The First Day of Diwali
The first day of Diwali is Dhanvantari Trayodasi, when Lord Dhanvantari appeared, delivering Ayurvedic medicine for mankind. This day marks the beginning of Diwali celebrations. At sunset, devout Hindus bathe and offer oil lamps along with prasada (sanctified food) to Yamaraja, the Lord of Death, and pray for protection from untimely death.
The Second Day of Diwali
The second day of Diwali is Naraka Chaturdasi. On this day Lord Krishna killed the demon Narakasura and liberated the 16,000 princesses the demon held captive.
The Third Day – Actual Diwali
This is the actual day of Diwali, commonly known as the Hindu New Year. The faithful cleanse themselves and join with their families and priests to worship the goddess Lakshmi, consort of Lord Vishnu, to receive blessings of wealth, prosperity, triumph of good over evil, light over darkness. This is also the day Lord Rama returned to Ayodhya, having successfully rescued Sita and defeated the demon Ravana. (See “Origins of Diwali” below.)
The Fourth Day of Diwali
On this day, Govardhana Puja is performed, a spiritual harvest festival. Thousands of years ago, Lord Krishna caused the people of Vrindavan to perform Govardhana Puja. For details on this story, refer to our article Diwali & Govardhan Puja.
Bali Maharaja was defeated on this day by Lord Krishna’s dwarf brahmana incarnation, Vamanadeva.
It is written in the Ramayana that when the bridge to Lanka was being built by the Vanara army, Hanuman (a divine loyal servant of Lord Rama possessing enormous strength) was bringing a mountain as material to help with the construction of the bridge. When a call was given that enough materials had already been obtained, Hanuman placed the mountain down before reaching the construction site. Due to lack of time, he did not return the mountain to its original place.
The deity presiding over this mountain spoke to Hanuman asking of his reason for leaving the mountain there. Hanuman replied that the mountain should remain there until the age of Dvapara when Lord Rama incarnates as Lord Krishna, who will shower His grace on the mountain, and will instruct that the mountain be worshiped not only in that age but but in ages to come. This deity whom Hanuman spoke to was Govardhana (an incarnation of Lord Krishna), who manifested Himself in the form of the mountain. To fulfill Hanuman’s decree, Govardhan Puja was performed and the celebration is continued to this day.
The Fifth Day of Diwali
The fifth day of the Diwali is called Bhratri Dooj, dedicated to sisters. We have heard about Raksha Bandhan, brothers day. Well this is sisters day. Many moons ago in the Vedic era, Yamaraja, the Lord of Death, visited His sister Yamuna on this day. He gave Yamuna a boon that whoever visits her on this day shall be liberated from all sins; they will achieve moksha, liberation. From then on, brothers visit their sisters on this day to inquire about their welfare, and many faithful bathe in the holy waters of the Yamuna River.
This day is also known as Bhai Fota among Bengalis, when the sister prays for her brother’s safety, success and well being.
This day marks the end of the five days of Diwali celebrations.
The Origin of Diwali
According to the epic Ramayana, Diwali commemorates the return of Lord Rama, an incarnation of Krishna as the noble king, from his 14-year exile after rescuing Sita and killing the demon Ravana. The people of Ayodhya illuminated the kingdom with earthen diyas (oil lamps) and fireworks to celebrate the return of their king.
In rural areas of India, Diwali, which occurs at the end of a growing season, is a harvest festival. Harvests normally brought prosperity. After reaping their harvest, farmers celebrated with joy and gave thanks to God and the demigods for granting them a good crop.
At the time of the reign of Emperor Prithu, for example, there was a worldwide famine. He ordered that all cultivatable lands be ploughed. When the rains came, the land became very fertile and grains were planted. The harvest provided food not only to feed all of India, but for all civilization at the time. This harvest was close to Diwali time and was a good reason to celebrate Diwali with great joy and merriment by a wider community.
In the Adi Parva of the Mahabarata, the Pandavas also returned from their exile in the forest during Diwali time, giving people another reason for celebration.