Hindu / Vedic Festivals
by Stephen Knapp
In the Vedic/Hindu tradition, there are many festivals that are observed throughout the year. There are major festivals and numerous minor ones, as well as those that are celebrated on a local or regional basis, which are celebrated differently according to the location, or even named differently. There are different festivals to celebrate the various incarnations of God, as well as those that honor the seasons, harvests, relationships, and certain principles of the Vedic culture. Some of the major festivals are listed and described as follows:
Makara Sankranti: Hindus consider the sun king of the planets. Makara Sankranti is the celebration of the sun's journey to the Northern Hemisphere. Makar means Capricorn and Sankranti means transition. So you could say there is one sankranti every month when the sun moves from one sign of the zodiac to the next. However, the most important ones are the Mesh (Aries) Sankranti and the Makar (Capricorn) Sankranti. So the transition of the sun from Sagittarius to Capricorn during the winter solstice in the northern hemisphere is known as Makar Sankranti. This is when the sun moves from the Da-kshinayana (southern) route to the Uttarayana (northern) route. The Uttarayana route begins on January 14 and lasts till July 14.
This time is accepted as a special or auspicious time. It is believed that those who die in this period attain moksha or liberation from samsara, the cycle of birth and death. It is also a time when taking a dip in a holy sangam (confluence of holy rivers, such as at Allahabad) is especially appropriate. In line with astrological calculations, the Kumbha Mela is conducted once in 12 years at Allahabad beginning on Makara Sankranti. It is that day when the sun and moon enter Capricorn and Jupiter enters Aries. The astrological configuration on Makara Sankranti is called “Maha-snana-yoga”, the day for taking a special holy bath, and a highly auspicious time when the gates to the heavenly region are considered to be open, thus allowing the soul easy access to the celestial worlds.
Makar Sankranti falls on January 14 and in leap-years on January 15. It is the only Hindu festival that is based on the solar calendar instead of the lunar.
Makar Sankranti is celebrated as a harvest festival. It is a way of expressing thanks to Mother Earth or nature. This is the time when winter starts to recede, which gradually develops into spring and summer. The festival is especially for the spreading of good will, peace and prosperity. People also give each other presents, especially til, the traditional sweets made with sesame. It is also celebrated with a feast that includes a dish made of green gram, rice and jaggery.
The day is known by various names according to region. In Uttar Pradesh it is called Khichri. In Punjab and Haryana it is called Lohri, when people light bonfires and celebrate. The next day is Maghi when the people dance to the Bhangra beats. In Madhya Pradesh the holiday is called Sukarat or Sakarat. In West Bengal and Assam it is called Bhogali Bihu. In Gujarat and Rajasthan it is Uttarayan or the kite flying festival, when you can often see many children flying colorful kites. In Tamil Nadu it is known as Pongal. And in Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh it is Sankranti.
Vasant Panchami: Vasant Panchami is known as the festival of kites. It is celebrated towards the end of winter in the month of January-February. Vasant Panchami is celebrated in the northern parts of India. The weather changes from harsh winter to soft spring or "Vasant". Vasant is the time when the mustard fields are abound with their yellow flowers that seem to usher in spring. So Punjabis welcome the change and celebrate the day by wearing yellow clothes, holding feasts and by organizing kite flying. Vasant Panchami day puja (worship) is devoted to Sarasvati, the Goddess of Learning. She bestows the greatest wealth to humanity--the wealth of knowledge.
Maha Shivaratri: Shivaratri is celebrated sometime during February-March. It is believed that Parvati, the wife of Shiva, prayed, meditated and fasted on this day for the well being of Shiva and hoped to ward off any evils that may fall upon him. Though, both men and women celebrate Shivaratri, it is an especially auspicious day for women. Married women pray for the well being of their husbands and sons, while unmarried women pray for a husband like Shiva, who is considered to be the ideal husband.
On Shivaratri, devotees awake at sunrise and bathe in holy water (like the Ganges River) and wear new clothes. On the day of the festival, people will fast and spend the day focused on Shiva, meditating and chanting "Om Namaha Shivaya." Thus, offering their obeisances to Lord Shiva, the mind is held in such single-pointed concentration throughout the day. Then they flock to the temples carrying holy water to bathe and worship the Shivalingam. This bathing of the Shivalingam symbolizes the cleansing of one's soul. Next, the Shivalingam is decorated with flowers and garlands. It is customary to spend the entire night awake singing the praises of Lord Shiva.
Shivaratri is a festival that is held in the typical pattern of preparation, purification, realization, and then celebration. Then at the stroke of midnight Shiva is said to manifest as the inner light of purified consciousness. Thus, this climax at night represents our overcoming the dark ignorance and reaching the state of purified spiritual knowledge. Therein we conquer the influence of the mind and senses, exhibited by staying awake all night, and enter the state of steady awareness wherein there is spiritual awakening. If one can follow this process, then he or she can experience the real meaning of Shivaratri.
Holi: Holi is a major festival and celebrates the onset of spring, along with good harvests and the fertility of the land. It is celebrated on the day after the full moon in early March. This festival is known best for the way people throw brightly colored powder and water over each other to celebrate the advent of spring. Then they bathe and cleanse themselves after which they distribute sweets amongst friends and relatives. Vibrant processions accompanied by folk songs and dances are also a characteristic of Holi celebrations. Holi is a very popular festival amongst the youth. Holi also commemorates the burning to death of Holika, the aunt of Prahlada. Huge bonfires are lit on the eve of Holi for this reason. Holi is celebrated with great vigor in the north, but is hardly celebrated in southern India.
Gaura Purnima: This is the festival that is celebrated by the increasing numbers of the Guadiya Vaishnava tradition. It is the celebration of the birth of Lord Chaitanya, who was considered an incarnation of God, Lord Krishna. Lord Chaitanya showed by example the highest emotion and sentiment of worship and love for Lord Krishna. He also was the first to start peaceful civil disobedience demonstrations for worshiping the Lord, and the sankirtana movement, which is the congregational chanting of the Lord's holy names in the form of the Hare Krishna mantra.
Shri Rama Navami: This festival celebrates the birth of Lord Rama who is an incarnation of Lord Vishnu. This festival is celebrated during the time of March-April. Lord Rama, who became king of Ayodhya, was known for His exemplary qualities. He was popular, brave, kind, just, intelligent, patient, loving, obedient and dutiful. Lord Rama is always worshiped with his consort Sita, brother Lakshmana and devotee Hanuman. The worship of Lord Rama is accompanied by the worship of the Sun god since Rama was considered to have descended from the sun, or is in the Solar dynasty. Rama Navami celebrations include reading the great epic Ramayana and staging plays of the Rama Lila, or the pastimes of the life of Lord Rama.
Ugadi and Vishu: These are two festivals that celebrate the New Year in different communities of south India. Ugadi is celebrated in March-April. Vishu is celebrated in mid-April. The word Yugadi means the day of the inauguration of the Yuga or Age. Vishu is celebrated in a big way in Kerala. Families wake up in the morning and make sure they feast their eyes on good things like a picture of God, grains, flowers, fruit and gold. It is believed seeing these first thing in the morning of the New Year will bring them prosperity and wealth throughout the year.
Hanuman Jayanthi: This celebrates the birth of Hanuman, the most famous devotee of Lord Rama. His birthday falls on Chaitra Shukla Purnima—the March-April full moon day. On this holy day worship Sri Hanuman. Fast on this day. Read the Sri Hanuman Chalisa. Spend the whole day in the Japa of Ram-Nam. Hanuman will be highly pleased and will bless you with success in all your undertakings. Celebrations are marked by special pujas (rituals of worship) for Hanuman.
SRI HANUMAN is worshipped all over India—either alone or together with Sri Rama. Every temple of Sri Rama has the murti or idol of Sri Hanuman. Hanuman was the Avatara of Lord Siva. He was born of the Wind-God and Anjani Devi. He is also called by the names Pavanasuta, Marutsuta, Mahavira, Bajrangabali and Pavankumar.
Hanuman was the living embodiment of the power of Ram-Nam. He was an ideal selfless worker, a true devotee who worked without personal desires, and an exceptional Brahmachari or celibate. He served Sri Rama with pure love and devotion. He lived only to serve Sri Rama. He was humble, brave and wise. He possessed all the divine virtues. He did what others could not do—crossing the ocean simply by uttering Ram-Nam, burning the demon-king's city of Lanka, and bringing the sanjeevini herb to restore the life of Lakshmana. He brought Sri Rama and Lakshmana from the nether world after killing Ahiravana.
Hanuman possessed devotion, knowledge, spirit of selfless service, power of celibacy, and desirelessness. He never boasted of his bravery and intelligence. He said to Ravana, "I am a humble messenger of Sri Rama. I have come here to serve Sri Rama, to do His work. By the command of Sri Rama, I have come here. I am fearless by the Grace of Sri Rama. I am not afraid of death. I welcome it if it comes while serving Sri Rama."
Sri Rama Himself said to Hanuman, "I am greatly indebted to you, O mighty hero. You did marvelous, superhuman deeds. You do not want anything in return. Sugriva has his kingdom restored to him. Angada has been made the crown prince. Vibhishana has become king of Lanka. But you have not asked for anything at any time. You threw away the precious garland of pearls given to you by Sita. How can I repay My debt of gratitude to you? I will always remain deeply indebted to you. I give you the boon of everlasting life. All will honor and worship you like Myself. Your image will be placed at the door of My temple and you will be worshipped and honored first. Whenever My stories are recited or glories sung, your glory will be sung before Mine. You will be able to do anything, even that which I will not be able to!"
Thus did Sri Rama praise Hanuman when the latter returned to Him after finding Sita in Lanka. Hanuman was not a bit elated. He fell in prostration at the holy feet of Sri Rama.
Sri Rama asked him, "O mighty hero, how did you cross the ocean?" Hanuman humbly replied, "By the power and glory of Thy Name, my Lord." Again Sri Rama asked, "How did you burn Lanka? How did you save yourself?" And Hanuman replied, "By Thy Grace, my Lord." Everyone should try his best to follow the noble example of Hanuman. Glory to Hanuman! Glory to his Lord, Sri Rama!
Guru Purnima: This is a festival with a truly spiritual meaning and relevance. Guru Purnima celebrates the might of one's teacher or guru through respect and reverence. Also known as Vyasa Purnima, the festival is celebrated in July-August on the full moon. It is believed that the great scholar and composer of the Vedic literature, Vyasadeva, who lived in the Dvapara Yuga, was born on this day. Legend also has it that this is when he completed the codification of the four Vedas.
Onam: This festival marks the day on which the great devotee of Lord Vishnu Emperor Maha Bali, the grandson of Prahlada (the great devotee of Lord Narasimha), received benediction and liberation with the blessings of the Lord, who had assumed the form of Vamanadeva, the dwarf incarnation. Onam is celebrated in August-September, and especially in Kerala. Onam is a ten-day festival marked by women creating beautiful floral patterns in front of their houses, pujas for Lord Vishnu, feasting and boat races.
Raksha Bandan: This celebrates the love of a sister for her brother. On this day, sisters tie a rakhi, a colorful bracelet made of silk thread, on the wrist of their brothers to protect them against evil influences. It is celebrated in July-August. Raksha Bandan is celebrated in some parts of India as a festival to honor the sea god Varuna, where coconuts are offered to the sea. Because of its three eyes, the coconut represents the three eyes of Shiva. As a mark of auspiciousness, coconuts are also broken at shrines and temples. This is also the day set apart for Brahmins to change the sacred thread they wear.
Krishna Janmashtami: This is the celebration of the birth of Lord Krishna. It is celebrated on the eighth day of the dark fortnight in August-September. Temples and homes are beautifully decorated and lit. Notable are the cribs and other decorations depicting stories of Lord Krishna's childhood. In the evening bhajans (devotional songs) are sung which end at midnight, the auspicious moment when Lord Krishna was born. Krishna Janmastami is a festival that is held in the typical pattern of preparation, purification, realization, and then celebration. On the day of the festival, people will fast and spend the day focused on Krishna, meditating and chanting the Hare Krishna mantra and other prayers or songs devoted to Lord Krishna. Often times, there will also be plays and enactments of the birth and pastimes of the Lord. Thus, offering their obeisances, focusing their minds on Lord Krishna, the devotees hold themselves in such single-pointed concentration throughout the day. Then at the stroke of midnight Lord Krishna takes birth, which is celebrated by a midnight arati ceremony. Flowers are showered on the Deity of Lord Krishna, or the Deities are dressed in new outfits or decorated with numerous flowers on this day.
In this way, after a full day of purification, we realize our own connection with the Lord, who then manifests as the Supreme worshipable object of our purified consciousness. Thus, this climax at night represents our overcoming the darkness of ignorance and reaching the state of purified spiritual knowledge and perception. Therein we overcome the influence of the mind and senses and enter the state of steady awareness wherein there is full spiritual awakening. If one can follow this process, then he or she can experience the real meaning of Krishna Janmastami. Then prasad (sacred offered food) is distributed to everyone.
Ganesh Chaturthi: This celebrates the birth of Lord Ganesh, also called Vinayaka, his child form, as he is popularly known in southern India. He is the god of wisdom, prosperity and good luck. He also removes obstacles. Ganesh Chaturthi is celebrated on the fourth day of the lunar month that falls in August-September. Clay figures of the elephant-headed Ganesh are made and after being worshiped for two days, or in some cases ten days, are immersed in water. Ganesh Chaturthi is very popular in the Indian state of Maharasthra.
Navaratri: Navaratri or the nine sacred nights dedicated to the Mother Goddess are celebrated in the month of October-November. Navaratri includes the Sarasvati Puja and the Durga Puja festivals. "Nava" means nine and "ratri" means night. So Navaratri literally means nine nights. It is during these nine nights of festivities that the goddess is worshiped in Her different forms of Durga, Lakshmi and then Sarasvati. Durga is worshiped during the first three nights of the festival because of her destructive aspect. She destroys the anarthas or unwanted barriers that hold us back from our true spiritual potential. She reduces the evil tendencies in the mind, which is the meaning of durgati harini. Thus, she is worshiped to relieve us of our destructive desires of desire, lust, passion, greed, anger, etc. Without removing these obstacles, the spiritual unfoldment cannot take place.
The next step is to apply the positive process of adding the qualities we need. So Lakshmi is worshiped over the next three nights. She gives one the wealth of good qualities, such as love, goodness, compassion, forgiveness, cooperation, nonviolence, devotion, purity, and the like. Virtue is the true wealth, which is given by Lakshmi. This is not merely the wealth of riches and possessions, but the real wealth that can propel us toward the spiritual goal. These positive uplifting qualities replace the bad ones that were removed by Durga.
At this point the seeker can become fit for the philosophical study and contemplation that is required. Then Sarasvati, the goddess of knowledge, is worshiped the remaining three nights. Sarasvati gives one the intelligence, knowledge and wisdom by which spiritual realization is possible. She represents the highest knowledge of the Self. By invoking her blessings, she plays her well-tuned vina of knowledge and insight, which can then tune our mind and intellect for working in harmony with the world and the purpose of our existence. Then our spiritual practice, study, and meditation become effective for producing the victory of rising above the influence of our mind and senses. Then we can perceive our real identity of being spiritual entities and parts of the spiritual dimension, free from illusion.
After having removed our impurities, gained the proper virtues, and then acquired the knowledge of the Self, then the last day is called Vijayadasami, or the day of victory over our minds and the lower dimension after having worshiped the goddess in her three forms. The celebrations of Navaratri are held at night because it represents our overcoming the ignorance of the mode of darkness, the night of tamoguna.
Additionally, Navaratri commemorates the day on which the combined powers of the three Goddesses of Durga or Maha-Kali, Maha Lakshmi and Maha Sarasvati put an end to the evil forces represented by the buffalo-headed demon Mahishasura. The ninth day is also the day of the Ayudha Puja in the south. The Ayudha Puja is worship of whatever instruments one may use in one's livelihood. On the proceeding evening, it is traditional to place these instruments on an altar to the Divine. If one can make a conscious effort to see the Divine in the tools and objects one uses each day, it will help one to see one's work as an offering to God. It will also help one to maintain constant remembrance of the Divine. Children traditionally place their study books and writing implements on the altar. Throughout the ninth day, an effort is made to see one's work or studies as imbued with the Divine presence. The tenth day is called Vijaya Dashami. Devotees perform a puja to the Goddess Sarasvati to invoke the blessings of Sarasvati on books, writing implements, musical instruments and tools of trade. After the pujas, little children are initiated into the learning process.
So the Vedic festivals are performed in these phases of first preparation, then purification, realization, and then celebration. It represents one's progress toward the real goal of life. First the mind must be purified of all unwanted thoughts and habits. Then it must become focused on one's concentration of the Supreme. As the knowledge of our spirituality of the Self and our connection with the Supreme Being becomes revealed, then there is realization. When such realization has been reached and the ego destroyed, then there is celebration. Living life on the basis of spiritual realization means that life is a constant joy and celebration.
Dusshera, also known as Vijaya Dashami, is celebrated on the tenth day of Navaratri. This signifies the victory of Lord Rama over the demon Ravana, which is often observed with special celebrations and the burning of the effigy of Ravana. On that day there is often a huge bonfire in which people burn the effigy of the demon Ravana, which also represents the destruction of the false ego. Thus, it is a festival which shows the process by which humanity can reach the perception of God. It incorporates the means and worship by which one can purify themselves of the ten sins, meaning the sins committed by the ten active senses. It is the process of purification so that one is meant to become free of the dictates of the mind and the temporary world of sense objects, which paves the way for one to enter into the transcendental experience.
What this shows is that all aspects of the Vedic process, whether we are familiar with them or not, are ultimately meant to be a vehicle by which we can transcend the mind, senses, and the temporary material world and enter into the Supreme Reality wherein we can reestablish our lost relationship with the Supreme Being.
Karva Chauth: This is a fast undertaken by married Hindu women who offer prayers seeking the welfare, prosperity and longevity of their husbands. Karva Chauth is celebrated before Deepavali some time in October or November. It is the most important fast observed by the women of North India. A woman keeps such a fast for the welfare of her husband, who becomes her protector after she leaves her parents home. Her husband provides her with food, shelter, clothing, respectability, comfort and happiness. This is a tough fast to observe as is starts before sunrise and ends after worshiping the moon, which usually rises late evening.
Deepavali: Deepavali, or Diwali as it is popularly called, is the festival of lights. It symbolizes the victory of righteousness and the lifting of spiritual darkness. The word Deepavali literally means rows of clay lamps. It is celebrated on the New Moon day of the dark fortnight during October-November. It is also associated with the return to Ayodhya of Lord Rama, His wife Sita and His brother Lakshmana after their fourteen-year sojourn in the forests. The day also marks the coronation of Lord Rama.
The meanings of Diwali, its symbols and rituals, and the reasons for celebration are innumerable. Another is how Lord Krishna tamed and killed the demon King Narakasura. It also commemorates Lord Krishna's victory over the demon Narakasura. It is said that Narakasura, the son of Bhudevi, who ruled the kingdom of Pradyoshapuram, often troubled the devas and disturbed the penance of the sages. Narakaasura also had kidnapped and terrorized the gopis of Vrindavan. Tired of this harassment, Indra and other devas approached Lord Krishna and pleaded with Him to protect them from the demon Narakasura. But the demon king could only be killed by a woman. So Lord Krishna asked His wife, Satyabhama, the reincarnation of Bhudevi, to be His charioteer in the battle with Narakasura. Lord Krishna waged a fierce battle and killed the demon. When the evil Naraka was finally killed by Bhagwan Krishna and Satyabhaama, he begged pitifully for mercy; thus, upon his entreaties, Bhudevi declared that his death should not be a day of mourning but an occasion to celebrate and rejoice. Since then, Deepavali is celebrated every year with lots of fun and frolic and fireworks. It is also known as Krishna Chaturdashi. It is also celebrated as the day Bhagwan Vishnu married Maha Lakshmi.
Diwali is also associated with the story of the fall of Bali - a demon king who was conquered by Lord Vishnu. Lord Vishnu appeared to the demon king Bali in the form of a dwarf and requested only three steps of land. The evil and egotistic Bali granted the dwarf's meager request of only three feet. Suddenly, Lord Vishnu took on His grand size and placed one foot on the Earth, another on the Heavens and His third on the head of the evil Bali.
In general, Diwali signifies the triumph of good over evil, of righteousness over treachery, of truth over falsehood, and of light over darkness.
Diwali also marks the New Year. For some, the day of Diwali itself is the first day of the New Year, and for others the new year's day is the day following Diwali. But, for all this season is one of heralding in the New Year. In the joyous mood of this season, we clean our homes, our offices, our rooms, letting the light of Diwali enter all the corners of our lives. We begin new checkbooks, diaries and calendars. It is a day of "starting fresh."
On this day we clean every room of the house; we dust every corner of the garage, we sweep behind bookshelves, vacuum under beds and empty out cabinets. But, what about our hearts? When was the last time we swept out our hearts? When did we last empty them of all the dirt and garbage that has accumulated throughout our lives?
That is the real cleaning we must do. That is the real meaning of "starting fresh." We must clean out our hearts, ridding them of darkness and bitterness; we must make them clean and sparkling places for God to live. We must be as thorough with ourselves as we are with our homes. Are there any dark corners in our hearts we have avoided for so long? Are we simply "sweeping all the dirt under the rug?" God sees all and knows all. He knows what is behind every wall of our hearts, what is swept into every corner, and what is hidden under every rug. Let us truly clean out our hearts; let us rid ourselves of the grudges, pain, and anger that clutter our ability to love freely. Let us empty out every nook and cranny, so that His divine light can shine throughout.
Diwali is celebrated in grand fashion. For some, they have a oil bath early in the morning and wear new clothes. Children love the fireworks associated with Diwali. A lot of sweets are distributed to friends and relatives. And homes are often lit with rows and rows of little clay lamps called diyas that light up the dark New Moon night. Businesses begin their new book keeping with Diwali. The trading community celebrates the thirteenth day of the month of Kartika (Oct.-Nov) as Dhanteras or Dhantrayodashi, the first of the five-day festival. The word Dhan means wealth, and the day is of great importance for the rich mercantile community of Western India. Their homes and business premises are all decked up in lights to usher in prospering times. The day ends with a Lakshmi puja at home. Some temples also conduct large Lakshmi Puja celebrations.
This is the third, and perhaps most important, aspect of Diwali: the worship of Maha Lakshmi. Maha Lakshmi is the goddess of wealth and prosperity, bestowing these abundantly upon her devotees. On Diwali we pray to her for prosperity; we ask her to lavish us with her blessings. However, what sort of prosperity are we praying for? All too often, we infer wealth to mean money, possessions, material pleasures. This is NOT the true wealth in life; this is not what makes us prosperous. There is almost no correlation between the amount of money we earn, the number of possessions we buy and our sense of inner bliss and prosperity.
So on Diwali, we must pray to Maha Lakshmi to bestow real prosperity upon us, the prosperity that brings light to our lives and sparkle to our eyes. We must pray for an abundance of faith, not money; we must pray for success in our spiritual lives, not a promotion at work.
Another point about Maha Lakshmi is that we tend to worship only her most prominent of aspects - that of bestowing prosperity upon her devotees. However, she is a multi-faceted goddess, filled with symbols of great importance. As we worship her, let us look more deeply at her divine aspects. First, according to our scriptures, she is the divine partner of Lord Vishnu. In Hindu tradition, there is almost always a pair - a male and a female manifestation of the Divine, and they play interdependent roles. In this way it is said that Maha Lakshmi provides Lord Vishnu with the wealth necessary in order to sustain life. He sustains, but through the wealth she provides.
Therefore, in its highest meaning, Maha Lakshmi provides wealth for sustenance, not for indulgence. Our material wealth and prosperity should only sustain us, giving us that which is necessary to preserve our lives. All surplus should be used for humanitarian causes. She does not give wealth so that we may become fat and lazy; yet, that is what we tend to do with the wealth we receive. Let us remember that Maha Lakshmi's material wealth is meant for sustenance and preservation, not for luxury and decadence.
So on Diwali, decorated and renovated to the hilt, the day begins with a bang of fire crackers with the performance of Lakshmi puja in the evenings. To indicate Her long-awaited arrival, small footprints are drawn with rice flour and vermillion powder all over the houses. Entrances are decorated with lovely, colorful motifs of rangoli to welcome the Goddess or Wealth and prosperity. Lamps are kept burning all through the nights and women make it a point to purchase some gold or silver, or at least one or two new utensils, as it is considered auspicious and a symbol of prosperity, a manifestation of the goddess Herself. In South India, cows are offered special veneration and are adorned and worshiped as the incarnation of Goddess Lakshmi.
Another interesting story that is related to this day is about the son of King Hima. He was doomed to die of a snakebite on the fourth day of his marriage. The young daughter-in-law of the king, to save her husband, laid out gold ornaments, 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. She kept herself awake the entire night singing songs. When Yama, the Lord of Death, arrived in the guise of a serpent, his eyes were blinded by the dazzle of the brilliant lights, the gold and silver ornaments, and he was unable to enter the Prince’s chamber. So he climbed on top of the heap of ornaments and coins and sat there the whole night listening to the melodious songs. In the morning he quietly went away. Thus, the young wife saved her husband. And so the day is also known as Yamadeepdaan and earthen lamps are kept alight throughout the night in the reverential adoration of Yama.
The following day is celebrated as Narka-Chaturdashi or Choti Diwal. Lord Krishna and His wife Satyabhama are said to have returned home victorious after killing demon Narakasura, early in the morning on this day. The Lord was massaged with scented oils and was given a good bath to wash away the filth from His body. Since then, on this day, the custom of taking an oil bath with fragrant uptan before sunrise has become a traditional practice in Maharashtra and South India.
The Diwali day is devoted entirely to the propitiation of Goddess Lakshmi, burning lamps, firecrackers, card games and lots of masti. On the dark night of Amavasya, businessmen perform Chopda Pujan and open new account books.
The day following Diwali is the day of Govardhana puja. According to the Vishnu Purana, years ago the people of Gokul used to celebrate a festival in honor of Lord Indra and worship him after the end of every monsoon season. However, one year the young Lord Krishna prevented them from offering prayers to Indra and convinced the people to offer the puja to Govardhan Hill, since it was an incarnation of the Supreme. This made Lord Indra enraged, who in turn sent a huge flood to submerge Gokul. But Lord Krishna saved Gokul and all the residents by holding aloft Govardhan Hill like an umbrella.
The day is also observed as annakoot in temples of Mathura and Nathdwara. This is when the Deities are worshiped with innumerable varieties of delicious sweets, which are ceremoniously raised into the form of a mountain of bhog (food), which is offered to the Lord and is worshiped as a form of the Govardhan Hill. Afterwards the devotees approach the mountain of food, do puja or worship to it and circumambulate it as was originally instructed by Lord Krishna. Later everyone takes portions of it as prasada, food that has been offered to the Lord and received as His mercy.
The fifth and final day of the Diwali festival is known as Bhayya-Duj or Bhav-Bij. According to the legend, Lord Yama, the God of Death, visited his sister Yami on this day. She is said to have applied the auspicious tilok on his forehead, garlanded him and served him delicious sweets. In return, Yama gave her a special gift as a token of his love and pronounced that anyone who receive tilok from his sister would never be defeated. And so to this day, brothers never fail to visit their sisters on the final day of Diwali.
With lights everywhere, Diwali symbolizes the dispelling of darkness, ignorance and evil, and a new hope for the future and irrespective of the region, unites the nation in the festivity of prosperity and joy.
Diwali is also known for making delicious sweets and giving them as presents. For a look at some of the sweets that are made and their recipes, see our recipe page called Diwali Sweets.
Gita Jayanthi: This is the celebration of when Lord Krishna spoke the illustrious Bhagavad-Gita to His friend Arjuna on the battlefield of Kurukshetra, north of New Delhi. This usually takes place in the early part of the month of December.