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Why is it celebrated?
Celebrated primarily by Hindus in both India and abroad in the month of Kartik (According to Hindi Calendar) which falls in the months of October or November, Diwali is one of the most prominent of the Hindu festivals.
Many people celebrate Diwali to commemorate the victorious return of Lord Rama, his wife Sita and brother Lakshman back to Ayodhya after 14 years of exile according to the epic story of Ramayana. During this period, Lord Rama rescued Sita, from the clutches of Ravana and finally killed him with the help of his "Vanar Sena". It also marks as the celebration of Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth and prosperity. Pujas are offered to other Gods and Goddesses such as Kali, Saraswati and Ganesha too.
How is it celebrated?
The litted streets, the bustling bazaars, the firecrackers and fireworks, the sweet shops with a variety of mouth watering sweets and the idols of Lord Ganesha and Lakshmi is all you see around you during this festival!
Diwali is a 5-day long festival, and each day holds a special significance.
The first day is called Dhanteras, which marks the beginning of this joyous festival. On this day, Goddess Lakshmi is worshipped for prosperity and wealth. “Dhan” means money, and hence this day holds special importance for the business community. According to tradition, all houses and business houses are decorated with earthen lamps and colourful rangolis. Buying gold and silver items and new utensils is considered highly auspicious on this day. Lakshmi puja is conducted in the evening and lamps are burnt all night long to cast away all the evil spirits.
The second day is Nark Chaturdashi, or choti diwali. It is celebrated on the fourteenth day of the month of Kartik. Legend says that a devil Narakasur had defeated Indra and taken over his kingdom. He had imprisoned daughters of all the saints and Gods. Lord Krishna defeated Narakasur on this day and made the world free from suffering. This day is dedicated to cleaning, renovation and beautification of the houses. In the evening, people worship Lakshmi and Rama according to rituals and light diyas and candles.
The third day is the main festival of diwali. Households are cleaned before the festival so as to invite Goddess of wealth-Lakshmi to bring prosperity. Lighting is done with colourful lights adding ardour to the house. On this day, Goddess Lakshmi is worshipped. Diwali falls on a no moon day (Amavasya), but the twinkling lights and diyas consume all the darkness of the night, which is symbolic of victory of good over evil, and light over darkness. Lakshmi puja is the main event, which begins by worshipping Lord Ganesha. After this Goddess Lakshmi is worshipped in all her forms-as Mahalakshmi, Mahasaraswati and Mahakali. Kuber, the treasurer of Gods is also worshipped. Thereafter, sweets are distributed, diyas are lit and offerings made. Lord Ganesha and Goddess Lakshmi are worshipped to bring happiness and good health to the family. Children enjoy themselves by bursting crackers. Houses are kept spotlessly clean as Goddess Lakshmi likes cleanliness.
The fourth day is of Govardhan pooja, which is celebrated to commemorate the day on which Lord Krishna lifted the “govardhan parvata” to shelter all the people of Gokul from pounding rain. Indra was angered when people of Gokul stopped offering prayers to him on advice of Lord Krishna, and poured heavy rains to punish them. But lord Krishna protected all the people by sheltering them under a mountain. On this day, elaborate meals of 56 or 108 dishes are prepared to offer to lord Krishna.
The fifth and last day is “Bhai Duj”, a festival for all brothers and sisters. Legend holds that Yamaraj met his sister, Yama after a long separation in this day. Yama welcomed him with a special meal and put a vermillion mark on his forehead as a mark of her affection. Since that day, sisters pray for the well being of their brother on this day and put vermillion and rice on their forehead as a mark of protection and care.