So, we're still left with that one nagging question: what's Dhanteras all about? Why do we celebrate it? Of course, most of us know that we're supposed to buy metal objects or utensils and jewellery, but that's about it. So we decided to do some digging up for you. Read on.
Let's begin with how we celebrate Dhanteras. Traditionally, everybody buys new bartans and jewellery; there is also a pooja on that day. "Dhanteras marks the beginning of the five-day Diwali festivities," says businessman Naresh Garg, whose family has followed the Dhanteras tradition faithfully, every year, for generations. "Earlier, we used to exchange old utensils with new ones for the home. But over the years, it has translated into buying new metal jewellery."
Adds Sanjay Kamath, a priest at Delhi's Hanuman Mandir, "Even an inexpensive utensil purchased on that day is considered shubh (auspicious). That's why everybody buys something or the other, even if it's a katori."
Blinded by the light
Buying shiny new metal is fine, but how did the tradition actually begin? What is the lore behind the ritual? This is how the story goes: There was once a newlywed prince who was doomed to die on the fourth day of his marriage, according to his horoscope. But when Yamaraj (the god of death) reached the prince's house on that day, disguised as a snake, he was met with a dazzling heap of metal artefacts and brightly burning lamps everywhere.
The prince's smart young wife had been on her toes making these preparations all day. Besides the collection of sparkling metal objects and diyas, she had also made her husband bathe in the evening, sat him down, sung songs and told him stories all night, so he wouldn't go to sleep. Blinded by the sparkle of the jewellery and utensils, Yamaraj couldn't cross the threshold. He just sat down on the heap of utensils, heard the pleasant songs and stories and went away in the morning. So the newlywed wife, by placing gold at the entrance of the house (not tough for a princess!), saved her husband's life. Ever since, husbands have been buying precious metal for their wives on the day. Now there's a bargain if you ever saw one!
Life trumps death
But as with almost any Hindu festival, there is more than one mythological tale behind it. Another version has it that when the gods and demons were churning the ocean in search of amrit, the elixir of life, Dhanvantari, the physician of all gods, emerged from the ocean with the amrit in his hands. That day became known as Dhanteras, and it marks the discovery of Ayurveda, the science of healing using natural ways. Explains Hemanand Joshi, another senior priest with Hanuman Mandir, "Dhanteras is the day of amrit sidhi yog. Also, an atte ka diya is placed outside the house for Yamraj pooja to avoid akaal mrityu (premature or untimely death)".
Both stories point at a common Dhanteras ethos. Dhanteras symbolises the victory of life over death. Just like the husband lived on owing to the dhan (wealth) in the first story, the amrit in the second story represents the knowledge of a healthy life.
But husbands be warned. Precious metals burn holes in pockets!
Dhanteras is to jewellers what a carnival is to kids. Buyers visit jewellery shops on that day because buying baubles is considered auspicious. Some jewellery stores stay open way past midnight. Says Ishu Datwani of Mumbai's Anmol Jewellers, "We keep our store open till 1am, as customers just keep coming."
Delhi's Kesar Fine Jewellers' Lalit Parakh says there's a surge in demand that begins from Navratras and goes on till Diwali. "In this period, one can expect double or triple sales, as compared to any other day. But we pull the shutters down by 9pm, as after that, staying open becomes a security concern. It's only in Dariba Kalan in Old Delhi that one can buy metal items like chandi ke bartan till late at night that day."
From HT Brunch, November 11
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