The spirit of tradition underlying the celebration of Diwali day is the same as that of the Holi festival, i.e. the triumph of good over evil. The traditions vary but the victory of divine over the demonic is common to all of them. The dominant tradition for celebrating Diwali is the defeat of the evil character Ravana by Lord Rama. In some communities, the occasion is observed with festivity to commemorate the defeat of the demon Narakasura at the hands of Krishna. Some people also relate Diwali day to the historical moment in Hindu traditions when Bali, obeying the order of Lord Vishnu, went to rule the world of spirits (the dead).
Whether celebrated in the memory of any tradition, Diwali is a time of unsurpassed mirth, enthusiasm, and hope. In India, people of all faiths avidly participate in the celebration of Diwali day. The central theme of celebration is ‘light’ (the word Deepavali literally means an array of light). People lovingly lit lamps and colorful lights in their houses and outside, particularly the traditional lighting sources called dipa or deeya. Diwali lights symbolize the end of evil darkness by the true (divine) light and the message of hope for humanity. Many people also light firecrackers on Diwali, especially at night.
Diwali day is an occasion for socializing with neighbors and fellow humans. People wear new clothes; cook tempting dishes; and share food and gifts with others. Decorating places and objects with flowers beautifies the whole scene of Diwali celebration. The five days of Diwali, celebrated mostly in North India, are individually given distinct names: Dhan teras, Naraka Chaturdasi, Diwali, Govardhan Puja, and Bhayiduj.
The first Diwali day, called Dhan teras, is considered an auspicious time for buying things and hence people generously spend on shopping, mostly on shopping special items for celebrating the occasion. The second day Naraka Chaturdasi marks the day when the demon Narakasura was killed and this day is considered as the most important day by the people of India’s southern states. People take bath early in the morning; wear new clothes, light lamps, and worship Lord Krishna or Vishnu.
The third Diwali day is named ‘Diwali’ and it marks the time when the moon disappears completely, leaving behind a dark sky. Govardhan Puja, the fourth day of Diwali festival, is special in that husbands give gifts to their wives. People also make a mound of food and decorate it with flowers and other embellishments. The final Diwali day is called Bhayiduj and it is especially important for brothers and sisters who come together and show their affection for one another by sharing gifts and spending time together.