Diwali is a pan India festival. It is ‘Deepa Aavali’ which means the row of lamps and remains as the grand festival of lights. It is celebrated on Amavasya, the New Moon day occurring in the month of Kartik (October-November). In states like Tamilnadu, this corresponds to the Chaturdasi thithi, the 14th lunar day in Aippasi month (Oct-Nov) and is observed as the auspicious Naraka Chaturdasi.
Many are the legends that speak about its origin and the reason for its celebration, and the most prominent among these associates the festival with both Rama and Krishna, the highly popular incarnations of Lord Vishnu.
This long established festival has its own traditions in the manner of its celebrations too, though varying from region to region and from culture to culture. In many of the Northern parts of India, it is held, not as a one-day festival, but as a five-day celebration, when Dhanteras, Naraka Chaturdasi, Lakshmi Pooja, Baliprathipada and Bhai Dhuj are observed on successive days.
In South, Diwali is mostly a single day festivity and is observed as Naraka Chaturdasi. While in the North, people celebrate the occasion, known as Diwali, mainly in the evenings and night time, Southerners observe the auspicious Diwali very early in the morning, while celebrations and activities continue throughout the day.
As a general custom prevailing among many, homes are cleaned, painted and are tastefully decorated in advance, for heralding the festive atmosphere. Traditional oil lamps are lit at homes and outside, along with modern lights, welcoming Goddess Lakshmi and other divinities in their dwellings. Men, women, and children wear new clothes and offer special worships to Gods at home and in temples. Tasty delicacies and sweets are prepared, which are reverentially offered to deities and then distributed among relatives, friends, and neighbors as Prasad. And then, the young and not so young alike, burst firecrackers, which has become the most visible and also audible identity of Diwali. People spend a good time visiting friends and relatives, exchanging pleasantries and gifts, and enjoying themselves in the company of near and dear ones. There are special and sumptuous Diwali feasts at homes on that day.
In South, Diwali celebrations take on strong religious connotations. People believe that very early on the Diwali morning, before sunrise, Ganga, the holiest of holy rivers is present in all the water bodies and even in the waters at homes. Hence this period is regarded as the most auspicious time for the observance of Diwali when people take sacred bath praying to Goddess Ganga. They also apply oil in the head, take head-bath and are also particular to bathe in warm waters. It is a firm belief that such a bath on Diwali day is equivalent to a holy dip in the sacred Ganges and that this will relieve people of all the sins.
Wearing of new clothes, worshipping the Gods, touching the feet of elders and taking their blessings, eating sweets, savories and mouth-watering delicacies specially prepared for the occasion, firing of crackers, visiting friends and relatives, and enjoying grand feasts, form the other aspects of Diwali celebrations.