- Women held clay lamps on the occasion of Dhanteras, ahead of the Diwali
The five-day Diwali celebrations is underway, so here are five things you should know about the origins of Diwali.
1. Diwali or Dipavali means “row of lamps” in Sanskrit and marks the triumph of light over darkness. Clay lamps, or diyas, traditionally filled with mustard oil are lit and placed around the entrances to Hindu homes on the night before the new moon in the Hindu month of Karttika, which this year falls on Tuesday, Nov. 13.
The lamps celebrate the return of the Hindu deity Rama to his capital city Ayodhya in Uttar Pradesh after he defeated the demon king Ravana in Sri Lanka. In the Hindu Sanskrit epic “The Ramayana,” Rama rescues his wife Sita and they are welcomed by lamps when they return to Ayodhya. Diyas are also believed to guide Lakshmi, the Hindu female deity of good fortune and prosperity, as she is said to visit homes during Diwali. The first day of the festival, which this year was Sunday, is known as Dhanteras and is regarded as an auspicious time to buy gold.
2. The day before Diwali is known as Choti (little) Diwali and involves a legend about a stolen pair of earrings. Narakasura, a demon king who ruled Pragjyotishpur (modern day Guwahati in Assam, stole the earrings that belonged to Aditi, Lord Indra’s mother, and took 16,000 daughters of the Hindu deities captive. According to some versions, the hostages were cow-herd girls.
Narakasura was then killed by Lord Krishna, who freed the women and reclaimed the earrings according to some accounts. Other versions of the story say Lord Krishna’s wife Satyabhama was responsible for overcoming the demon king.
In any case, when he returned home the following day it’s believed that Lord Krishna was bathed to wash off Narakasura’s blood. Traditionally to remember this, devotees take a pre-dawn bath in oil on Choti Diwali. This custom is especially popular in Maharashtra, where uptan [a paste] of gram flour and fragrant powders are used along with the oil.
Choti Diwali is known as Kali Choudas in some areas and is believed to be an auspicious day for thieves to worship to the Hindu deity Kali in the hope she will protect them from the police.
3. The third day of the festival, which is Nov. 13 this year, is is the most significant and centers around the worship of Lakshmi. According to the Purana, ancient Hindu texts, Lakshmi wanders the earth on this day looking for the perfect household. She visits the cleanest house first to offer her blessings of prosperity. Devotees keep the rooms of their home pristine on this day.
Lamps are lit to light Lakshmi’s path into each house.
A new broom is often purchased and at midnight it is used to sweep the house, signifying that poverty is being driven out. This is also the day on which many Hindus begin their new fiscal year.
4. The deity Kuber is also worshiped during the main day of Diwali. He is the treasurer among Hindu deities and his presence is to help those who are good at earning money but not so good at saving it.
During the Lakshmi Puja, the deities Lakshmi, Kuber and Vishnu are offered a mixture of coagulated cow’s milk, sugar, cardamom and cloves. Lakshmi is also offered coriander, jaggery, sugar and candy, which are then are given out to friends.
5. The final day of the festival is known as Bhai Dooj, Bhaubij or Yamadwitīyā, and is dedicated to the relationship between a brother and sister.
According to some traditions, men cannot eat anything prepared by their wives on this day but must visit their sisters and give them gifts.
The custom derives from the story about Yama, the deity associated with death. He is believed to have visited his sister Yami on the second day after the new moon. Yami welcomed him by painting a mark of good fortune on his forehead and Yama declared that if all sisters did the same for their brothers on that day each year their brothers would be kept safe.
On this day of the festival, sisters pray for their brothers and place a mark on their sibling’s forehead for protection.