Diwali, in Hinduism, is held in honour of the return of Lord Rama and his wife Sita to their kingdom Ayodhya from a 14-year exile during which he defeated the demon king Ravana. Villagers lit the path home with lamps. For Hindus, Diwali represents the start of the New Year as well as the beginning of winter.
Each day leading up to Diwali has a different meaning and significance.
Dhanteras: The first day marks the start of Diwali. It is the birthday of Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth, and Dhanvantari, god of health and healing. Homes and businesses are cleaned and decorated, and women and children decorate entrances with designs known as rangoli. Male members of the family sort out all the Diwali lights for the home. This is also a major shopping day, especially for gold or silver.
Naraka Chaturdasi/Chhoti Diwali/Kali Chaudas: On the second, there is a focus on abolishing evil. This is the day when the goddess Kali is worshipped and the demon Narakasura was killed by Krishna, Satyabhama and Kali. Early morning religious rituals are held. Some worshippers bathe in fragrant oils, while women decorate their hands with henna and prepare sweet foods for the main Diwali night.
Diwali: On the third day, Diwali, clay lamps (called diyas or divas) and candles are lit in temples and homes. Fireworks are let off as well, giving Diwali its name of Festival of Lights. This day is the main night of Diwali and is dedicated to Lakshmi and Lord Ganesha. They are worshipped in the evening during a shubh muhurat (auspicious time), and proper aartis and bhajans are recited. During the Chopda Pujan ceremony, new account books are worshipped by the business community. It is believed that Goddess Lakshmi enters homes and blesses devotees with good fortune and wealth on this day. People wear new clothes or their best outfits for the evening. The goddess is believed to roam the earth on this night so doors and windows are left open and lamps are placed on sills and balconies to welcome her in. Sweets and gifts are exchanged and the festivities end with a family feast.
Govardhan Puja/New Year: On the fourth day, it is believed that Lord Krishna defeated Indra by lifting the Govardhan Mountain. On this day, people make a small mound, usually of cow dung, and worship it. In the western states of India, this day marks the New Year as per their calendar and is celebrated as Bestu Varas. Since it is also the start of the new year (Nutan Varsh) for some Indian communities, businesses traditionally start their next financial year.
Bhai Dooj: The fifth day is important to Hindus as it is dedicated to the relationship and lifelong bond between brothers and sisters, who celebrate it with the sharing of food and gifts. Women and girls get together to pray for the wellbeing of their brothers, and siblings visit each other on this day.