The best-known of the Hindu festivals, Diwali is celebrated throughout India at the New Moon on the fifteenth day of the auspicious month Kartika (october/november).
Diwali, from the sanskrit: deepãvali meaning "a garland of lamps", is the right description for this remarkable Indian festival of lights.
Significance of Diwali
Diwali symbolizes the triumph of virtue. This festival commemorates Lord Rama's come back to his kingdom Ayodhya after completing his 14-year exile along with his wife Sita and brother Laxman after killing the demon, King Ravana.
Deepavali also celebrates the assassination of the demon king Narakasura by Lord Krishna. On the other hand in Jainism, Diwali is a symbol of realization of moksha by Mahavira in 527 BC.
In Sikhism, Diwali commemorates the comeback of Guru Har Gobind Ji to Amritsar after freeing 52 Hindu kings imprisoned in Fort Gwalior by Emperor Jahangir. It is for this reason Sikhs also look up Diwali as Bandi Chhorh Divas, "the day of liberation of detainees".
The worship of Lakshmi and Ganesha is also celebrated throughout the country at this time. It signifies the renewal of life, so it is the done thing to wear new clothes on the day of the festival. It seems to have begun as a harvest festival, yet, as the beginning of the lunar New Year, it also heralds the approach of winter and the start of a new sowing season.
First Day – Dhanteras
The festival begins with Dhanteras, a day set aside to worship the goddess of prosperity, Shri Lakshmi. Lustrous Lakshmi is the consort of Vishnu and her statue is found in every home. Candles and lamps are lit as a greeting to Lakshmi.
On this day, people exchange gifts and purchase new items for the house, as this is considered auspicious, ensuring happiness and prosperity for the whole of the coming year.
Second Day – Kali Chaudas
On the second day Kali, or Shakti, the goddess of power, is worshipped. Kali is power, or strength used for the protection of others, and Maha-Kali (supreme power) is the power of the divine force in the dance of destruction. This day celebrates the destruction of the demon (asura) Raktabija.
Third Day – Diwali
On the third and most important day — the last day of the year in the lunar calendar — lamps are lit, shining brightly in every home. The lamp shining at the dark of the New Moon symbolizes knowledge and encourages reflection upon the purpose of each day in the festival. The goal is to remember this purpose throughout the coming year. Lakshmi Puja (ceremonial worship) is performed on this day, awakening an appreciation of prosperity and a sense of responsibility towards it.
Fourth Day — Vishkarma
The fourth day of Diwali falls on the first day of the lunar New Year and is called Vishkarma Day. Also known as Padwa or VarshaPratipada it marks the coronation of the legendary King Vikramaditya. Families celebrate the new year by dressing in new clothes, wearing jewellery and visiting family members and business colleagues bearing sweets, dried fruits and other gifts. This day is often used by manufacturers to pray for their equipment so that it works well and makes profit during the year ahead.
Fifth Day – Balipratipada
The second day of the bright fortnight (Shukla Paksh) of Kartika is also called Bhaiya-Duj. In the Vedic era, Lord Yama (Yamaraj, the Lord of Death) visited his sister Yamuna (Yami) who marked the auspicious Tilak (sacred mark) on his forehead. They dined and talked together, enjoying each other's company, exchanging special gifts as a token of their love for each other. Yamaraj declared that anyone who receives the Tilak from his sister on this day is truly blessed. Since that time the custom has been for brothers to visit their sisters to celebrate Bhaiyaduj. The 'Teeka' is applied on the brother's forehead, but it is primarily a day dedicated to sisters.
A Diwali Fact
Diwali also has special significance for the business community as they consider this day to be the perfect time to begin their new financial year. This is the beginning of the Lunar New Year and thought to be the most auspicious time to commence new business ventures, signing business agreements etc.