One of the most celebrated Indian festivals for ages now is Diwali. It is also known as the festival of lights among tourists. Although, they are not wrong to perceive Diwali as that as every corner of major cities are drenched in lights (either with candles or rangolis). But it is just a tiny part of the entire festival. Diwali also includes feasting, cleaning, shopping, re-decorating and revelry.
With refuge to such a vast culture and religion, different parts of India celebrate Diwali according to various mythological reasons. Mainly revolving around 5 long days and worshipping of Goddess Lakshmi (in majority), here are the different places around the country where Diwali means something different for everyone and, nevertheless, celebrated at its best.
In the certain parts of Indian states like Delhi, Himachal Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh, as per the Indian epic of The Ramayana, on the pious day of Diwali it is believed that Rama (a manifestation of Lord Vishnu) returned to Ayodhya along with his wife, Sita, and his brother, Laxman, after spending 14years in exile. In order to welcome their King and to celebrate the victory of the good over the evil (as Rama defeated Ravana, the evil incarnate who was after his wife), the citizens to Ayodhya and his subjects, welcomed their King by illuminating the entire city using diyas (small earthen oil lamps) and firecrackers.
This tradition is till date upheld and carried out in most parts of Northern and Central India. The days leading upto Diwali from Dussehra (the day Rama defeated Ravana) are all celebrated with great zeal. In many parts of the country that associate to this significance of Diwali, generally hold a Ramalila where the journey of Rama is enacted by actors according to the Indian epic. The Ramalila goes on for several evenings and ends with the defeat of Evil (Ravana) by the Good (Rama).
The city of Ayodhya, in the state of Uttar Pradesh, which is the so-called hometown of Rama, celebrates pre-Diwali before the actual Diwali taking a huge pride in their heritage. The deepotsav, lighting of diyas at every household in the city to embark the beginning of the festival, as a part of 3day event started only a few years ago that got bigger and bigger marking over 5.5lakhs diyas in the year of 2019. Even the banks of river Saryu are lit up.
The event is also organized in shobha yatra (a parade of numerous Ramalila performances), Maha Aarti (grand prayer) at one of the banks or Ghats of the Saryu River and a ‘light and sound’ show on the Saryu river.
In the thula month of the Tamil calendar (also referred to as aippasi), Diwali, or Deepavali as said in Southern India, falls the day before amavasya (the no moon or new moon day). The foremost day of Deepavali is referred to as Naraka Chaturdashi is celebrated to Lord Krishna defeating the demon Narakasura. The day of Deepavali begins with an oil bath, proceeding to clean their entire house and adorn them with colourful kolam rangolis (patterned art form on floors) made with either wet or dry powdered rice. Kolam rangoli signifies the welcoming of Goddess Laxmi into the households to bring wealth and good luck.
In the evenings, the corners of the houses are lit with earthen lamps or candles to illuminate the buildings. Kanchipuram’s Kamakshi temple, Madurai’s Meenakshi temple and Tiruchirappalli’s Ranganathaswamy temple are one of few places where crowds gather to give prayers on such an auspicious day. In order to maintain air pollution and still enjoy the delight in bursting crackers, the Government of Tamil Nadu allotted 2hours gap to burst green crackers that are way less hazardous.
Bursting of crackers, wearing new clothes and a feast of South Indian delicacies (like variety of polis,ukkarai, vella appam and jangir) is a part of the celebrations after the oil bath. In South India, the lamps are mainly lit on a kuthu vilakku (traditional lamp stand made out of brass). A distinct custom that is followed on Diwali is the Thalai Deepavali. As a practice, newly married couples spend their first ever Diwali at the natal home of the bride. Also a Pithru Tharpanam Puja is performed for their ancestors.
Defined by its partying and sleepless nights, Goa also has an abundant amount of culture incorporated and preserved till date. On occasion like Diwali, Goa is a rare sight to behold with the entire region turns ethinic and sacred by nature. The festival of Diwali is observed as the Narak Chaturdashi. The Hindu mythology of Lord Krishna defeating the demon Narakasur is commemorated on this day.
The local people of Goa come together to build several feet long effigies of the demon Narakasur days before Diwali. As a custom, on the day of Diwali, these effigies are burnt to ash signifying the destruction of the evil on this holy day. Some folk bring home the same oil that was used to burn the effigy to get massages from their mothers or wives as a part of ritual called utnem. After the burning of the effigies, relatives are visited to share and feast upon several delicacies that include local sweets like foav.
Now for the fun time after all the rituals, many hit the famous casinos to gamble. Gambling on diwali is regarded as auspicious in many cultures, and in a place filled with casinos why wouldn’t they embrace it? Other than that, various hotels and cottages for tourists put up a display of fireworks to mark an end to a loud and colourful night. On the other hand, along the rivers people gather to set lanterns on either boats or rafts and watch them rapt as they flow along the stream.
On the day of Diwali, people are encouraged to take part in gambling as it is considered auspicious for the night. Punjabi Hindus take part in Diwali, however, it is not a part of the Sikh culture. Diwali also brings the winter season in Punjab. The base stone of the renowned Golden Temple in Amritsar is said to be established in the year of 1577 on Diwali. Devotees from every corner of Punjab visit this famous Temple to offer prayers as well as witness the decors of the temple bathed in lights and the verge of the lake around the temple being embellished with numerous oil lamps that are set alight by the visitors. There is also a fireworks show by the lake that people come to witness every year.
The festival of Diwali in Punjab is celebrated harmoniously along with the Sikh festival, Bandi Chhor Diwas, that falls right around that time. In the year 1619, Guru Hargobind Sahib, who was also the sixth Sikh guru, was confined and then released from the prison on that day. Thus, the Sikh commemorate the occasion by illuminating the gurudwaras with various lights like diyas and candles. It is celebrated in almost the same manner as Diwali (by feasting, enjoying crackers and bearing gifts for loved ones).
In the state of Maharashtra, Diwali is celebrated in 4 long days and with a great gusto. According to the mythology, during the 14year exile of Rama, he stayed close to Nasik in Panchvati, in Maharashtra. It is quite understandable how much this festival means to the inhabitants of the state. The first day is called Vasubaras where prayers are offered to cows, signifying a mother’s love for her children. The second day is referred to as Dhanteras which is celebrated in the same manner as in every other state.
The third day or Narak Chaturdashi (also known as choti Diwali) is a customary oil bath followed by visiting the temples. After which a feast of delicacies known as Faral are prepared like sev, karanji, chakli and laddoo. The final day is the main day of Diwali where prayers are offered to Goddess Lakshmi and items denoting wealth (like jewelleries) are honoured. Rituals like Bhav bin and the Tusli Vivah are also practiced on the last day where the love between the marital couples is commemorated with Diwali Cha Padwa.
Apart from the customary rituals, the jewel of Mumbai, Marine Drive turns colorful as firecrackers are burst and enjoyed in its milieu. The entire ambience of the place is striking, loud and exalted, and all of it reflected on the bay of the beach. The Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus is also adorned in Diwali themed decorations.
Amidst the focus on Goddess Lakshmi on Diwali in the various states of India, certain Eastern states (like the West Bengal, Odisha, Assam and Tripura) hail and celebrate Kali Puja. Kali Puja is a festival that is dedicated to Goddess Kali, another manifestation of Goddess Durga. She is regarded as the banisher of illusions and egos. She is often depicted to be unnerving, fearsome and an embodiment of feminine power.
In various parts of the state of West Bengal, pandals (temporary sheds made out of decorative clothes and bamboo) with idols of Goddess Kali are organized to celebrate this festival with fervor. The major Kali temples in the state like Dakhineshwar, Belur Math and Kalighat attract devotees from all around the state. These temples organize the ShaymaPuja in the evening where hibiscus flowers and meats are offered to the idol.
Apart from the Kali Puja in the state, people also indulge in firecrackers, lighting their houses with diyas and feasts. A similar custom to that of Tamil Nadu is followed where a prayer to the ancestors is offered called Pitripurush. This is to guide their souls to heaven by lighting diyas on elongated pillars. It is at least to say that the streets of Kolkata are bathed in both the festivities.
Rangolis are an essential part of the celebration. They are beautifully drawn with small footprints indicating Goddess Lakshmi entering the household. Gujratis consider Diwali an auspicious occasion, marking a New Year or Bestu Varas, as they set forth in buying something new like a house or even plan marriages. The entire area is lit with diyas and the mood in the atmosphere is light. Later, on the next day, the collected black grease on the oil lamps are worn as kajal by women, which supposedly brings prosperity the entire year.
But in case you wish to get away from the loud atmosphere of Diwali and wish to celebrate a rejuvenating one, remote villages in Dangs, located about 270kms from the city of Vadodara in Gujarat, gives you a tribal experience of festivities of Diwali. The tribal
communities cooperate with tourism of the place and are arranged in such a way that you get a first hand experience in relishing the day to day life of the tribe people. You can enjoy their dishes prepared by them, various art performances and go trekking in the nearby areas.