarti of the cows and calves to signify love between a mother and her baby.
Dhanteras or Dhanatrayodashi is celebrated on Day 2 while the third day is Narakchaturdashi where people take scented oil bath early morning and visit a temple, then feast on a special Diwali preparation called Faral which consists of delicious sweets like “karanji” and “ladoo” and spicy eatables like “chakli” and “sev” and the fourth day is the main Diwali day when Lakshmi Puja is performed by worshipping Lakshmi and items of wealth like money and jewellery.
Southern India celebrates Diwali in the Tamil month of aipasi where Naraka Chaturdashi is the main day of the celebrations. One day before Naraka Chaturdashi, the oven is cleaned, then smeared with lime, religious symbols are drawn on it, filled with water and then used on the main day for the oil bath.
Instead of rangolis, like in North India, Hindus in South India decorate their houses with kolam designs. After the oil bath, new clothes are worn and firecrackers are burst along with observing Thalai Deepavali, another unique ritual, where newlyweds spend their first Diwali in the bride’s parental home.
Andhra Pradesh celebrates Diwali with Harikatha or the musical narration of the story of Hari as it is believed that Krishna’s consort Satyabhama had killed demon Narakasura so, prayers are offered to special clay idols of Satyabhama. In Karnataka too, the day of Diwali or Ashwija Krishna Chaturdashi commences with people taking an oil bath as it is believed that Krishna took the oil bath to remove the bloodstains from his body after killing Narakasura.
In Karnataka, Bali Padyami is Diwali’s third day which is marked by women sketching colourful rangolis in their houses, building forts from cow dung and narrating stories associated with King Bali.