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Diwali-A festival synonymous with celebrations in India and among Indians all over the world, is an occasion for jubilation and togetherness. This is an occasion for young and the old, men and women, rich and poor - for everyone. Irrespective of their religious and economic background, the festival is celebrated throughout the country to ward off the darkness and welcome the light into their lives.

The word "Diwali" is made by Sanskrit word "Deepavali" - Deepa meaning light and Avali means a row, i.e a row of light. Diwali is celebrated 20 days after Dassera, on Amavasya - the 15th day of the dark fortnight of the Hindu month of Ashwin (or Aasho during Oct/Nov) every year. The main festival lasts for five days. We will describe the significance of each day of this very important festival.

The Legend-

The legend related to Diwali is that King Dashrath had three wives namely Kaushalya, Kaikeyi and Sumitra and four sons Ram, Bharat, Laxman and Shatrughna. Ram was the son of Queen Kaushalya and Bharat was the son of Queen Kaikeyi. Kaikeyi wanted Bharat to be the next King while the King Dasharath wanted Ram, his eldest son to be the King. But Kaikeyi made full use of the two wishes King Dasharath had promised Kaikeyi and asked for sending Ram to exile for the period of fourteen years. During that time Lord Ram fought and won strenuous struggles in the southern part of the Indian sub-continent (which is now Sri Lanka) killing the king of Demons, Ravan who had forcibly taken away his wife Sita. Diwali marks his victorious return to his kingdom along with Hanuman, the Vanar (monkey-God) who helped him in achieving success.

People give expressions to their happiness by lighting earthen diyas and decorating the houses to welcome Lakshmi- the Goddess of wealth and prosperity, bursting fire crackers and inviting the near and dear ones to their households for partaking in the luxurious feast. The lighting of lamps is a way of paying obeisance to God for attainment of health, wealth, knowledge, peace and fame and it also signifies goodness. It is also marked as the beginning of the Hindu New Year and as a brand new beginning for all. Diwali is celebrated for five days, each day having it's own significance, rituals and myths.

DHANTERAS (the First day)

The First day is called Dhanteras or Dhantrayodashi, which falls on the thirteenth day of the month of Ashwin. The word "Dhan" means wealth. This day has great importance for the community. It is believed that the sixteen-year old son of King Hima, according to his horoscope, was doomed to die on the fourth day of his marriage by a snake-bite. So, on that particular fourth day of his marriage, his worried wife lighted innumerable lamps all over the place. She also laid all the ornaments and lots of gold and silver coins in a big heap at the entrance of her husband's room. She went on telling stories and singing songs through the night. When Yam -the god of death arrived there in the guise of a Serpent, the dazzle of those brilliant lights blinded his eyes and he could not enter the Prince's chamber. So he climbed on the heap of the ornaments and coins and sat their whole night listening to the melodious songs. In the morning, he quietly went away. Thus the wife saved her husband and since then this day of Dhanteras came to be known as the day of "Yamadeepdaan" and lamps are kept burning throughout the night in reverential adoration to Yam, the god of Death.

NARAK CHATURDASHI (the Second day)

The Second day is called Narak-Chaturdashi or Chhoti Diwali that falls on the fourteenth day of the month of Ashwin. The legend related to this day is about the King Bali of the nether world, that mighty power who had become a threat to the gods. In order to curb his powers, Lord Vishnu in the guise of a small boy visited him and begged him to give him only that much land which he could cover with his three steps. Known for his philanthropy, King Bali proudly granted him his wish. So with his first step, Lord Vishnu covered the entire heaven and with the second step, the earth and asked Bali where to keep his third step. Bali offered his head. Putting his foot on his head, Vishnu pushed him down to the underworld. But for his generosity, Lord Vishnu allowed him to return to earth once a year to light millions of lamps to dispel the darkness and ignorance and spread the radiance of love and wisdom.

LAKSHMI PUJA (the Third day)

The Third day of the festival of Diwali is the most important day of Lakshmi-Puja. It is entirely devoted to the propitiation of Goddess Lakshmi. This day is also known by the name of "Chopada-Puja". The day of Lakshmi-Puja falls on the dark night of Amavasya. It is believed that on this auspicious day Lord Krishna discarded his body. One more interesting story related to this day is of a small boy called Nachiket who believed that Yam, the god of Death was as black as the dark nig ht of amavasya. On this day, he met Yam in person and was puzzled seeing Yam's calm countenance and dignified stature. Yam explained to Nachiket on this day of amavasya that by only passing through the darkness of death, man sees the light of highest wisdom and then only his soul can escape from the bondage of his mortal frame to mingle with the Supreme Power without whose will nothing moves in the world. And then Nachiket realised the importance of worldly life and significance of death. Nachiket's doubts were all set at rest and then he whole-heartedly participated in Diwali celebrations.

PADWA (the Fourth day)

The Fourth day is called Padwa or Varsh Pratipada that marks the coronation of King Vikramaditya and Vikram-Samvat was started from this Padwa day. Govardhan-Puja is also performed in the North on this day. As per Vishnu-Puran, the people of Gokul used to celebrate a festival in honour of Lord Indra and worshipped him after the end of every monsoon season. But one particular year, the young Krishna stopped them from offering prayers to Lord Indra. Lord Indra, the king of heavens, in terrific anger sent a deluge to submerge Gokul. Krishna saved the people of His Gokul by lifting up the Govardhan Mountain and holding it over the people as an umbrella. This day is also observed as Annakoot and prayers are offered in the temples.

BHAI-BEEJ (the Fifth day)

The Fifth and final day of Diwali Festival is also known by the name of "Bhaiya-Dooj". This day is observed as a symbol of love between sisters and brothers. It is believed that on this day, Yamraj -the god of death visited his sister Yami and she put the auspicious tilak on his forehead. They ate, talked, enjoyed together and exchanged special gifts as a token of their love for each other. Then, Yamraj announced that anyone who receives tilak from his sister on this day will never be thrown into hell. Since then, it became imperative for the brother to go to his sister's house to celebrate Bhaiya Dooj.