Dhanteras, also known as Dhantrayodashi or Dhanwantari Triyodashi, is the first day of Diwali celebrations. ‘Dhan’ means ‘wealth’ and ‘Trayodashi’ means ‘13th day’. Thus, the name Dhanteras implies that this occasion falls on the 13th day of Krishna Paksha in the Kartik month of the Hindu lunar calendar. On Dhanteras, Goddess Lakshmi is worshipped as she is associated with bestowing prosperity and well-being. Therefore, Dhanteras holds a lot of significance, especially for the business communities. To mark this day, prayers are offered to Goddess Lakshmi to ask her to bless the devotees with wealth and prosperity. Dhanteras is observed two days before Diwali to celebrate the emergence of Dhanavantari, an incarnation of Lord Vishnu.
Houses and business organizations are renovated and decorated. The entrances are adorned colorful with Rangoli designs to welcome Goddess Lakshmi. Lamps and diyas are kept burning all through the night. People draw small footprints with rice flour and vermilion powder throughout the house as part of preparing for the welcome of the Goddess. Since this day is believed to be auspicious, women traditionally purchase some gold, silver or some new utensils, as possessing new wealth is considered to be a sign of good luck.
Lakshmi Puja is performed in the evening when the clay diyas light up to disperse the evil spirits. Bhajans are sung in the praise of Lakshmi. In Maharashtra, a unique custom of pounding jaggery with dry coriander seeds and offering as Naivedya to the Goddess is followed. In Southern India, cows are worshipped as they are regarded to be an incarnation of Goddess Lakshmi. However, in most parts of rural India, farmers worship their main source of livelihood, that is, their cattle. Lord Yama, the God of Death is also worshipped and people seek his protection against all evil and blessings for a long life.
There are various legends regarding the origin of the celebration of Dhanteras. One among them is about a sixteen year old son of King Hima, who, according to his horoscope, was to die on the fourth day of his marriage through a snake bite. On the fourth night, his wife did not let her husband sleep. She stacked golden and silver ornaments and coins at the entrance door, lit countless lamps and candles and sang to her husband all through the night. When the god of Death, Yama arrived in the form of a serpent, he was blinded by all the lighting and dazzling.
So, he climbed up the stack of ornaments and listened to the wife’s songs and left in the morning. As a result, the husband was saved and since then, Dhantrayodashi also came to be known as ‘Yama Deepa Daana’, which means ‘lighting the lights to pacify the Lord Yama’. Another legend tells us about Dhanvantari, the God of Health who was an incarnation of Lord Vishnu. Lord Vishnu emerged from the ocean during Samudra Manthan when the demons and god churned the ocean. Lord Dhanvantari emerged with a jar of Amrit on the day of Dhanteras and since then, the celebrations have been practiced.