Enthusiasm, happiness, grandeur and illumination are words that best describe the most significant and biggest festival of the Hindus - Diwali. This festival of lights is celebrated across five days not only in Hinduism, but also in Sikhism and Jainism. This colorful and exciting occasion is celebrated with immense grandiosity and magnificence in India and across the globe. Yet, there are certain differences in the festivities of Diwali in different places. In South India, Diwali is celebrated as Narak Chaturdashi as well as Bali Pratipada. While in North India, Diwali marks the onset of the New Year, it is not the same case in South India as the two parts of India follow different calendars. Here, Diwali is celebrated in the Tamil month of Aipasi (thulu month), preceding the day of Amavasya. Know more about Diwali celebrations, traditions and customs in South India in the following lines.
South Indian Diwali Celebrations
Diwali commemorates the legend of Lord Krishna’s slaying of Narakasura. Legend has it Narakasura, the son of Bhudevi (Bhumi) and Vishnu, was given a boon by Lord Brahma that he could be killed only by his mother. Narakasura, the King of Pragjyotispur, defeated Lord Indra and stole the earrings of Goddess Aditi. Also, he abducted sixteen thousand daughters of the gods and saints. Mad with power, he created chaos every where. Lord Krishna defeated and killed Narakasura with the help of his wife Satyabhama, who turned into an incarnation of Bhudevi. Lord Krishna, after the battle, smeared his head with the blood of Narakasura, and returned home before sunrise on the day of Narak Chaturdashi. Narakasura’s mother Bhudevi announced that her son’s death should not be a day of remorse and be celebrated as the victory of good over evil. Hence, on his return, the womenfolk massaged his body with scented oil and bathed him to wash away Narakasura’s blood. Since then, the custom of taking bath early in the morning before sunrise is followed.
Another legend narrates the story of King Bali, who became so powerful that the Gods started fearing. Worried about the increasing power of King Bali, the Gods requested Lord Vishnu to stop him. So Lord Vishnu, incarnated as a dwarf Brahmin, visited the court of King Bali. King Bali, though ambitious and powerful, was very benevolent and generous. Lord Vishnu, as the dwarf Brahmin, asked King Bali to give him enough land which he could cover in three steps. The unsuspecting Bali readily agreed to give away three strides of land from his kingdom.
As King Bali agreed, Lord Krishna took his real form and covered the earth and heaven in just two steps. Next, on asking King Bali to give him space to put his third step, the King humbly knelt down and offered his head to place the third step on. Although King Bali was sent to Patel Lok, but his generosity and promise that he kept highly impressed Lord Vishnu. Lord Krishna granted King Bali the boon of stepping on earth once in a year on Karmic Amavasya, to spread knowledge and light and be remembered for his generosity and promise.
Customs and Traditions
In south India, Diwali celebrations begin early in the morning. People wake up before sunrise and apply a paste of kumkum and water, known as ‘Ubtan’, on their forehead. They then break a bitter fruit and proceed for the ritual bath. The breaking of the fruit signifies the head of Narakasura while the paste symbolizes the blood that Lord Krishna had smeared on his forehead. Houses are cleaned and decorated prior to the day of Diwali. Different patterns of rangoli with kavi (red oxide) are created at doorways and home exteriors. The puja rooms are decked with beetle leaves, beetle nuts, fruits flowers, sandal paste, kumkum, turmeric powder, essence sticks, etc.
An exclusive variety of sweets are prepared especially for the occasion of Diwali. Ikaria, vela papa, idly, chutney, samba, mapped and bronchi are some of the traditional delicacies prepared and savored during the Diwali season. Cows are offered special worship as they are believed to be the incarnation of Goddess Larksome. In the evening, divas are lighted in and around the houses to welcome Goddess Lakshmi to bestow the people with wealth and prosperity. Fireworks are burst in the evening, thereby glorifying the entire environment. South Indians also believe that departed souls return on the day of Diwali. As a sign of respect to the dead family members, their favorite foods are prepared and placed in a banana leaf in front of their photographs.