Diwali’s celebrations start two days before the day we all do Lakshmi Pujan and go on two days after that as well. In total, throughout India 5 days are celebrated as part of the larger festivities. What are these 5 days? They have a regional flavor as well. Let’s take a look at them. I have listed the different flavors under the more popular name.
1st day: DHANTERAS
Dhanteras is the first day of the five-day Diwali Festival. Dhanteras Festival, also known as “Dhantrayodashi” or “Dhanwantari Triodasi”, falls on the auspicious thirteenth lunar day of Krishna Paksha in the Hindu month of Ashwin (October/November).
In the word Dhanteras, “Dhan” stands for wealth. On Dhanteras, the “Owl” form of the Goddess Laxmi is worshiped to provide prosperity and well being. Dhanteras holds special significance for the business community due to customary purchases of precious metals on this day
A very interesting story about this day is of the sixteen year old son of King Hima. As per his horoscope he was doomed to die by a snake-bite on the fourth day of his marriage. On that particular fourth day of his marriage his young wife did not allow him to sleep. She laid all the ornaments and lots of gold and silver coins in a big heap at the entrance of her husband’s boudoir and lighted innumerable lamps all over the place. And she went on telling stories and singing songs. When Yam, the god of Death arrived there in the guise of a Serpent his eyes got blinded by that dazzle of those brilliant lights and he could not enter the Prince’s chamber. So he climbed on top of the heap of the ornaments and coins and sat there whole night listening to the melodious songs. In the morning he quietly went away. Thus the young wife saved her husband from the clutches of death. 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.
2nd DAY: NARKA-CHATURDASHI
The story goes that the demon king Narakasur ruler of Pragjyotishpur ( a province to the South of Nepal ) after defeating Lord Indra had snatched away the magnificent earrings of Aditi, the Mother Goddess and imprisoned sixteen thousand daughters of the gods and saints in his harem. On the day previous to Narakachaturdashi, Lord Krishna killed the demon and liberated the imprisoned damsels and also recovered those precious earrings of Aditi. As a symbol of that victory Lord Krishna smeared his forehead with the demon king’s blood. Krishna returned home in the very early morning of the Narakachaturdashi day. The womenfolk massaged scented oil to his body and gave him a good bath to wash away the filth from his body. Since then the custom of taking bath before sunrise on this day has become a traditional practice specially in Maharashtra .
Another legend is about King Bali of the nether world mighty power had become a threat to the gods. In order to curb his powers Lord Vishnu in the guise of a Batu Waman- 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. That very moment that small boy transformed himself into the all-powerful Lord Vishnu. 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. At the same time for his generosity Lord Vishnu gave him the lamp of knowledge and 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.
3rd DAY: LAKSHMI-PUJA
This is the day that is popularly celebrated as Diwali. Accompanied by the exchange of sweets and the explosion of fireworks, the third day of Diwali is the most important and significant day. The name Diwali comes from the Sanskrit word Deepavali.
On this auspicious day Lord Shri Krishna around whom revolved the entire story of our great epic Mahabharat and the philosopher, who preached Karmayog through his Geeta to Arjun on the battlefield of Kurukshetra, discarded his body.
Bhagwan, Mahavir, the Jain prophet also attained “Nirvan” on this day.
Swami Ramtirth, the beloved “Ram Badshah” of millions of Indians was not only born on this day and took “Sanyas” but also took “Samadhi” on this day.
Swami Dayanand Saraswati, founder of Brahma-Samaj with his superb yogic powers greed his soul from his body and mingled with divinity on this auspicious day of Diwali.
We kindle innumerable lights on this day to immortalise the sacred memories of those great men who lived to brighten the lives of millions of their fellow beings.
One very interesting story about this Diwali day is from Kathopanishad of a small boy called Nichiketa who believed that Yam, the god of Death was as black as the dark night of amavasya. But when he met Yam in person he was puzzled seeing Yam’s calm countenance and dignified stature. Yam explained to Nichiketa on this Diwali 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 not an at ton moves in the world. And then Nichiketa realised the importance of worldly life and significance of death. Nichiketa’s all doubts were set at rest and he whole-heartedly participated in Diwali celebrations.
4th DAY: PADWA or VARSHAPRATIPADA
The fourth day of Diwali falls on the first day Karthik Masa of the Indian calendar. It is known as Varshapratipada or Pratipad Padwa. VarshaPratipada that marks the coronation of King Vikramaditya and Vikaram-Samvat was started from this Padwa day. Newly wed females are invited over to their parents place along with their husbands. On this day, businessmen open their account books afresh, every kind of transaction, receipt or payment and business is postponed. On this day, many people try the their luck of gambling. This day is looked upon as the most auspicious day to start any new venture.
In many Hindu homes it is a custom for the wife to put the red tilak on the forehead of her husband, garland him and do his “Aarathi” with a prayer for his long life. In appreciation of all the tender care that the wife showers on him, the husband gives her a costly gift. This Gudi Padwa is symbolic of love and devotion between the wife and husband. On this day newly-married daughters with their husbands are invited for special meals and given presents. In olden days brothers went to fetch their sisters from their in-laws home for this important 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 Indira 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 who in terrific anger sent a deluge to submerge Gokul. But Krishna saved his Gokul by lifting up the Govardhan mountain and holding it over the people as an umbrella.
Govardhan is a small hillock in Braj, near Mathura and on this day of Diwali people of Punjab, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh and Bihar build cowdung, hillocks, decorate them with flowers and then worship them.
5th DAY: BHAIYA-DUJ
As the legend goes Yamraj, the God of Death visited his sister Yami on this particular day. She put the auspicious tilak on his forehead, garlanded him and led him with special dishes and both of them together ate the sweets, talked and enjoyed themselves to their heart’s content, while parting Yamraj gave her a special gift as a token of his love and in return Yami also gave him a lovely gift which she had made with her own hands. That day Yamraj announced that anyone who receives tilak from his sister will never be thrown… That is why this day of Bhayyaduj is also known by the name of “YAMA-DWITIYA” Since then this day is being observed as a symbol of love between sisters and brothers. It became also imperative for the brother to go to his sister’s house to celebrate Bhaiyaduj.