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English: Floating candles on Diwali day.

English: Floating candles on Diwali day. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Diwali, known as the “festival of lights”, is a five day festival which starts on Dhanteras (Dhan means wealth, and Teras means 13th day).On Dhanteras, it is considered an auspicious day for buying utensils and gold, hence the name ‘Dhana’.

The second day of the festival is called Naraka Chaturdasi. This was the day on which the demon Narakasura was killed by Krishna – an incarnation of Vishnu, signifying the victory of good over evil and light over darkness. Hindus wake up before dawn, have a fragrant oil bath and dress in new clothes, and have elaborate breakfasts, lunches and sweets with family and friends. They light small lamps all around the house and draw elaborate kolams/rangolis with rice flour and colorful vermilion powder outside their homes. They perform a special puja with offerings to Krishna or Vishnu. Celebrants believe that taking a bath before sunrise is equivalent to taking a bath in the holy Ganges.

The third day is Amavasya (Lakshmi Puja), marking the most important day Diwali celebrations.  Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth, and Ganesh, the God of auspicious beginnings, is worshiped to provide prosperity and well-being, and lamps are lit in the streets and homes to welcome prosperity and well-being.

Bali Pratipada/Kartika is the 4th day. This day is celebrated as Govardhan Puja/Annakoot, the day Krishna defeated Indra and by the lifting of Govardhana hill to save kinsmen and cattle from rain and floods. Men present gifts to their wives on this day.

The fifth day is Yama Dvitiya/Bhai Dooj. On this day sisters invite their brothers to their homes to express their love and affection for one another. It is based on a story when Yama (lord of Death) visited his sister Yami (the river Yamuna). Yami welcomed Yama with an Aarti and they had a feast together. Yama gave a gift to Yami while leaving as a token of his appreciation.

Most significantly, the spiritual meaning of Divali is “the awareness of the inner light”. The celebration of Diwali as the “victory of good over evil” refers to the light of higher knowledge dispelling all ignorance, the ignorance that masks one’s true nature, not as the body, but as the unchanging, infinite, immanent and transcendent reality. It is beyond the physical body and mind which is pure, infinite and eternal. With this awakening comes compassion and the awareness of the oneness of all things.