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Celebrations whether they are marriages, festivals or birthdays are a time for family, friends and good food. Diwali a five days long marathon is no different. It starts weeks in advance with the entire house spring cleaned. Old and unused things sold to the Kabadi wala and replaced with new. In fact a lot of people wait for Diwali offers and discounts to do their yearly shopping. The markets are flooded with offers and it is a buyer’s paradise. Gifts are received and given, sons and daughters arrival eagerly awaited. It is a time for card parties and most people who play believe that if they win their stakes at Diwali, the whole year will be good in terms of wealth. In fact you can smell the festival with all the dishes and special sweets being cooked at home.
The five day celebrations begin with Dhanteras. Being an agricultural community this is the harvest time of crops such as jowar, bajra, rice, maize, cotton, groundnut, jute etc. A time of prosperity after harvest, it is a time for thanking God and celebrating. On this day we buy metal and this can be in the form of gold, silver or kitchen ware. Lord Kuber, the God of wealth is worshipped and prayed to for prosperity throughout the year.
Next day is Choti Diwali/small Diwali also known as Narak Chaturdashi. A day celebrated for the killing of the demon Narakasura by Krishna/ Devi and also the annihilation of King Bali by lord Vishnu in his Dwarf incarnation.
Diwali follows Choti Diwali where to receive Goddess Laxmi, whose name is synonymous with wealth, the floors are decorated with rangoli. Every house has a ritual of worshiping Goddess Laxmi, Lord Ganesh and Hanuman ji by placing their idols on this day or earlier on the day of Dhanteras. Earlier idols made of clay painted with earth colours were bought each year for Puja. I have replaced the clay idols with metal and use the same ones every year as most idols now available are made with plaster of paris painted with colours toxic for the environment. Traditionally puffed wheat and sugar toys are used for Prasad. The trader community starts a new ledger on Diwali for accounting. The houses are illuminated with candles, earthen diyas and fairy lights. Fire crackers are an integral part of the celebrations.
The fourth day is celebrated as Govardhan. This has a very interesting story of how Lord Indra’s inflated ego was humbled. Lord Krishna lifted the mountain named Govardhan. He saved his entire clan by giving them shelter from the incessant rain ordered by Lord Indra. On this day symbolically the mountain is made out of cow dung and decorated. A wall of the cow dung is built all around like a fort. When we were young we would insert sparklers along the wall and then light them all at once. It was a much looked for event. The symbolic Govardhan is worshipped and circumambulated by the whole family. On this day it is said 108 different types of dishes are cooked. In most households these days all the vegetables available are cooked together called ‘Annacoot’. We also cook Khichdi with freshly harvested bajra and rice.
The Celebrations are wound up on the fifth day i.e. Bhai Dooj where the sisters anoint the foreheads of their brother and pray for their wellbeing. As legend has it on this day Lord Krishna visited his sister Subhadra after slaying the demon Narakasura. She welcomed him by applying the protective tilak on his forehead. I think it is a very beautiful sentiment.
The entire week we celebrate events which happened thousands of years ago with such enthusiasm and gusto.