Deepavali or Diwali is the most celebrated and the brightest of all Hindu festivals in India. The grand festival usually occurs in late October or early November of the English calendar and falls on the 15th lunar day of Kartik of the Hindu calendar. Hence, the exact Diwali date varies every year.
It is the festival of lights which is marked by four days of celebration, which literally illuminates the country with its brilliance and dazzles all with its joy. Each of the four days in the festival of Diwali is separated by different traditions. However this day is celebrated as Deepavali also known as Naraka Chaturdashi in most states of South India and it usually falls on a day before the Diwali in North India, except in some years when the Tithi overlaps.
Diwali in North India
In the northern parts of India, Diwali is related to Lord Rama and his triumph over Ravana. It is said that when Lord Rama returned to Ayodhya, the people decorated the entire village with lamps and also burst crackers to welcome Lord Rama. The legend begins with Lord Rama being sent to exile for fourteen years, during which the evil Ravana abducts his wife, the chaste Sita. Lord Rama, along with his brother Laxman and beloved devotee Lord Hanuman, fought the legendary battle against Ravana and rescued Sita. Following this, Lord Ram heads back to Ayodhya, where he received a grant welcome. Since then, the festival is infallibly observed.
On this day special pujas dedicated to Goddess Lakshmi are performed as an important tradition. The houses of the people are cleaned and decorated with candles, clay lamps, flowers, and rangolis. All of these are done to invite Goddess Lakshmi, whose blessings are believed to bring wealth, prosperity, and peace in the families. The festival starts with “Dhanteras”, which is two days before the actual Diwali. On this day, people purchase gold, silver or copper utensils as it is considered auspicious. The Hindi financial year starts with Diwali and hence, this day is auspicious for traders and businessmen.
The afternoons are spent in decorating the houses and the evenings are marked by pujas dedicated to Goddess Lakshmi, with Lord Ganesha alongside. The exchange of gifts and sweets takes place between relatives, neighbors, and friends and together they burst crackers. In most of the north Indian states, “ram leelas” (dramatic interpretation of the story of Lord Rama) are held on street corners during the festival time.
Diwali in South India
In the Southern parts of India, Deepawali is generally celebrated in honor of Lord Krishna’s consort Satyabhama slaying the demon Narakasura. So just one day before Diwali, which falls on the Amavas, we have Naraka Chaturdasi here, which is considered the actual start of the festival. This is the day generally children wear new clothes, people exchange sweets and there is visiting relatives. Crackers are also burnt on this day, but again it varies. In Tamil Nadu, people generally burn crackers on both the days, while in Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh, Naraka Chaturdasi is usually associated with oil baths, house cleaning, sweets preparation.
The day next to Naraka Chaturdasi is Laxmi Puja just like that of North Indians and it falls on Amavasya or the New Moon Day. This is the day when families worship Goddess Lakshmi, for prosperity and fortune, light up their homes with diyas, and keep the doors open, for her to enter. And most of the crackers are actually burnt on this day, though in Tamil Nadu, people burn them on both the days.
Still, what remains true and constant is the celebration of life, its enjoyment, and a great sense of goodness.