Celebrated with great excitement and grandeur, Diwali or Deepavali is one of the prime Hindu festivals that unites the whole of India. Know about the different ways in which this sparkling festival is celebrated in different parts of the country.
According to the great Hindu epic ‘Ramayana’, Diwali is believed to be the time when Lord Rama defeated and killed the evil King Ravana and after passing a period of of fourteen years in exile returned to his capital Ayodhya (in the Faizabad district of Uttar Pradesh) on a new moon day of the Kartik season with wife Sita and brother Lakshman. This homecoming of Lord Rama was celebrated with lights, fireworks, bursting of crackers and merriment. The tradition continues to this day in the northern states of Uttar Pradesh, Punjab, Haryana, Bihar and the surrounding areas where huge effigies of Ravana are burned symbolizing Lord Rama's vanquishing of the demon king. The Diwali night, in these areas, is a night of fireworks with sparklers and crackers of all types burnt throughout the night. The idols of Goddess Lakshmi, the symbol of wealth and prosperity and Lord Ganesha, the elephant-headed god, the symbol of auspiciousness and wisdom, are worshipped in most Hindu homes on this day. Most of the temples dedicated to the worship of Lord Rama or Krishna celebrate Diwali with great piety and eagerness.
In the eastern region of the country, Diwali is celebrated with great fanfare. In Orissa, oil lamps, candles and lanterns are lit and placed in rows around individual homes. Crackers are burst, sparklers lighted and gifts and sweetmeats distributed by people across the state.
The celebration here is almost like anywhere in India save for one ritual that calls upon the spirits of the family's forefathers. A primitive custom in this festival includes burning of jute stems to light up the dark path that the spirits of the ancestors supposedly take to go back to heaven. Most of the houses are brightly lit and the doors and windows kept open to welcome Goddess Lakshmi, who is supposed to visit every home during this time and ignores all places that are kept dark and abandoned.
In West Bengal, Lakshmi puja is celebrated earlier than the Diwali celebrations and the deity celebrated on this occasion is the fierce Goddess Kali. "Kali Puja" or the worship of Goddess Kali is what makes the celebration in this part of India a unique one. In Kolkata, the capital of the state, as well as in all the other parts of West Bengal, the nights of "Kali Puja" are marked by high festivities that consists of activities similar to other regions like bursting crackers, holding dazzling fireworks display, lighting rows of candles and diyas around individual homes, painting colorful patterns at the doorstep, dressing up in new apparels and paying a visit to friends and relatives. Across the state, makeshift structures called pandals, made of articles as bamboos and cloth, are erected that house idols of Goddess Kali for the two days of celebration. The actual worship of the deity is, however, done only for one night during this festival. It is also believed that it is the night of the 'Pitripurush' (ancestors) and lamps are lit on long poles to guide their souls on this night. But the practice is more common in rural areas of Bengal than in cities like Kolkata.
In the western states of India, Diwali is a four-day festival, the preparations for which begin at least 15 days in advance. The markets liven up almost a whole month in advance for Diwali shoppers and the shopping frenzy peaks with the advancement of the occasion. On the night preceding Diwali, Gujaratis start celebrations by creating designs depicting images associated to the festival like deities, sun and flowers from natural powder colors (called "Rangoli") in their verandas. Images of small footprints are also drawn over individual doorsteps which is supposed to be a way of inviting Goddess Lakshmi to the house.
On the first day, Narakchaturdashi, fruits are smashed and crackers burst to symbolize the killing of the evil demon Narakasur. On Lakshmi Pujan, the second and most important day of Diwali, Hindu homes all over the western region of India worship the idols of Lord Ganesh (deity of auspiciousness and wisdom) and Goddess Lakshmi (deity of wealth and prosperity) or symbols of them like currency notes and gold. The third day, Padawa, is considered to be one of the most auspicious days of the year in states like Maharashtra, and is held to be propitious for beginning any important task. This is the day for shopping, lighting diyas (earthen lamps) and performing tilak ceremony. In Gujarat, this is the New Year day when people visit each other to wish a new beginning. Bhau Beej is the last day of the festival that signifies sibling bonding and the celebrations during this day is quite akin to Rakhi, another great Indian festival standing for the brother-sister relationship. Unlike Raksha Bandhan however, which is a day dedicated to brothers, Bhau Beej is dedicated to sisters.
In Southern India, Diwali is is celebrated in the Tamil month of aipasi (thula month) 'naraka chaturdasi' thithi, preceding amavasai. Naraka chaturdashi is the main day of the Diwali celebrations in this area. The preparations begin the day before, when the oven is cleaned, smeared with lime, religious symbols drawn on it and then filled with water for the next day's oil bath. Individual homes are washed and decorated with kolam designs (akin to rangoli patterns in North India). Firecrackers and new apparels are kept on a plate to be used on the following day. On the morning of Naraka chaturdashi, the actual celebrations begin with an early morning oil bathe before sunrise. Afterwards, sweets are eaten and new clothes worn.
A unique Diwali custom in Tamil Nadu is the once-in-a-lifetime event, Thalai Deepavali, when newly weds spend their first diwali after marriage in the bride's parental home. The newly married couple, after taking blessings from the elders, burst the first crackers of the day and thereafter pay a visit to the temple, get gifts of clothes and jewellery, savor the sweets reserved for them and receive blessings of elders for a happy married life. In this joyful occasion the groom's parents and relatives also come down to join in the celebrations.
In Maharashtra, Diwali is celebrated over a span of four days. The first day, Vasubaras, is celebrated by performing an Aarti (prayer with songs) of the cow and its calf- which represents the love between a mother and her baby. The next day is Dhanatrayodashi or Dhanteras, a special day for tradesmen and business people for new account books are opened by them after a worship of Lord Ganesh and Goddess Lakshmi. On the third day, Narakchaturdashi, people get up before sunrise and take a bathe after rubbing scented oil on their body. After this, the entire family visits a temple and offers prayers to their God. Following this, everyone feasts on Faral, a special Diwali preparation consisting of delicious sweets such as "karanji" and "ladoo" as well as some spicy eatables like "chakli" and "sev". The fourth day is Lakshmi pujan day, a new moon day, the dark night of which is illuminated by lamps and fireworks. In every household, an idol of Goddess Lakshmi and items of wealth like currency and jewellery are worshipped. Friends, neighbours and relatives are invited over and celebrations are in full swing.
In the rural regions of India, the Diwali celebrations, apart from its other significances, also stand in for harvest celebrations. In villages across the country, Diwali is the time that farmers celebrate with joy and offer praises to God for granting them a good crop. In the morning, variously colored Rangoli or Kolam designs denoting shapes as the footsteps of Goddess Lakshmi are drawn at individual doorsteps and also all over the houses to usher in wealth, fortune and prosperity. Idols of Goddess Lakshmi and Lord Ganesha are worshipped in most Hindu homes on this day. At dusk, the real jubilations begin. Tiny earthen lamps and candles are arranged all over individual huts in rows and create a beautiful sight to behold. People wear new apparels, burst firecrackers and light sparklers, visit the places of their relatives and friends to wish them on the occasion of Diwali and exchange gifts. All this illumination and fireworks, joy and festivity, symbolize the triumph of divine forces over those of wickedness, or rather - of good over evil.