The gleaming lamps, colourful rangolis and the night long card parties, some traditions never die. Yes. It’s that time of the year again when the festive spirit is at its peak. In a country as diverse as India, it doesn’t come as a surprise that there are 101 ways of celebrating the festival of Diwali. From a number of poojas dedicated to several hindu deities to each region boasting its unique set of customs and traditions, just a glimpse of the celebrations around the country is a sight to behold. With the festivities spanning over the course of five days, from Dhanteras to Bhai Dooj, it’s a tiresome week indeed. Nonetheless, to witness a country of 1.2 billion population unanimously celebrating the victory of good over evil yet engaging in revelries of different kinds is nothing less than a marvel, I say.
There are numerous legends associated with the festival of Diwali and multitude of ways of celebrating it. While it’s a pompous affair in the north, the south prefers to keep it low key. In eastern India, it is celebrated to welcome goddess Kali, while in the business oriented west, Diwali marks the beginning of the Hindu financial year. Here’s how the festival of lights is celebrated differently across different regions in the country.
Diwali in the state of Uttar Pradesh is a treat to the eyes. Believed to be the birthplace of Lord Rama, the festival of lights is an extravagant affair here. The festivity begins with the grand Ganga aarti in the evening. Thousands of illuminated lamps (diyas) float over the surface of river Ganges. As the night progresses, one can witness the enchanting sight of thousands of priests chanting hymns and bringing in the festive feels. The experience is as mesmerising as it is spiritual.
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In Punjab, Diwali marks the advent of the winters. The farmers start preparing for the farming season and sow the first batch of seeds. While Sikhs do not celebrate the festival as such, they celebrate Bandi Chhor Diwas that falls on the same day. The festival commemorates the day of liberation. The golden temple is lit up with thousands of earthen lamps and fireworks and a langar is set up for those who come to offer their prayers at the sacred site.
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In West Bengal, Diwali coincides with Kali Puja and is one of the biggest festivals in the country. You can find houses decked up with lamps and people thronging famous temples like Kali Temple in Kalighat and Dakshineshwar to offer their prayers. You can also do a pandal hopping in Kolkata as there are several Kali puja Pandals that are set up across the city.
For Gujaratis, Diwali marks the end of the year. Also for the business-oriented West, Diwali always means Laxmi pooja. It’s a common belief in western India that the ‘goddess of wealth’ pays a visit to your house on this auspicious day, so you can find Gujaratis prepping for the occasion at least 15 days in advance. The markets are bustling with shoppers and intricate rangolis are made outside houses. One can even find tiny footsteps drawn outside individual doorsteps as a way of welcoming the goddess.
Diwali celebrations in Maharashtra begins with Vasu Baras. Here Dhanteras is celebrated in the form of dhantrayodashi, while Chhoti Diwali takes the form of Narak Chaturdashi. On the day of the festival, Maharashtrians pray to goddess Laxmi and also observe Diwali cha padva which celebrates the bond of marriage. The festivities come to an end with Bhaav Bij and they welcome the wedding season with Tulsi Vivah.
Diwali or what is known as Deepawali down south is celebrated a day earlier. Puzzled? Well, what northern India celebrates as Chhoti Diwali (Narak Chaturdashi) is the main day of festival for the southern part of the country. In Tamil Nadu, the day begins with an oil bath before sunrise. Tamilians light the kuthu vilaku (lamp) and offer neivedyam to deities. They also prepare an ayurvedic medicine called lehyam for all the indigestion that follows after you gorge on the succulent sweets over the five days of festive fervour. Well, even the north can learn a lesson here. Because, let’s be honest, we know what tons of kaju katli can do to your stomach!
In Andhra Pradesh, on Diwali people celebrate the victory of lord Sathyabama over the demon Narakasura. The other aspects of the celebration are similar to the rest of the country wherein people don new clothes and welcome the festival of wealth and prosperity.