Exuberance, gaiety, as well as bright lights are the terms that pop up in one's mind as soon as the word Diwali is mentioned. The vibrant charming festival of Diwali converts the entire landscape of the country, be it rural or urban, in one big carnival of illumination. Though predominantly a Hindu festival, Diwali is also celebrated by Sikhs as well as Jain communities. The celebrations of Diwali are omnipresent throughout India but the fascinating regional diversities can be seen from one place to another. There are some stark differences in Diwali celebrations in northern and southern parts of the country. In south India, Diwali is celebrated as Narak Chaturdashi as well as Bali Pratipada, a day before Amavasya. Keep reading the article to know more about the unique Diwali customs, traditions and ceremonies held in southern India.
Diwali Legends in South India
In Northern India, Diwali is mainly celebrated to commemorate the return of Lord Rama to his kingdom after fourteen years of exile. However, such is not the case in South India. In this part of the country, Diwali is celebrated to honor the vanquishing of Narakasura by Lord Krishna. According to the legend, Narakasura was a vengeful demon and committed numerous atrocities on innocent people. Moved by this, Lord Krishna, along with his wife Satyabhama, attacked the demon and a bloody battle ensued. With the inspiration from Lord Krishna, Satyabhama killed the demon.
After the battle, Lord Krishna smeared the blood of the demon on his forehead as a mark of victory and returned back to his home before the sunrise of Narak Chaturdashi. To show their gratitude towards the Lord, womenfolk massaged him with fragrant oil and bathed him to remove the grime of the battlefield. In was on this day that Narakasura's mother Bhudevi announced that her son's death should not be mourned but be celebrated as a day when good overcame evil. Since that day, people celebrate this day by lighting lamps and firecrackers.
Another ancient Hindu legend tells the story of King Bali, who had become so powerful that all the 'Devatas' became fearful of his ever-growing ambition and appealed to Lord Vishnu to check Bali's power. Therefore, the Lord took the incarnation as a dwarf Brahmin and visited King Bali in his court. The Lord asked for a boon of as much land that he could cover with three strides. Bali agreed readily and as soon as he pledged to it, Lord Vishnu transformed into his original form and became humungous.
In the first two strides itself, he covered the entire earth and heaven. Though awestruck, in order to keep his word, Bali offered his head to the Lord to place his final step and as soon as the Lord placed his foot on Bali's head, he was pushed underground forever. Impressed by King Bali's generosity and honor, Vishnu granted him a boon that once in a year on Karmic Amavasya, he could come to the earth's surface to spread knowledge as well as light.
Celebrations in South India
Diwali celebrations begin early in the morning in southern India. People wake up before sunrise and apply a paste of kumkum and water on their forehead. They then squash a bitter fruit under their foot and take the ritualistic bath. This entire ceremony symbolizes the legend of Narakasura. Houses are kept skip and span. The gateways are decked with rangoli, made with Kavi (red oxide). The puja rooms are decorated with beetle leaves, beetle nuts, fruits, flowers, sandal paste, essence sticks, etc.
Traditional desserts and delicacies, like Ikaria, vela papa, idly, chutney, sambar, mapped and bronchi are prepared. Cows are venerated as incarnations of Goddess Lakshmi. In the evening, diyas are lit all over the household to enlighten the path for Goddess Lakshmi. Fireworks illuminate the night sky. It is also a traditional belief among South Indians that their ancestors visit them on this day; therefore, to appease the departed, they place their favorite dishes on a banana leaf in front of the photographs of the deceased.