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Diwali is the most widely celebrated festival in India and continues over a five-day period at the conjunction of the months of Ashwin and Kartik. In the Gregorian (Western) calendar this falls in October/November. As the pleasant, mild winter climate sets in, it is generally a time for feasting, visiting relatives, exchanging gifts, cleaning and decorating houses, and wearing new clothes.
There are various origins associated with the festival. For example, in South India the marriage of Lakshmi and Vishnu is celebrated, whereas in Bengal it is dedicated to the Goddess Kali. Buddhist, Jains and Sikhs also have reason to celebrate this “festival of lights”. The central theme resolves most prominently around the epic Ramayana, which narrates the story of Rama and Sita. This is specifically celebrated on the new moon night that falls in the middle of the five days of festivities.
1st day (13th day of the dark fortnight of Ashwin)
On this day the Goddess of Fortune, Lakshmi, is worshipped.
2nd day (14th day of the dark fortnight of Ashwin)
This day is especially important in South India, where Hindus remember how Lord Krishna killed the evil King Narakasura and liberated thousands of princesses held in captivity.
3rd day (15th day of the dark fortnight of Ashwin – the New Moon)
Diwali. The word Diwali (or Deepavali) literally means “row of lights”. At dusk rows of deepas, small earthenware lamps filled with oil, decorate houses inside and out and are dotted along the parapets of temples. Devotees also set them adrift on rivers and streams.
It was on the evening of this day that Lord Rama returned to His kingdom, Koshala. With his huge army headed by Hanuman the Lord triumphantly entered Ayodhya, His capital, having rescued His beloved wife, Sita, from the demon-king Ravana. Although the night was dark, Rama’s overjoyed subjects illuminated the entire city with lamps to receive their Lord with great pomp, splendour and celebration.
Lakshmi and Saraswati (the goddess of learning) are also worshipped on this day.
4th day (1st day of the bright fortnight of Kartik)
This marks the beginning of the New Year according to the Vikrama Calendar. On this day, in the year 56 B.C.E., King Vikrama was crowned King of Ujjain.
This day also marks the festival of Govardhana Puja, the worship of the sacred hill connected with Shri Krishna. Upon the advice of the young Lord all the inhabitants of the village of Vrindavan ceased their annual worship of Indra, lord of the rains. This infuriated the demigod who proceeded to flood the village with torrents of rain. Krishna, however, protected His devotees by picking up Mount Govardhana just like an umbrella. Indra, realising finally the identity of the young cowherd boy, submitted himself before his Lord and apologised for his mistake.
On this day Hindus construct replicas of the sacred hill, glorify the Lord’s uncommon activities, and feast as they remember the Lord’s exalted position above all others.
5th day (2nd day of Kartik)
The second day of the New Year, when sisters give blessings to their brothers, concludes the five-day festival.
Symbolically the festival of Diwali represents the triumph of good over evil, light over darkness, and knowledge over ignorance. As Lord Krishna says in the Bhagavad Gita
“One who does good, My friend, is never overcome by evil.”