14 November 2020 marks the third, and most important day of Diwali, the Hindu festival of light. Yes — the third. Like many other festivals, Diwali lasts more than one day, and in fact goes on for five; this year, from 12-16 November. These five days are all significant for different reasons.
This Diwali may look a little different than usual – but the five celebration days still remain a huge part of the festival.
Day 1: Dhanteras – Day of Fortune
The first day of Diwali is dedicated to celebrating prosperity and the arrival of the goddess Lakshmi. Lakshmi is believed to have emerged from the ocean on this day.
On this first day, people tend to clean the house, and then lay out diyas, which are small oil-filled lamps, around the home. Often, the women and children decorate with colourful designs, petals, and coloured sand. The evening of Dhanteras is spent praying to Lord Dhanvantari, Goddess Lakshmi, and Kubera.
Day 2: Naraka Chaturdasi – Day of Knowledge
The second day of Diwali is celebrated to commemorate the victory of Lord Krishna over the Demon Narkasur: the Demon had captured sixteen thousand princesses and went around killing sages and deities. Lord Krishna killed him, and freed the princesses: before he died, the Demon asked for mercy, and to be freed from the horrors of hell. Lord Krishna said that anyone who takes a holy bath on this day will be freed.
Traditionally, on Naraka Chaturdasi, people take a holy bath, known as the ‘Abhyangsnan’, before sunrise. The colourful lamps are also kept burning throughout, and sweets, made from things like chickpea flour, dry fruit, semolina, rice, and ghee, are bought and baked.
One of the most important parts of celebrating Narak Chaturdashi is Shiva Puja, which consists of praying to God Shiva.
Day 3: Diwali – Day of Light
This is the main event of Diwali. Buildings are lit up, and everyone wears their best clothes – women tend to wear jewellery and saris. The Diwali sweets and treats are enjoyed, and in the evening, prayers are offered before lamps are lit and fireworks are set off. Finally, there’s usually a family feast, and rituals to bring good luck and happiness.
Day 4: Annakut – New Year
The name Annakut means mountain of food. Hindus prepare a variety of dishes and offer them to Lord Krishna and other deities, to express thanks and gratitude.
The fourth day of Diwali also marks the beginning of the winter season.There is a change in the availability of fruits and vegetables, and people make a point of eating vegetables they may not be able to have as the seasons change.
Annakoot also emphasizes the importance of eating a mix of vegetables. It is traditionally said that one should include all seven colors and six tastes for a balanced diet.
Day 5: Bhai Dooj – Day of Love Between Siblings
The final day of Diwali celebrates the sacred relationship shared between a brother and sister. It is traditional for sisters apply tilak (three marks) on their brothers’ foreheads, and pray for their prosperity and longevity. In turn, the brother promises to protect his sister. It’s also customary to offer sweets to siblings.
So it’s not just fireworks and colourful lights – there’s much more to Diwali than you think…
Explore the programmes on offer at the Department of Religions and Philosophies at SOAS.