When the sound of crackers, the pleasant smell of agarbathis and aartis, the colorfully and extravagantly dressed people, the mouthwatering sweets and savories all come together in India, you know Diwali, the king of all festivals is near. Diwali refers to Deepon ka Aavali (in North India) or Deepa Oli (in South India), which means rows of lamps and light of lamps respectively. Similar to Navratri and other major festivals, Diwali also has significant variations in the ways and reasons of its celebration and rituals according to the regional practices. But whatever the differences, there is no doubt that Diwali is the maharaja of all the festivals celebrated in the country.

Celebrations in north India include a five day festival

  • The first day being Dhanteras, which involves cleaning and decorating the house and business centers. It is considered highly auspicious to shop for new gold and kitchen utensils on this day.
  • The second day is the Naraka Chaturdasi, the day in which the demon Narakasur was killed by Lord Krishna.
  • The third day is the actual Diwali festival, when the auspicious Lakshmi Pooja is done marking the beginning of the new financial year amongst major businessmen in north India.
  • The fourth day is celebrated as Diwali Padva. Wives customarily put a tilak on the foreheads of their husbands, garland him and perform an Aarthi with a prayer for his long life. In return for this care and love, husbands gift them with costly gifts, a day dedicated therefore to husband-wife relationships.
  • The final and fifth day is the Bhai Dooj which is similar to Raksha Bandhan, dedicated to brother and sister relationships. It serves as a good time, especially for married women, to get together with her own family and share the post-Diwali glee.

Celebrations in south India include a two day festival

  • The Naraka Chaturdasi day is celebrated as the main Diwali festival. This involves waking up very early in the morning (3 to 4.30 AM). New clothes are worn after a special oil bath and a healthy legiyam follows (a kind of medicine) to aid digestion of the rich food that would be consumed during the rest of the day. After the morning puja, a sumptuous non-veg breakfast along with sweets, savories become the order of the day in every household. This is followed by a distribution of sweets to neighbors and friends. The bursting of crackers is heard throughout the day.
  • While the Naraka Chaturdasi day is for feasting, Diwali Nombu (the day after Naraka Chaturdasi) is for fasting as minimal vegetarian food is taken on this day. Strict rules are followed for Kalasa Puja at some households and in major temples. A special dish called Athirasam is prepared on this day as a prasad for this puja and a specially designed rope called “Nombu Kayiru” is tied onto the wrist after the puja.