What is Diwali?
Diwali is the Hindu festival of lights - it celebrates the light overcoming the dark. The light symbolises knowledge and wisdom, while darkness is a symbol for all negative forces, such as wickedness, destruction, violence, lust, envy, injustice, greed, oppression and suffering. During Diwali, people perform cleansing rituals, decorate their homes, gather for special feasts, exchange gifts and light fireworks.
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On the first day of Diwali, called Dhanteras, Hindus celebrate the day that Dhavantari, the god of good health and medicine, emerged from the ocean with the gift of Ayerveda (the knowledge of life) to humanity. They also celebrate the day that Lakshmi came out of the ocean with a pot of gold.
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On the second day of Diwali, known as Choti Diwali or Narak Chaturdasi, Hindus remember Krishna's (a Hindu deity) victory over Narakasura (a mythical king).
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The third day, Lakshmi Puja, is the main day of Diwali festivities. It falls on the night of the new moon. Celebrators clean their houses and themselves, dress in their best clothes and pray to Lakshmi and Ganesha, the god of wisdom and remover of obstacles. Lakshmi is believed to roam the land at night and visit the cleanest house first.
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The fourth day of Diwali is known as Padwa. Celebrators prepare and offer up a large mountain of vegetarian food to express their gratitude to the gods. The day commemorates when Krishna lifted Govardhan Hill to protect villagers from torrential rains and flooding. The mountain of food represents the hill.
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The fifth day of Diwali, known as Bhai Duj, is dedicated to sisters. According to legend, Yama Raj, the god of death, visited his sister on this day. He gave his sister a vardhan (a blessing), which would be distributed to all those who visited her on that day, freeing them from their sins. Brothers visit their sisters' homes on this last day of Diwali to pray for long life and prosperity.