My childhood memories of Diwali are laced with my Mom frying chaklis and Gujias, my Aaji (Grandma) rolling ladoos, dad putting up lights and we trying to “declutter” our room and waiting eagerly to burst crackers.
“Diwali is, without doubt, India’s answer to America’s Christmas, where the religious aspect takes a backseat and secular shopping comes to the fore”.
So what exactly is Diwali? Diwali is a five-day-Hindu annual harvest festival of lights, sweets, and crackers celebrated by Indians. The most popular myth associated with Diwali is that it is the day when Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth, arrives in the house which is clean, illuminated and inviting. This makes Diwali a Goddess festival.
When is Diwali in 2019? In 2019 The Lakshmi Puja is on 27th October which is a Sunday. The five days Hindu festival of Diwali will start on the 25th of October which is a Friday and will continue for 5 days until the 29th of October which is a Tuesday.
In which season is Diwali celebrated?
In India, festivals come into two clusters based on the summer and winter harvests. And so, there are festivals in spring, followed by festivals in the post-monsoon autumn. Diwali falls in the latter category.
Understanding the Devas and Asuras in Indian Mythology
Annual harvest festivals are associated with some or the other kind of violence in the Indian Mythology:
- in Navratri Mahish-asura is killed by Durga
- in Dussera Ravan is killed by Ram
- in Diwali, Narak-asura is killed by Krishna and
- in Onam, Bali-asura is killed by Vaman.
In Indian mythology,
Devas are creatures who live above the sky.
Asuras are creatures who live under the ground.
Plants, Minerals, Water come from under the ground. Even petrol comes from under the ground.
Since all wealth comes from under the ground, Asuras are naturally seen as ‘wealth generators’ as they possess the secret of rejuvenation or Sanjivani Vidya.
They are also wealth hoarders. Asuras are demons because they refuse to share. These Asuras are not demons, the corrupted spirits as understood in the Judeo-Christian-Islamic framework.
For humans, Devas are ‘gods’ because they bring wealth to man and Asuras are demons because they refuse to share.
The battle of Devas and Asuras is the battle of spenders/distributors and hoarders/creators. That it is never-ending indicates it is not a battle of good over evil. It is a fertility cycle. (Source).
How is Diwali Celebrated?
Diwali is a five-day festival which begins two days before the new moon and ends two days after the new moon. The waning and waxing of the moon represent the end of one era and the birth of another. (Source).
Dhanteras: The First Day of Diwali
The first day of Diwali is Called Dhanteras. It is the day of “Dhan” which means wealth. Dhanteras reminds us that all wealth, be it agricultural or mineral, came from under the earth.
This is the day when women across India buy metal in the form of utensils. Those who can afford, buy things made of gold.
These days people invest in gold on Dhanteras as it is believed to be auspicious and brings prosperity for the buyer. High liquidity and inflation-beating capacity of Gold makes it a favourite investment by most people in India.
Dhanvantari, who is also worshipped on the occasion of Dhanteras, is the god of Ayurveda. Dhanteras, is therefore, observed as the “National Ayurveda Day” in India since 2016.
Narak Chaturdashi: The Second Day of Diwali
The next day, the 14th day of the waning moon is Narak Chaturdashi.
In Andhra folklore, Narak is killed not by Krishna but by his wife, Satyabhama. In Tamil Nadu folklore, the demon Narak was killed by Krishna.
There is yet another folklore which says that on Narak Chaturdashi you should bathe before sunrise or else when you die you will go to ‘Narak’.
As kids this was a great pretext for my mother to wake us up early morning during winters. My childhood memories from this day are my mother and grandmother applying uptan, chandan and oil for us and dad. This is symbolic to Satyabhama bathing Krishna preparing for the battle with asura ‘Narak.’
In South of India, it is the day when crackers are burst to celebrate the killing of the demon Narak. The bursting crackers celebrate the triumph of Krishna.
Lakshmi Pujan: The Third Day of Diwali
The 3rd day, or rather the night, is the time to worship Lakshmi.
This is the time to light lamps to drive away darkness, burst crackers to drive away silence and eat sweets to drive away bitter and sour tastes.
Traditionally “Diwali Thali” is exchanged between neighbors, friends, and families. The Diwali thali has home-made sweets and savory snacks. Gradually, this tradition is being taken over by store bought meethais and gifts.
This is also the day when Indians like to test their luck and skill by gambling. In ancient times gambling was done with dice, today it is cards.
Bali Pratipada (Padwa) : The Fourth Day of Diwali
When the moon starts to wax, it is Bali Pratipada.
As per the mythology, Vishnu in Vaman avatar tricked the Asura Bali, ruler of the three worlds, to give him three paces of land.
Asura Bali unwittingly granted Vaman as much land as he can take in three steps. Vishnu in Vaman Avatar then turned into a giant and took the earth and the sky with two paces and with the third step shoved Bali under the ground.
It is interesting to observe how Vishnu did not claim the nether regions. He merely put the Asura king under the earth where he belongs (Source).
Bhai Duj: The Fifth Day of Diwali
On the final day, it is Bhai Duj. It is the day brothers visit their sisters to ensure that they are happy in their married homes.
It is also known as Yama Dwitiya. Yama, the god of death, is also the god of accountants. He keeps a meticulous record of all karmic events. This is the day when the calculation of new debts resumes.
PS. Most of the Mythology that I have tried to decode here is through the writings of India’s Mythologist Devdutt Pattanaik.
What do you eat on Diwali?
Diwali is the time to enjoy that extra piece of home-made chakli, karanji (ghujiya) , laddoo, barfi, chorafali, murukku, chirote, shakarpale and more!
Here is a video by Celebrity Dietician Rujuta Diweka who says that the healthiest Diwali menu is one that sticks to the basics.