The much awaited and renowned Indian festival of Diwali bathes the entire country in luminous fervor of celebrations. Though strictly speaking, this festival is categorized as a Hindu festival but in reality, it is celebrated throughout India by people of all cultures, castes and even faiths. The underlying meaning of this festival has a universal appeal that touches the hearts and souls of all mankind i.e. 'good shall always prevail over evil'. According to Hindu religion, knowledge is the true light and in front of it, the darkness of ignorance shall always surrender. This marvelous festival not only brightens one's surroundings but mind as well. Every year, this festival is celebrated at the end of the month of Ashwin (between September and October) while the festivities continue till the beginning of the month of Kartika (between October and November), based on the auspicious Hindu calendar. Diwali festivities are not limited to one day, but last for a period of five days.
The five day festivities of Diwali begin with Dhanteras, celebrated as the starting of a new financial year by all major business communities of India. Considering the Hindu mythology, it believed that on this day, Dhanwantari appeared from the ocean bringing with him the priceless knowledge about Ayurveda that would help all mankind. This day is considered highly auspicious for buying gold and silver, either in the form of ornaments or coins. Women buy household appliances as well on this day. The second day of the festivities marks the celebration of Naraka Chaturdasi, better known as Chhoti Diwali. It is said that on this day, Krishna killed a demon named Naraka. People take an early morning bath after an extensive oil massage, which forms the significant ritual of this day. On the third day, the main festival of Deepavali is celebrated, wherein people wear new clothes, exchange gifts, offer prayers to Goddess Laxmi and light diyas and firecrackers. The next day is marked by Govardhan Puja. Govardhan, a hillock near Braj, is worshipped. On the final day of the Diwali festivities, Bhai Dooj is celebrated which signifies the bond of love and affection between a brother and sister.
As far as origins of Deepavali and the reason why it is celebrated on the particular day of new moon are concerned, there are many legends and tails attached to it. However, the most widely accepted of them is that it was on this day that Lord Rama, the hero of the epic Ramayana, returned to his Kingdom of Ayodhya, along with his wife Sita and brother Laxman, after completing an exile of fourteen years. During this exile, he faced many hardships in the forest and vanquished the mighty demon, King Ravana of Lanka. Therefore, to celebrate his return and coronation, the overjoyed people of Ayodhya and Mithila, the Kingdom of Sita, illuminated their respective kingdoms with earthen diyas, right from houses to streets. Sweets were distributed among one and all; thus, the traditions of Deepavali seem to be rooted in this legend.
Today, Deepavali, which actually means rows of lamps, is celebrated on a much extravagant level. Houses and offices are decorated with torans made with mango leaves and marigolds, further beautified by tinkling bells or multicolor glass beads. At the entrance of the house, traditional motifs known as rangolis are drawn, using various vibrant colors. Houses, streets and entire markets are decked up with glowing colorful lightings of electric bulbs, shimmering flags and streamers. Shops are kept skip and span as this is considered the most optimum time by most people for going on a shopping spree. People buy new vehicles, clothes, electronic appliances, gadgets, home decor products, etc. not just for themselves, but for gifting purposes as well. Gifts are exchanged on a large scale with not just friends and family members, but also with business acquaintances and employees. Amidst all this glitz and glamour, the steadily burning lamp reminds one and all of the importance of an illuminated mind.