The word Diwali has been derived from Dipawali which in turn is formed by dipa + avali (row). Dipawali is thus a line or a row of lamps. During Diwali, lamps are lit everywhere. It is celebrated on four consecutive days – the thirteenth day (Dhanatrayodashi), the fourteenth day (Narak chaturdashi) and the new moon day (amavasya) [Lakshmipujan] of the dark fortnight of Ashvin and the first day of the bright fortnight of Kartik (Balipratipada). Some exclude the thirteenth and consider only the remaining three days as Diwali. Since Vasubaras and Bhaubij respectively precede and follow Diwali, they are included in it. However in reality they are separate holy festivals.
Dhanatrayodashi: The thirteenth day of the dark fortnight of Ashvin
This itself is called Dhanteras in common language. Businessmen worship their treasuries on this day. A commercial year comprises of the period between one Diwali and another. New account books are begun on only this day.
According to the Ayurveda it is the birthday of the deity Dhanvantari, so on this day Ayurvedic doctors (vaidyas) worship Him. They make an offering (Prasad) of small pieces of neem leaves and sugar to visitors. This is of great significance as the neem fruit has originated from divine nectar (amrut) and Dhanvantari is the deity bestowing immortality. If one chews five to six neem leaves everyday then there is no chance of suffering from any malady. Such is its importance. It is for this very reason that it is distributed as a sacrament (prasad) of Dhanvantari.
Shri Yama (Yamaraj) is allotted the task of abducting one’s life (pran). None has escaped or will escape death, according to time. However to prevent untimely death, on Dhanatrayodashi thirteen lamps made of wheat flour should be placed lit with oil, outside the house, facing southwards, in the evening. A lamp is never kept facing southwards except on this day.
Narak chaturdashi: The fourteenth day (chaturdashi) of the dark fortnight of Ashvin
According to Shrimadbhagvat Puran on this day Shri Krushna slayed Narkasur. A powerful demon called Bhoumasur or Narkasur formerly ruled a place named Pragjyotishpur. He began harassment of both deities and people. This cruel demon began to harass women. He kept sixteen thousand princesses of marriageable age whom he had won over in battles, in prison and planned to marry them. This created chaos everywhere. When Shri Krushna heard this, along with Satyabhama He attacked the demon, slayed him and set the princesses free. The dying Narkasur asked Shri Krushna for a boon, “On this date (tithi) let one who takes an auspicious bath (mangalsnan) not suffer in hell”. Shri Krushna granted him that boon. Consequently, the fourteenth (chaturdashi) day of the dark fortnight of Ashvin also came to be known as Narak chaturdashi and on that day people started bathing before sunrise. On this day when Krushna returned home at dawn, after slaying Narkasur, adorning a spot (tilak) of Narkasur’s blood on His forehead, Nanda gave Him an auspicious bath. The women expressed their joy by moving lit lamps about His face (ovalani).’
Yamatarpan (offering to Shri Yama)
After a bath with an oil massage one should make an offering to Shri Yama to overcome untimely death (apamrutyu). This ritual of offering (tarpan) is explained in the religious almanac (panchang). One should consult the religious almanac and then perform it, accordingly. Thereafter the mother moves lit lamps in front of her children’s faces (ovaLani). Some break karit (a bitter fruit) with their toes to signify the slaying of Narkasur while some apply a little of its juice onto the tongue as his blood.
Lakshmipujan: The new moon day (amavasya) of Ashvin
Worship of Lakshmi (Lakshmipujan)
Though generally the new moon day is considered inauspicious, this is an exception to the rule. Though this day is considered auspicious it is not so for all events. Hence it would be more appropriate to call it a day of happiness rather than auspicious.
After an auspicious bath at the break of dawn one should worship the deities. In the afternoon a rite for the departed souls (parvanshraddha) and an offering of meals to Brahmans (Brahmanbhojan) is done and in the evening in a pandal decorated with creepers and leaves Lakshmi, Vishnu and other deities and Kuber are worshipped. A legend says that on this day Shri Vishnu along with Lakshmi liberated all the deities from Bali’s prison and thereafter they all slept in the ocean. To represent that, everyone should enjoy themselves at home and light lamps everywhere.
When ritualistically worshipping Lakshmi (Lakshmipujan) an idol of Lakshmi should be installed on a seat on which either an octapetalled lotus or a svastik is drawn with consecrated rice (akshata). Next to Her an idol of Kuber is placed on a pot (kalash). Then all these deities including Lakshmi are offered a sacrament (naivedya), a mixture of coagulated cow’s milk (khava), sugar, cardamom and cloves. Then items like coriander, jaggery, corn obtained from parched, uncleaned rice, sugar candies (battase), etc. are offered to Lakshmi and then distributed to well-wishers and friends. Holding a bundle in the hand guidance is offered to ancestors. Brahmans and the hungry are offered meals. One keeps awake in the night. The Puran narrates that on the new moon night of Ashvin the deity Lakshmi wanders everywhere in search of an ideal home. Though undoubtedly cleanliness, beauty and excellence attract Her yet She loves to live in a home inhabited by men who are faithful, dutiful, merciful, righteous, have control over passions and are devotees of God, and women who are virtuous and chaste.’
Just as the deities Lakshmi and Indra are worshipped on the religious festival of Kojagari, Lakshmi and Kuber are worshipped on this new moon day. Lakshmi is the deity of wealth but Kuber is the treasurer. Several people possess the art of earning money but do not know how to save it. However saving money and spending it appropriately is far more important than earning it. Since most people do not know how to spend money, their spending is unwarranted and ultimately, they become bankrupt.
Kuber is the deity who teaches the art of saving money as He Himself is the treasurer. Therefore in this ritual the worship of Lakshmi and Kuber has been recommended. Though all people celebrate this festival, the business community in particular does so with great enthusiasm and splendour.
Coriander seeds and parched corn from parched, uncleaned rice are offered in this ritual of worship, the reason for this being that coriander seeds (dhane) denote wealth and parched corn represents prosperity. If a few grains of parched, uncleaned rice are roasted one gets a handful of parched corn. Since one aspires to acquire the prosperity of deity Lakshmi, parched corn is offered symbolically.
Driving off poverty (alakshmi)
Development of virtues gains importance only if in the process defects are overcome. Just as one makes efforts to acquire wealth (Lakshmi), poverty (alakshmi) should also be destroyed. To signify that, on this day a new broom is bought. It is called Lakshmi. At midnight one should sweep the house with that broom, accumulate the garbage in a dust pan and throw it out. This is called ‘driving off’ of alakshmi (garbage – poverty). Sweeping the house and throwing the garbage out at night is forbidden on other days. When removing the garbage at times alakshmi is driven out accompanied by music created by striking a sifting pan and an earthen vessel covered with a hide.
Balipratipada: The first day (pratipada) of the bright fortnight of Kartik
This is the half among the three and a half auspicious moments (muhurts). The story behind this goes thus – King Bali was immensely generous. He used to gift a guest with whatever he demanded. Though generosity is a virtue, in excess a virtue becomes a defect. What one should give, when and where is clearly prescribed in the scriptures and the Gita. Offering should be made to the deserving; not to the undeserving. But King Bali disregarding this would give anyone anything that he asked for. When an undeserving person acquires wealth he becomes arrogant and behaves as per his will. Shri Vishnu incarnated as a boy invested with the sacred thread (munja). Vaman means small. The munja is small in size and chants ‘Give me alms as He asks for alms. When Shri Vishnu incarnated as Vaman, approached King Bali for alms the king asked Him, “What do you want?” Vaman asked for land which covered three of His footsteps. Unaware of who Vaman was and not realizing the consequence of this offering the king agreed to fulfill His wish. Immediately Vaman assumed a colossal form and covered the earth with one footstep. With the second He covered the sky and then asked King Bali where to place the third footstep. King Bali then told Him to place the third step on his head. Planning to send him to the nether world by doing so Vaman said, “Ask for any boon that you wish”. The monarch then replied,” Now my entire kingdom on the earth will be destroyed and you will send me to the nether world. So may this event of taking the three steps be represented on the earth for three days of the year as my reign.” Those three days are the fourteenth day (chaturdashi) and the no moon (amavasya) day of the dark fortnight of Ashvin and the first day of (pratipada) the bright fortnight of Kartik. This is also called Bali’s reign.
The scriptures say that during Bali’s reign one can behave as one wishes. However, one should refrain from acts prohibited by the scriptures. Eating prohibited foods, smoking and drinking prohibited drinks are the three prohibited acts. Hence on these days people can have a display of fireworks but they do not consume liquor. Since the scriptures permit this tradition people enjoy themselves on these days. This is Diwali. On Balipratipada a picture of King Bali and his Queen Vindhyavali is drawn with a special powder of soft white stone (rangoli) on the floor, decorated with five colours and worshipped and offered naivedya. Then for the sake of Bali, lamps and clothes are donated. On this day after an early morning bath with an oil massage (abhyangasnan) women move lit lamps in front of their husbands’ faces. In the afternoon they feast on a meal with delicacies. People don new attire and celebrate the whole day through. There is also a practice of worshipping the mountain Govardhan (Govardhanpuja). A mountain of cowdung is made and durva (a sacred grass) and flowers are tucked into it. Pictures of Shri Krushna, the cowherds, Shri Indra, cows and calves are arranged alongside and also worshipped and are taken out in a procession.
It is the beginning of the new year according to Vikram calendar.
The second day (dvitiya) of the bright fortnight of Kartik is also named Yamadvitiya. This day is widely known as Bhaubij. On this day, Shri Yama visited His sister, Yamuna for a meal. Hence the day has acquired the name Yamadvitiya. On this day no man should eat a meal cooked by his wife. He should visit his sister, present her with clothes, ornaments, etc. and eat a meal at her place. If he does not have a sister by blood relation then he can go to a female cousin’s place or consider any other woman as his sister and dine at her place. Since on this day Yamaraj visits His sister for a meal, the souls suffering in hell is liberated atleast for a day.’
If a woman does not have a brother then considering any man as her brother she should perform the act of moving lit lamps around his face (arti). If that is not possible then she can consider the moon as her brother and perform it for the moon. To prevent untimely death (apamrutyu) on Dhanatrayodashi, Narak chaturdashi and Yamadvitiya, Yama, the deity of death should be worshipped and chanting His fourteen Names an offering (tarpan) should be made to Him. As a result, untimely death is averted. The offering is made with the resolve (sankalpa) which prevents untimely death with prayer which means ‘Shri Yama, I am making this offering unto You’. One may consult the religious almanac (panchang) for the description of this ritual.
This ritual consists of uniting Shri Vishnu [an idol of Balkrushna (Infant Krushna)] and the basil (tulsi) plant in wedlock. In ancient times the practice of child marriage was prevalent. This ritual is performed on any day between the eleventh (ekadashi) and the full moon day (pournima) of the bright fortnight of Kartik. On the eve of the wedding the base of the basil plant is painted and decorated. Sugarcane and marigold flowers are placed next to the plant and tamarind and amla are placed at its bottom. The wedding ceremony is performed in the evening. All the vowed religious observances undertaken in the four months (chaturmas) after the tuLsi vivaha on the twelfth day (dvadashi) of the bright fortnight of Kartik, are concluded. All the food items which one has not eaten due to forbiddance are first offered to a Brahman and then partaken of.
This is a synonym for the first day (pratipada) of the bright fortnight of Margashirsha. On this day, the family deity (kuladevata) is offered five delicacies as offering (mahanaivedya).
Nature of the celebration
> Decoration with lit lamps
Lamps should be lit both inside and outside the house on the evening of Diwali. This gives the house a decorative look and generates enthusiasm and joy. Earthen lamps (pantis) lit with oil are more decorative and soothing than a string of electric bulbs. Dip actually means a flame obtained by lighting a wick soaked in oil. The Vedas (Shrutis) command ‘Go from darkness to the flame that is light’. Hence it is believed that the house in which lamps are not lit on these three days is perpetually in darkness. They cannot go towards light that is spiritual knowledge. Offering lit lamps attracts Lakshmi. Each and everyone should celebrate the religious festival of Dipawali with enthusiasm so that Lakshmi perpetually inhabits one’s home and one is enlightened with spiritual knowledge. This helps to maintain happiness and prosperity in the family.
> Lanterns (akashkandil)
‘This is a part of decoration with lamps. The lantern which is hung outside the house on a tall pole buried in the ground, with the help of a string, from the eleventh day (ekadashi) of the bright fortnight of Ashvin till the eleventh day of the bright fortnight of Kartik is called an akashdiva. The ritual of its installation is as follows.
A small portion of ground close to the house should be smeared with cow dung. It should be sprinkled with water containing sandalwood paste and then an octapetalled lotus should be drawn. A pole of 20, 9 or 5 arms length should be buried in the middle of this spot. It should be decorated with cloth, festoons, eight bells and a pot. An octapetalled lantern should be made and fixed to the pole. A big lamp should be lit in that lantern. Eight lamps should be lit around this lantern one in each petal of the lotus for the deities Dharma, Har, Bhuti, Damodar, Dharmaraj, Prajapati, ancestors (tamahasthita) and spirits. Sesame oil should be used to light the lamps. The lamp should be ritualistically worshipped with five substances (panchopachar puja) and raised on the pole chanting the mantra, Acquisition of wealth is the result of this ritual.’
‘The basic Sanskrut word is rangavalli. A design created by allowing the powder of a special soft white stone to flow freely, with a pinch of the hand is called rangoli. Rangoli is an art which precedes sculpture and painting. It is both an auspicious and a preliminary necessity in any religious ritual. It is a practice to draw rangoli at the site of any auspicious religious ritual such as a holy festival, a religious festival, an auspicious function, ritualistic worship, a vowed religious observance, etc. When performing the act of moving lit lamps about the face for someone (arti) too, rangoli is drawn around the wooden seat (pat) on which he is seated and also in front of him. At public functions also during a meal rangoli is drawn around a wooden seat and the plate or leaf on which the meal is served. During Diwali various rangoli designs are drawn at the doorstep and decorated with different colours. In the ancient times it was a practice to sweep and sprinkle every doorstep with cow dung everyday and draw rangoli.
Rangoli is drawn with powder obtained by pounding a cleavable and lustrous mineral (shirgoLa). In the Konkan region the husks of rice are burnt and the white ash obtained is used as rangoli. Rangoli powder is generally coarse. As a result it is easily released with a pinch. After smearing the ground with cow dung one should not forget to draw at least four lines of rangoli on it. Ground smeared with cow dung but not decorated with rangoli is said to be inauspicious. The two aims of drawing rangoli are revelation of beauty and the acquisition of auspiciousness. The forms drawn in the rangoli are symbolic. A curved line produces a better effect of beauty than a straight one.
Besides rangolis with a one-sided auspicious emblem (ekalingatobhadra), eight-sided propitious emblems (ashtalingatobhadra) and those which are auspicious on all sides (sarvatobhadra) are also drawn pertaining to religious acts. In this a big square is divided into small squares. The small squares are then filled with vermilion (kumkum) in a specific manner so as to create the form of Shiva’s linga. These rangolis are seen in the Shaiva sect. Another type of rangoli is drawn with the help of dots. First the dots are made on the ground and then lines, vertical and transverse are drawn joining these dots so as to create various figures such as a peacock, a tortoise, a lotus, a creeper, etc.
Though this rangoli with dots is complicated, it is attractive. Usually it is women who draw rangolis. They do not require any devices such as a ruler, a thread, a brush, etc. to draw them. They freely move their fingers to create various shapes with ease. Every shape in a rangoli begins through her medium. Rangoli is of two main types: form dominant and ornamental. Form dominant rangoli is found in the states of Rajasthan, Maharashtra and Uttar Pradesh and in South India. Lines, cones and circles are drawn proportionately. Ornamental rangoli is seen in Eastern India. In it importance is given to flowers, leaves, trees, creepers, animals and birds. Bangali women draw such rangolis with expertise. This rangoli is more appealing than the form dominant one. When revealing the theoretical secret of rangoli Mr. Anandghanaram writes, ” When sweeping the floor or smearing with cow dung, subtle lines are created on it. These possess certain frequencies. Since these lines are irregular, their vibrations too are irregular. These are harmful to the body, eyes and mind as well. To overcome these unfavorable frequencies if cones and auspicious symbols are drawn systematically with rangoli on the smeared floor then the ill-effects of sweeping and smearing are overcome and favorable results are obtained”.’
> Ablution with oil (abhyangasnan)
Bath with an oil massage is recommended on all the three days from Narak chaturdashi to Balipratipada.