As per Hindu calendar, the five day festival of Diwali is centered on the new moon day that ends the month of Ashwin and begins in the month of Kartika, beginning on the 13th day of the dark half of Ashwin and ending on the 2nd day of the bright half of Kartika. The main day of celebration varies regionally.
The first day of Diwali is called Dhanvantari Triodasi or Dhan Teras. The second day of Diwali is called Narak Chaturdasi. It is the fourteenth lunar day (thithi) of the dark forthnight of the month of Kartik and the eve of Diwali. On this day Lord Krishna destroyed the demon Narakasur and made the world free from fear. The third day of Diwali is the actual Diwali. This is the day when Mother Lakshmi is worshipped. On the fourth day, Goverdhan Pooja is performed. The fifth day of the diwali is called Bhratri Dooj.
According to Hindu mythology, Prince Rama was the son of the King of Ayodhya and heir to the throne. Rama's stepmother was jealous of Rama and wanted him to leave the kingdom so that her son could become heir instead. Under the influence of his wife, the King was forced to send Rama to live in exile in the forest for 14 years. Rama's wife, Sita and his brother, Lakshman, accompanied him. In the forest, there lived several demons, Ravana being one of them.
Prince Rama fought the Rakshas and drove them away, making Ravana very furious. He captured Rama's wife Sita, but she cleverly left a trail of jewels so that Rama could follow her to the island of Lanka. With the help of his brother and Hanuman, Rama set off to save her. Hanuman and the army of monkeys helped to build a huge bridge across to the island. Rama crossed the bridge and shot an arrow into Ravana. The demon was killed and the Sita was rescued from danger.
Rama, Sita and Lakshman returned to the kingdom after 14 years of living in the forest and Rama became king. The people of Ayodhya cleaned their houses and placed oil lamps (diyas) to light their path. This is what makes these traditions important to Diwali celebrations today.
Narkasur was another demon who ruled the kingdom of Pradyoshapuram. Amongst other wicked deeds, he kidnapped beautiful women and forced them to live with him. To prove his power, Narkasur stole some earrings belonging to Aditi, mother of all Gods. The gods were not happy and asked Lord Krishna for help. A curse had been put on Narkasur, which said that one day he would be killed by his mother.
Lord Krishna knew that his wife, Satyabhama, was a reincarnation of Narkasur's mother, so he asked her to drive the chariot as he went to battle with the demon. Narkasur shot an arrow at Lord Krishna, who pretended to be hit. Satyabhama made use of this opportunity, grabbed Lord Krishna's bow and arrow and killed the demon instantly.
Narkasur's mother declared that her son's death should not be a day of gloom and so Hindus celebrate this event as it shows the power of good over evil. It is said that after the battle with the demon, Lord Krishna bathed in oil to clean the splattered blood from his body. In some regions rubbing oil into the body or having a special oil bath is part of the Diwali celebrations.
Diwali is in true sense the festival of unity in diversity. It brings people together in spite of religious, cultural, social or geographical barriers.