The different ways India celebrates Diwali

Diwali is just two days away, are you all set for the safe Diwali celebration this year? The sweet and savory food preparations must be ready, the new attire to be worn during the festive days must be decided and set out. the house must be all decked up, and from tonight everyone would begin putting out the diyas too. Don’t we all look forward to Diwali all through the year?

But as I always say, and everybody says, India is a country of diversities. There is something different happening in every city, every town, every village, every region. And so is the case with Diwali celebrations. Different parts of India celebrate Diwali in different ways. The spirit of the celebration remains the same, its the means that change. There are so many stories and traditions associated with this auspicious occasion that I could never tire talking about it. But I can’t talk about so many in one blog, so we will focus on a few here. Read through before the next guests come knocking on your door 🙂

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Diwali Celebrations in Goa

Now, most people think of clubs and beaches and shacks and churches when they think of Goa, but don’t I always say – Goa is a lot, lot more than that. Goa is an entire state with lots of different communities living in it. It has a lot more to it than the wild party culture and the pretty beaches. For instance, Goa is also home to the Saraswat Brahmins, whose cuisine I am especially fond of, at least the vegetarian bits of it. The Portuguese have left their own imprint here which one can observe in the local traditions and cuisines. I am thinking of that slice of Bolo Sans Rival, yes. I have also been a part of the Ganpati celebrations in a small hamlet in Goa, and it was so much fun to gorge on the Ukadiche Modaks and all the yummy food. Well, Diwali is an even grander celebration in Goa than the Ganpati then. Unlike parts of India that celebrate the return of Lord Ram to Ayodhya after killing the Rakshasa Ravana, Goa primarily celebrates Diwali as a celebration of Lord Krishna’s victory over Narakasura. This demon Narakasura is the same one who wanted to marry Devi Kamakhya. Lord Krishna waged a war with Narakasura at Subhadra’s behest, and attached the asura’s fortress, as promised, riding his mount Garuda along with Satyabhama. The Lord also killed Narakasura’s general – Mura, which earned him the name ‘Murari’ or the ‘Killer of Mura’. The day before Diwali is thus celebrated as Naraka Chaturdashi.

It is believed that Krishna killed Narakasura in the wee hours of the morning, due to which people wake up and bathe with scented oils well before Sunrise during the festive days. Goa has the custom of burning the effigies of Narakasura. Large effigies of Narakasura are paraded in the streets before being brought to the designated ground, then beheaded and burnt. The latter part is quite similar to how we burn the effigies of Ravana on Dussehra.

Diwali in Maharashtra

In some parts of Maharashtra, during Diwali it is a custom to build small forts from mud, which are replicas of forts once ruled by Chhatrapati Sivaji Maharaja. People get together weeks in advance to plan the design and the process of building the forts – stones are collected and arranged, covered with gunny bags, and then layered over with mud to build the fort. Some people also plant seeds on this mud to make it look greener. Small figurines of Sivaji Maharaj, Jijabai, cannons, tigers, etc. are placed around these forts. At night, small diyas are placed on and around the fort. This tradition is more a symbol of our history than of our religion, but it does signify a solid amalgamation of history and religion, in the true spirit of Indian culture and traditions.

Diwali in Jharkhand, Bihar, and Uttar Pradesh

In the states of Jharkhand, Uttar Pradesh, and Bihar, there are huge Diwali celebrations commemorating Lord Rama’s victorious return back home after 14 years of exile. The people in these regions build small mud houses in their courtyards or in their pooja rooms or anywhere in the house. These mud houses are called ‘Gharondas’, and are made to welcome Lord Rama home. With changing times, materials like thermocol, bricks, cardboard, wood, etc. and simple small huts have give way to multi-story extravagance complete with balconies and doors. But what matters the most here is the spirit of the celebration commemorating the occasion of Lord Rama’s return back home.

Diwali in Tamil Nadu

In Tamil Nadu, on the eve of Naraka Chaturdashi, the vessel in which water is generally heated is cleaned thoroughly by the elders of the house. In the modern times, where almost every household uses a geyser – fuelled by electricity, the Sun, gas, or wood, this tradition still remains in traditional households. A special rangoli depicting the Sun and the Moon is done around the water vessel (or the geyser now). The new clothes that have been bought for Diwali are offered to the Gods first, along with sesame oil, shikakai, and sweet & savory delicacies. Among the offerings is a special herbal mixture called the marundhu. Marundhu means medicine, and this mixture is also called Deepavali Legiyam, and it helps keep the digestion healthy.

Tamilians wake up before Sunrise, and shower up and take turns to sit outside the house on a maanai, a kind of wooden seat, while the eldest woman of the house anoints them with sesame oil. Meanwhile, the children burst crackers and eat sweets commemorating the occasion of Lord Krishna killing Narakasura. After the celebration, they bathe with shikakai. Interestingly, all these activities are to be completed before Sunrise.

Diwali in Himachal Pradesh

When the entire country has finished all their celebrations, Himachal Pradesh celebrates ‘Buddhi Diwali’, meaning ‘dark’ or ‘old’ diwali. Buddhi Diwali is celebrated a month after Diwali, on the new moon night of the Kartika month of the Indian calendar. The legend goes that when people had already celebrating the return of Lord Ram, the news of His return reached Himachal Pradesh a month later, and the people began celebrating then. This is why their Diwali or ‘Buddhi Diwali’ is celebrated a month after Diwali. The occasion also commemorates the killing of the demons Dano and Asura who used to live in the form of snakes. Earlier, this celebration would involve animal sacrifice to signify the killing of the demons, but in recent times the Himachal Pradesh government has banned animal sacrifices (thankfully!), and the people now break a coconut instead! Now isn’t that a good thing! There is also a special ritual dance where the local people form a long chain with a big rope. This dance is restricted to the local people and outsides are not allowed to participate.

Well, have you seen or been a part of any unique Diwali traditions? Tell me more about it in the comments or find me on Instagram at @banjaranfoodie.

Penny for your thoughts!