The First day is called
Dhanteras or Dhantrayodashi, and takes place two days
before Diwali, in honour of Dhanavantri, the physician of the gods and
an incarnation of Vishnu.
The legend of
Samudramanthan is at the heart of these celebrations. The story goes
that Lord Indra, ignored Sage Durvasa's presence, who in a fit of temper
cursed Indra, "The pride of wealth has entered your head - Let
Lakshmi forsake you." On account of Durvasa's curse, Lakshmi left Indra and went away. Because Lakshmi
the goddess of power, bravery, enthusiasm and radiance left, Devendra's life became
miserable. The demons that were waiting for such an opportunity invaded heaven,
defeated Indra and gods in war and occupied heaven. Indra lost his kingdom and
hid out of sight of the demons.
A number of years passed. Indra's teacher Brihaspati thought
of finding a way out for Indra's troubles. He went with the gods to Brahma, who
went to Vishnu with all of them and put forth the appeal of the gods. Then Vishnu
said, "Don't fear; I will show you a way out. The sea of milk must be churned. It is a very difficult job. Therefore, gain the
friendship of the demons and get their assistance. Use Mandara Mountain as a churning rod and
Vasuki, the king of the serpents, as a rope.
I will come to your assistance at the proper time. When the sea is churned ambrosia
will be produced. The gods must drink it and become immortal. It will then be possible for you to defeat the demons. When the
sea is churned, Lakshmi who has disappeared will appear again. Her grace will
be bestowed on you.
The clever Brihaspati
managed to strike a friendship with the demons who agreed in the hope of getting ambrosia
and wealth. After initial difficulties posed by the sinking of mount
Mandara into the milky sea which was set right by Lord Vishnu who took
the form of a tortoise and hoisted it on his back, the churning started.
First, Kalakuta, a dreadful poison was produced which Lord Shiva drank much to the relief of the Gods and Demons.
Due to Vishnu's continued encouragement, gods and demons continued churning the sea. Then a horse by name
Uchaishravas, Kalpavriksha having the power to grant what is wished, and
Kamdhenu and other celestial articles took shape. When the sea continued to be churned the Apsara
damsels were born.
After that a surprising spectacle appeared. In the midst of the waves of the sea
of milk, a goddess with heavenly looks came into view. She was standing on a fully blossomed lotus. Wearing a lotus garland in the neck,
she was holding a lotus in her hand. Her appearance was most attractive. She,
who was radiantly smiling, was Lakshmi herself.
The sages began reciting hymns in praise of her.
Gandharvas sang. Apsaras danced. The elephants on either side sprinkled sacred
holy Ganga water on the goddess and bathed her. Because the elephants sprinkled holy water on her, she acquired the name of
Gajalakshmi. Because she was born in the sea of milk, she was called Samudratanya. The king of the sea appeared in his natural form and comforted
Lakshmi as a daughter. He presented her with attractive clothes and jewels. He
handed to her a garland of lotus flowers. While everybody was looking in surprise,
Lakshmi put the garland around the neck of Vishnu and occupied his chest. When
she looked at Indra kindly, he acquired an extraordinary radiance.
gods and demons continued to churn the ocean for Amrut or nectar,
Finally Dhanavantri emerged carrying a jar of the elixir
(ambrosia). Both the Asuras and the Devas wanted the ambrosia, but
finally Vishnu with a slight of hand managed to give the immortal
nectar to the Gods and the Asuras where defeated. Thus the
churning of the ocean resulted in the immortality of the Devas and
was the reason for Lakshmi's emergence.
DHANVANTRI WITH THE NECTAR
Another very interesting
story about this day is of the sixteen year old son of King Hima. As per
his horoscope he was doomed to die by a snake-bite on the fourth day of
his marriage. On that particular fourth day of his marriage his young
wife did not allow him to sleep. She laid all the ornaments and lots of
gold and silver coins in a big heap at the entrance of her husbandís
boudoir and lighted innumerable lamps all over the place. And she went
on telling stories and singing songs. When Yam, the god of Death arrived
there in the guise of a Serpent his eyes got blinded by that dazzle of
those brilliant lights and he could not enter the Princeís chamber. So
he climbed on top of the heap of the ornaments and coins and sat there
whole night listening to the melodious songs. In the morning he quietly
Thus the young wife
saved her husband from the clutches of death. Since then this day of
Dhanteras came to be known as the day of "YAMADEEPDAAN" and
lamps are kept burning throughout the night in reverential adoration to
Yam, the god of Death.
falls on the thirteenth day of the month of Ashwin. The word "Dhan"
means wealth. As such this day of the five-day Diwali festival has a
great importance for the rich mercantile community of Western India.
Houses and Business premises are renovated and decorated. Entrances are
made colourful with lovely traditional motifs of Rangoli designs to
welcome the Goddess of wealth and prosperity. To indicate her
long-awaited arrival, small footprints are drawn with rice flour and
vermilion powder all over the houses. Lamps are kept burning all through
the nights. Believing this day to be auspicious women purchase some gold
or silver or at least one or two new utensils. "Lakshmi-Puja"
is performed in the evenings when tiny diyas of clay are lighted to
drive away the shadows of evil spirits. "Bhajans"-devotional
songs- in praise of Goddess Laxmi are sung and "Naivedya" of
traditional sweets is offered to the Goddess. There is a peculiar custom
in Maharashtra to lightly pound dry coriander seeds with jaggery and
offer as Naivedya.
In villages cattles are
adorned and worshipped by farmers as they form the main source of their
income. In south cows are offered special veneration as they are
supposed to be the incarnation of Goddess Lakshmi and therefore they are
adorned and worshipped on this day.