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Diwali - The Festival of Lights

The first
thought that comes to our mind when we speak of Diwali is of Diyas and
Fire Crackers. Rightly so Diwali is known as the festival of lights and
is celebrated over a period of five days.

Dhanteras - The First Day

19th
Oct 2006 - The beginning of Diwali Celebrations is marked from this day
Dhanteras; "Dhan" meaning wealth and "Teras" meaning thirteenth
symbolizing the thirteenth day of the month of Ashwin. Dhanteras is
also known as Dhantrayodashi. This day holds importance in the business
community since it is the day that Goddess Lakshmi, the Goddess of
Wealth and Prosperity is worshipped.

To
mark the auspicious day, houses and business premises are renovated and
decorated. Entrances are made colorful with lovely traditional motifs
of Rangoli designs to welcome the Goddess Lakshmi. To indicate her
long-awaited arrival, small footprints are drawn with rice flour and
vermilion powder all over the houses.

On
Dhanteras, people follow the tradition of purchasing gold and silver
ornaments. The ladies of the households buy one or two utensils for use
in the Kitchen. Buying New Wealth on this day is considered to be a
sign of good luck.

It is
believed that keeping the lamp lit through the night on Dhanteras would
not allow the God of Death to lay a finger on his victim. Therefore one
can say that the light of the lamps brings in prosperity, health and
long life.

A very
interesting story about Dhanteras Festival says that once the sixteen
year old son of King Hima. was doomed to die by a snake-bite on the
fourth day of his marriage as per his horoscope. 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 Yama, 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.
Clay lamps also indicates the victory of Light over Darkness, Good over
Evil, as well as the victory of Truth over Falsehood and that man can
succeed only through his virtues.

According
to another popular legend, when the gods and demons churned the ocean
for Amrit or nectar, Dhanavantri (the physician of the gods and an
incarnation of Vishnu) emerged carrying a jar of the elixir on the day
of Dhanteras.

Narak Chaturdasi / Kadi Chaudas - The Second Day

20th
Oct 2006 - This day falls on the fourteenth day of the month of Kartik.
This is the day when Lord Krishna destroyed the Demon Narakasur and
made the world free from his terror.

Diwali - The Third Day

21th Oct 2006 - Before the onset of Diwali, the houses are thoroughly cleaned and decorated with "Jhumurs" and "Rangoli"

Diwali
is the festival of Laxmi, the Goddess of prosperity and wealth. It is
believed that Goddess Laxmi visit everyone during Diwali and brings
peace and prosperity to all.

During
the evening, Lakshmi Puja is performed and devotional songs are sung in
the praise of the Goddess and "Naivedya" of traditional sweets is
offered. Lamps are lit throughout the night.

Five pieces of ghee diyas (lamps) are lit in front of the deities, Naivedya of traditional sweets is offered to the Goddess and devotional songs - in praise of Goddess Laxmi are sung.

After
the Puja people light diyas (lamps) in their homes to usher in light,
and clear the darkness from the world and with their children play with
fire crackers.

In villages cattle's are adorned and worshipped by farmers as they form the main source of their income.

In
south cows are offered special veneration as they are supposed to be
the incarnation of Goddess Lakshmi and therefore they are adorned and
worshipped on this day.

It is believed that goddess Parvati played dice with her husband, Lord Shiv
on this day and she decreed that whosoever gambled on Diwali night
would prosper throughout the ensuring year.This tradition of playing
cards- flash and rummy with stakes on this particular day continues
even to day.

Diwali is the
last day of financial year in traditional Hindu business and
businessmen perform Chopda Pujan on this day on the new books of
accounts. Diwali is the festival when the new business year begins it
is said that Diwali is the "Time to shop or start new ventures".

This year there is a day before Diwali called the Padtar Divas on 22nd Oct 2006.
New Year / Bestavarash - The Fourth Day

23rd
Oct 2006 - On New Year?s Day , people dress up in new clothes and wear
jewellery visiting friends and colleagues. Visitors are offered home
made preparations, sweets and dry fruits.

On
this day, Goverdhan Pooja is performed. As per Vishnu-Puran, the people
of Gokul used to celebrate a festival in honour of Lord Indra 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.

This day is also observed as Annakoot and prayers are offered in the temples. In temples especially in Mathura and Nathadwara,
the deities are given milkbath, dressed in shining attires with
ornaments of dazzling diamonds, pearls, rubies and other precious
stones.

Bhai Dooj - The Fifth Day

24th
Oct 2006 - The second day of the bright fortnight of Kartik is called
"Bhaiya-Duj". According to a Legend, many years ago, in the Vedic era,
Yama (Yamraj, the Lord of death) visited His sister Yamuna(Yami) and
she put the auspicious tilak on his forehead, they ate talked and
enjoyed together and exchanged special gifts as a token of their love
for each other and Yamraj announced that anyone who receives tilak from
his sister on this day will never be thrown.

Since
then it became imperative for the brother to go to his sister's house
to celebrate Bhaiyaduj. On Bhai Dooj, the teeka is applied on the
brother's forehead. It is a day dedicated to sisters as Raksha Bandhan
is dedicated to brothers.