kolam2Starting with Dhan Teras, the Diwali festival stretches into five days, with the actual Diwali day falling right in the middle of it – on the third day.

Legends, stories, teachings, preachings, and more surround each of the day’s stories of Diwali. (Check link below)

But first it’s important to know that these five days not only straddle a month change but (according to some communities) also a change in the year.

The first three days are the last three days of the old year. The fourth day – the day after Diwali – heralds a brand new year where you’ve left the darkness behind and only the light of knowledge and prosperity shines ahead.

Here are the five days

Dhan Teras – The thirteenth day of the waning cycle of the moon (First day of the festival)

Naraka Chaturdashi – The Fourteenth day (second day)kolam4

Diwali – This is actually a No-Moon day, the darkest day of the year, also the last day of the year. On this day, the Hindus rise early before dawn and have a bath, after which the prayers are offered to the deity in the house. The celebrations begin after that. Close and
extended family are greeted and gifts and sweets exchanged with greetings of Happy Diwali

New Year – If Diwali is the last day of the year, the darkest day of the year, then the next day logically heralds a new year. This is a new beginning, new hopes, new horizons.

Bhai Dooj – The second day of the new year, devoted to the brothers and sisters, a day when the brother visits the sister and she prays for his health and safety.

But what strings all this together is the beautiful Rangoli – the traditional pattern that is made on the floor by the Indian housewife. Every house creates this at their doorstep and this is the time when the best and the artistic showcase their skills.

But the Rangoli has  a deeper significance besides just the decorative value.

Traditionally in South India especially, called the Kolam, it was made of powdered rice flour. Early morning the housewife would rise and after bathing would decorate the porch of the cottage with the Rangoli pattern. It was supposed to be a prayer in art form. (Isn’t that a beautiful thought?)

There’s more. As the day dawned birds, insects and small animals would come to the porch to peck at or lick away the bits of rice flour. The wind would blow some of it away and it would merge with the surrounding soil in its biodegradable form, fertilising the earth around the porch.

By the time it was night it would be all gone. The next morning the porch would have none of the rice powder and the housewife just sweep the porch clean of leaves and dust and begin her prayer in art once again. All this, knowing it was a matter of time before it was consumed by Nature, thus continuing the cycle of life and death, of creation and destruction.

And this is the message that a design in powder brings to us:  life is but ephemeral.  It’s here today, gone tomorrow. Everything perishes. Every day is a new beginning and in creating these meditative patterns of prayer in art, we are but to live in the moment and leave the rest to Nature.

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Here are some interesting links for further reading:
The five days of Diwali

The significance of the Rangoli

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