The festival of lights Deepavali occurs during the months of October or November, i.e., according to Telugu almanac, in Aswayuja masa on Bahula Amavasya (No-moon day). It is celebrated for three days Chathurdasi, Amavasya and Karthika Shuddha Padyami.
In Northern India, this festival is celebrated for 5 days. The 1st day being Asweyuja Bahula Thrayodasi (Dhana Thrayadasi or Dhantheran), the 2nd day is Naraka Chathurdasi, the 3rd day is Deepavali Amavasya, the 4th day is Balipadyami and the 5th day Bhathru Dwithiya or Yamadwitheya. This 5th day is also called as Divvela panduga or divili panduga (festival of lamps).
Religious books furnish many details about Deepavali. It is the festival of the business community. On Thrayodasi, all business persons whitewash their shops and close their accounts. They worship goddess Lakshmi and the accounting books with coins. Some organise a doll show also. Lamps are lighted and placed at the entrance after dusk in order to combat untimely death.
God Yama is worshipped on this day to get over the fear of demon Narakasura. Lamps with four wicks are lighted at various places. People make an effigy of Narakasura, carry it to the outskirts, and burn it. Later, they take bath and burst crackers. This is the day of Narakasura's death and hence a celebration for all. The story goes as follows:
Jaya and Vijaya are two guards at the entrance of Srihari (Vishnu). Under a curse, they are born as demons, Hiranyakasipa and Hiranyaksha. Unable to endure the torture by these demons, gods and humans alike from thrilokas (three universes) approach Lord Vishnu for help. Then, Srihari (Lord Vishnu) took birth as Narasimha and killed Hiranyakasipa. After his death, his brother Hiranyaksha made earth his captive. Then, Srihari took birth as ‘Varaha (pig)’ to put an end to the demon, Hiranyaksha. After killing Hiranyaksha, Varaha balances the earth on the tip of his nose and this attracted Earth. The result of their conjugal relation in the dusk is the demon Narakasura. That is why elders say not to have relationships at dusk i.e. Asurasandhya time.
Mean while, Lord Shiva mourns the death of Sathi by dancing fiercely in deep anguish. His dance shakes up all the 14 lokas. To stop this destructful act, Vishnu uses his Sudarshana Chakra (his weapon). This chakra slices Parvathi lifeless body, which is placed on Shiva’s head, into 18 pieces. The places where they fell became religious places. The place where her pubic organ fell became ‘Kamakhyapuram’. Narakasura, who was the then king of Pragjothishpura worshipped at Kamakhya and acquired unimaginable powers. He named his son Bhagavadatha. He then started torturing the thri lokas.
Goddess earth is reborn in Dwaparayuga as Satyabhama (wife of Krishna) and killed Narakasura, on Naraka Chathurthi. As a last wish, he requested lord Krishna that people should celebrate his death. From then on, the ritual of celebrating Narakasura's death came into practice. Fireworks will be burnt and crackers will be burst as a part of this celebration.
It is believed that on Amavasya (no moon day), Goddess Lakshmi is present in sesame oil, and Gangadevi is present in all wells, lakes, and ponds. Sesame oil is used for taking bath. Plants like Uttarani, Anapa and Prapunnatamu are circled around the head before taking bath. Yama is worshipped facing South. It is believed that this helps in combating untimely death and in giving peace to the departed souls. In the evening, lamps are lightened almost everywhere in the town including the temples, hills, graveyards, etc.
In the olden days, kings used to supervise the festivities during the nights. Black gram leaves are eaten today. Lamps are distributed. Late in the night, women bring out their household weapons like dustpans, mops, etc, to drive away ‘Jyesthadevi’, (goddess of penury). Deepavali was once called as ‘Kaumudi Mahostavam’.
Deepavali is followed by Deepa Prathi Padavtsovam. On this day Sons-in law were invited and honoured. This is written down in ancient plays and Jain and Buddhist religious scriptures. The play "Naganandam" is also a proof of the same.
The Jain religion has a different version for the celebration of Deepavali. According to their books, Mahaveer, the founder of Jain religion, attained nirvana on Deepavali day. Angles welcomed him with lamps, and so that day became Deepavali.
Businessmen open their new account books on this day after performing puja. They smear them with the devanagari ‘Sri’ symbol in some odd number (3,5,7or 9) in turmeric and kumkum in a pyramid form. As a symbol of godess Lakshmi they place a coin on it. This coin is preserved until the next year puja. In Jain families, this coin is passed on from one generation to the another. They keep leaves or creeper with leaves beside the coin and burn camphor. They perform puja with betel leaves and betel nuts. They sprinkle red turmeric on the books, and serve sweets to a Brahmana (a pious man) in the end. They keep account books open for few hours and close them later while chant ‘Laksha Laksha’. They believe that they would get profit in lakhs by doing this.
In the evening celebration, people burst crackers and other fireworks. This is the day when ‘Akashadeepam’ (a lamp hung at the top of a brass post in front of a temple) is lit for the first time. This lamp is lighted every day from then on during the Karthika masa (comes in November). There are various versions about lighting lamps. Some believe that these lamps show the way to heaven to their dead kin, while some believe that those who are in the Heaven will come down to meet their people and that they burst crackers to welcome them. However, scholars believe that these crackers replaced the old tins in scaring away ‘Jyeshta devi’.
Balipadyami on which 'Bali' is worshipped follows Deepavali. There is a story behind this. When Vishnu was born as vamana (the dwarf), he crushed Bali into the under world. Then Prahlada (father of Virochaka and grandfather of Bali) pleaded Vishnu to pardon Bali. Then Bali was made the king of the under world. On Bali's request, Vishnu granted a boon that people on earth would remember him and would worship him. That is the reason for Balipadyami. On that day also people burst crackers and celebrate in the name of Bali.
Vishnu stayed with Bali in the under world as an entrance guard. When Ravana went to kill Bali, he invited him heartily and made him to sit on his lap. On enquiry, he was told that Vishnu was none other than the person who was guarding his kingdom. Flabbergasted, Ravana left for Lanka. There is a story to tell that on Balipadyami ‘Gambling’ (Judam) should be played.
Once on this padyami day, Shiva and Parvathi played ‘pachikalu’ (dice game). Shiva lost to Parvathi. Kumaraswami then played dice with Parvathi and won. Then Lord Vinayaka (Ganesh) played with Lord Kumaraswami and won. Since then, it has been customary for the family to be involved in gambling on this day. Some families follow this custom even today. However, instead of dice they now play card games. This game should be played strictly among the family members only.
Farmers celebrate this day in a different way. They perform Kedargauri vratam, Gopuja (puja to cow), and Gouramma puja. This ritual is being followed still in Tamilnadu. Krishna performed Govardhana puja on this day. So, people are following it even today. A wooden plank is decorated with colours and designs and a triangular shaped image of Bali, made out of cow-dung is placed on it and it is worshipped with marigold flowers. ‘Dasibalipuja’ is also performed in many parts of the country on this day.
On this day, it is customary for the brothers to go their sisters' house and have food there. It is a custom named Bhagini Hastha Bhojanam (meals). It is being followed by people in the name of ‘Yama’ who went to his sister’s place to have food. Yama and his record keeper Chithraguptha are worshipped on this day. This day is called Bhathru Dwitheya or Yama Dwitheya.
With this the Deepavali festivities comes to an end.
Epics provide various versions and explanations as to why we celebrate Deepavali.
- On this day, Narakasura was killed and Naraka Chathurdasi is celebrated.
- It is this day Bali became the king of the under world, hence Balipadyami.
- Lord Sri Rama occupied his throne on Deepavali Amavasya and hence the celebration.
- King Vikramarka occupied the throne on this day.
- Yama is worshipped to escape Naraka on Chathurdasi.
Hence, for whatever reason we may celebrate Deepavali, it has become one of the most important festivals throughout India.
It is believed that there is some astrological explanations behind ‘Narakavadha’. Narakasura was the king of Pragjothispura. He had 16 thousand women in his captivity. According to astrology, there are 16 thousands stars in Kanya rasi (Virgo). Narakasura belongs to Mesha rasi (Aries). With the advent of Thula rasi (Libra), Mesha rasi diminishes. Krishna ended Narakasura in Swathi nakshathra in Thula rasi. When Mesha rasi fell, Kanya rasi became pale with surprise. Once there was ‘Naraka nakshathra (star)’ in the place of ‘Dhruva’. Due to different phases of the earth, the planetary position had changed and ‘Druva’ become prominent. Vishnu has ordered Dhruva to stay in the galaxy for 36 thousand years. According to scientific evidences also, this star will stay in galaxy for 36 thousand years. The earth is Satyabhama, who changes its phases and obscures the Naraka nakshathra.
The India’s unity in diversity can be seen in the celebration of this festival throughout the country.