Multi-hued Diwali sparkles

While Diwali is a much-welcomed festival across the country, it holds different meanings in various regions. How this festival is celebrated and why it is celebrated varies yet the occasion remains one of rejoicing and gala festivities. Come Diwali and the entire country gets into a festive mood. Preparations begin much before the actual day and homes, shops, buildings and streets are cleaned and lit up. Gifts are exchanged and firecrackers stocked up for Diwali night. While this could be a general description of the festival of lights, it is celebrated with the same fervour all over the country but for different reasons. While Diwali is mainly celebrated across North India to mark the homecoming of Lord Ram from his 14-year exile, with the lighting of diya, or oil lamps (replaced in modern times by electric fairy lights), the festival is known by different names ~ Kali Puja, Laxmi Puja, Diwali or Deepawali, along with a different legend in North, South, East and West. Yet, on this day all over, young and old, men and women, everyone dons new clothes and a common fervour binds all.

The Hindu calendar

The festival of lights falls on “the no-moon day of the dark half of Kartik”, according to the Hindu lunar calendar. It is believed that Lakshmi, Goddess of Wealth, roams the earth on this day and enters the house that is pure, clean and brightly illuminated. Therefore, innumerable lamps are lit on the roofs and windowsills of the houses. The deities of goddess Lakshmi and Lord Ganesha are worshipped to invoke their blessings. Traditionally, Diwali or Deepavali is an elaborate event that goes on for three to five days. The first day of celebration begins with Dhanteras, followed by Naraka Chaturdasi on the second day. Diwali falls on the third day, Diwali Padva is dedicated to married couples on the fourth day and festivities end with Bhau-Dooj, dedicated to sister-brother bond on the fifth day. SOUTH Karnataka In the south, while the festival is celebrated with the same zest, the festivities are different. Here, there is no reference from Ramayana. The first and third days of Deepavali hold special significance for Kannadigas. The day of Ashwija Krishna Chaturdashi is celebrated to mark the denouement of a demon named Narakasura. There is a popular belief that that Lord Krishna took oil bath to rid himself of the blood of Narakasura splattered on his body after killing the demon. To commemorate the same, people take oil bath on Naraka Chaturdashi. It is said that Goddess Ganga abides in the water and Goddess Lakshmi in the oil. It is amazing how a daily ritual can be made so grand and profound in the Indian context. The third day of Deepavali is called Bali Padyami. Women of the house make colourful rangoli at the doorstep and build forts of cow dung. There are stories attributed to King Bali that are remembered and celebrated on this day. Festivities continue till the day of Tulsi pooja. Tamil Nadu Though the rest of the country celebrates Diwali traditionally on amavasya (no-moon) day, Tamil Nadu celebrates it on the preceding day, Naraka Chaturdashi. In this state too, it commemorates the slaying of Narakasura by Lord Krishna. People celebrate Narakasura's defeat with the bursting of firecrackers and visiting temples dedicated to Ganesha, Vishnu and Shiva. Traditionally, sweets are exchanged between neighbours, one visiting relations and prepares Deepavali special sweets. Typical Deepavali celebrations begin with waking up early in the morning before sun-rise, followed by an oil-bath.

The bathing tradition involves an extensive massage with warm til-oil containing pepper corns and betel leaves. After the bath, a home-made medicine known as "Deepavali Lehiyam" is consumed, which is supposed to aid in soothing digestive problems that may ensue due to feasting that occurs later in the day. Sparklers and firecrackers are set off early in the morning to herald Deepavali. Andhra Pradesh In Andhra Pradesh, the celebration goes on for the two days days ~ Naraka Chaturdasi and Deepavali Amaavasya. The festivities begin at the crack of dawn and carry on well into the night. On the day of Diwali, people take a trip to the local temple along with their families to seek the blessings of their respective Gods. The night sky is lit up with a scintillating array of noisy fireworks. To commemorate the day, some areas stage local story telling sessions, called Hari Katha. At the same time, some areas also put up a huge Narakasura dummy filled with fireworks. This is set afire by a person dressed up as Lord Krishna or, more accurately, a costume of Satyabhama, the consort of Lord Krishna, who actually killed the demon Narakasura ~ an event that is celebrated as Diwali for generations.

There are some traditional customs followed by each generation, such as buying new clothes for this festival. Buying new home or vehicles on this day is considered auspicious. Special sweets are made too. WEST Maharashtra In Maharashtra, all the five days are celebrated with full of zest. Diwali day starts with Vasubaras by performing aarti of a cow and its calf, symbolic of celebrating the love of mother and her baby. Then, on the no-moon day, Laksmi Pooja is performed and jewellery is worshipped along with the idol of Goddess Lakshmi for more prosperity in terms of wealth and knowledge. Sweets are distributed and the dark skies are illuminated with fireworks. Gujarat Gujarat is the place where the festivities begin before the rest of the country. Naraka Chaturdasi is known as Dhanteras in Gujarat and Choti Diwali in North India. The day of Lakshmi pooja is the beginning of Gujarati New Year. It is considered the most auspicious day and so people plan to embark on their new venture. The next day is celebrated as Bhai-beej This is when sisters pray for the prosperity of their brothers. Gujarat also celebrates Diwali for five full days. Celebration begin the night before Diwali by making designs (Rangoli) ~ usually depicting nature or gods ~ using natural powder colours in the verandas. Rangoli is supposed to welcome goddess Lakshmi to the house. Women set up competitions for rangoli, which are a source of pride among their creators.

Also, small footprints are drawn with rice flour and vermilion powder all over the house. On the day of Diwali, men wear Jhabba (kurta)-dhoti or Jhabba-egengas, while the women wear saris. The whole day is spent making sweets. The markets are livened up almost a whole month in advance for Diwali shoppers ~ from jewellery, clothes, sweets, gift articles, shoes to fire crackers, everything is in demand and plentiful in supply. EAST West Bengal In West Bengal, instead of Laxmi, godess Kali is worshipped, which makes the festival unique. As per Hindu mythology, Kali is generally a goddess to be feared rather than venerated. Lakshmi puja is celebrated before the Diwali celebrations and the deity celebrated on this occasion is the fierce goddess Kali. Across the state, the nights of Kali Puja are marked by high festivities that consists of activities similar to the rest of the country, like bursting firecrackers, 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 visiting friends and relatives. The makeshift structures called pandals, made of bamboo and cloth, are erected to house idols of Goddess Kali for the two days of celebration in the city.

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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. Bihar In Bihar, the celebration of Diwali starts two days before the actual Diwali as Dhanteras, celebrated in honour of Dhanvantari, the physician of gods. On Dhanteras, it is tradition to buy new kitchen utensils, which is kept at the place of worship. The buying of utensils, according to one theory, relates to the myth of Dhanvantari emerging from the ocean with a pot in his hand. The day before Diwali is celebrated as Chhoti Diwali or “little Diwali”. The morning after Chhoti Diwali, the women of the house make beautiful, coloured rangoli in the doorways and courtyard. Tiny footprints made out of rice paste are a special feature of the rangolis made for Diwali. They signify the footprints of Lakshmi as she enters the house. The gods are offered kheel, batashe and khilone and various sweetmeats. After the puja, diyas are placed in and around the house: on the doorway, near the Tulsi plant, in the backyard, in every room and at the back and front gates. The adivasis, or tribal population, of Bihar worship godess Kali on this day.

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Eating unripe coconut and betel (paan) is considered auspicious. In Chota Nagpur, the men circumambulate their village with basket full of paddy and grass. A week after the festival of lights is the festival Chhath. For one night and day, people literally live on the banks of the river Ganga, when a ritual offering is made to the Sun God. Assam The celebration in Assam ranges from lighting diyas and making mithai (sweets) to singing the aarti (prayers) with the whole family and then celebrating with firecrackers the epic moment that symbolizes the victory of good over evil. Like other places, here also they worship the goddess of wealth, Lakshmi. Beautiful lamps are hung outside homes that are symbolic of the spiritual light dispelling evil and the darkness of ignorance. Doorways are decorated with torans or flower garlands with mango leaves and marigolds. Rangolis are drawn with coloured powders to welcome guests. Odisha “Badabadua ho andhaara e asa Aluaa e Jaao Baaisi pahacha e Gadagadau thaao (Oh our ancestors, seers and gods you came on the dark night of Mahalaya; and now it is time for you to depart for heaven, so we are showing light; may you attain peace in the abode of Jagannatha!)” That's the crux of Diwali celebrations in Odisha.

Tarpan is offered to goddess Lakshmi and Kali puja is performed in various towns. NORTH Uttar Pradesh In Uttar Pradesh, Diwali is celebrated in memory of Lord Rama’s victory over the demon king Ravana and his subsequent homecoming to Ayodhya after 14 years in exile. People wear new clothes and there is much gaiety and enthusiasm all over. The ghats of Varanasi or Benaras come alive with thousands of brightly lit earthen lamps. Visitors throng in large numbers to watch this. Fairs and art festivals are held in various parts of the state that become a venue for fun and shopping. Other celebrations, such as puja, fireworks, sweets and gifts are exchanged, similar to the rest of India.

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