Diwali is one of the most auspicious festivals and celebrated by the Hindu community with great pomp and gaiety. Though fireworks, sweets, decorating the house, and exchanging gifts and wishes among family and friends define Diwali; however, the forms of celebration vary from one state and region to the other.
In North India, Diwali is celebrated to welcome the homecoming of Lord Rama. Lord Rama was the prince of Ayodhya who was exiled for a period of 14 years. During the end of his exile, Rama's wife Sita was abducted by Lanka's demon king Ravana. After defeating and killing Ravana and freeing his wife, Rama returned to Ayodhya with Sita and brother Lakshman. People of Ayodhya celebrated the return of Rama by lighting the town with diyas and bursting firecrackers. The tradition has continued in the North Indian states till the present time. The Diwali celebrations begin days in advance with people buying sweets, firecrackers, decoration items and other products for Diwali. Shops begin to wear a festive look a few days before Diwali. On Diwali, shopkeepers keep their shops open into the afternoon with the intention that good sales on that day would lead to a year of all round prosperity. People on the day exchange sweets, burst firecrackers and decorate their homes. In the evening, people worship Lord Ganesha and Goddess Lakshmi for wealth and prosperity.
In West Bengal people worship Goddess Lakshmi five days after Dussehra and not on Diwali. On Diwali night Goddess Kali is worshiped. People decorate their houses with Diyas which are also placed at the doorstep. Kali puja is the second biggest festival in the state and involves feasting, bursting firecrackers, family gatherings etc. One thing that sets Bengal apart from other states is the lighting of diyas on long poles so that one's ancestors can easily find the way to heaven. In Assam, apart from the usual celebrations, people decorate their doorways with flower garlands that are made with mango leaves and marigolds. People also decorate their doorways with rangoli to welcome guests to their homes. Here people perform chopda pujan, which is mainly the veneration of their business books.
Here Diwali is an elaborate affair and the celebrations begin days in advance.
In Gujarat, the streets wear a festive look as people throng to the markets to buy sweets, crackers and decorative items. Here Diwali corresponds with the Gujarati New Year and as such houses are embellished and lit with beautiful diyas. Rangolis, which are an integral part of the celebrations, can be seen on the doorways of many homes. People also create footprints so as to welcome Goddess Lakshmi to their homes. Any new project, venture or occasion undertaken on this day is considered auspicious. So, people undertake activities such as opening of offices and shops, buying a new property or vehicle or even announcing marriages.
Diwali is a four-day festival in the state of Maharashtra. The first day is known as Vasubaras. On this day people perform an aarti in front of a cow or a calf. The following day is celebrated as Dhanteras. Narakchaturdashi is the third day of Diwali. People wake up early in the morning, take an oil bath and then visit a temple to perform puja. Following this a feast, faral, is taken. The fourth and final day is the worship of Goddess Lakshmi.
Naraka chaturdashi is the main day of the Diwali and commemorates the conquering of Asura Naraka. People begin the festivities a day before the main festival. The first thing people do is to thoroughly clean the oven and smear it with lime. It is then filled with water which is used for the bath to be undertaken the next day. People wash the house. Following this it is decorated with rangoli. On the main day, people take a bath which is done before sunrise. In Karnataka one can witness the Harikatha in many areas. This is a melodious musical narration or Lord Hari's story where prayers are offered to Satyabhama. It is believed that Satyabhama, who was the consort of Lord Krishna, had killed Narakasura.
Diwali is also celebrated in different religions such as Sikhism, Jainism and Buddhism
In the Sikh religion, Diwali is celebrated as Bandi Chhor Divas. On this day, Guru Har Gobind was released by the Mughals from prison during the reign of Jahangir. However, the guru refused to leave until and unless the other 52 Hindu kings were also released. The Mughal relented and the Guru along with the prisoners reached the Golden Temple in Amritsar. Since that day, Sikhs celebrate Bandi Chhor Divas which is marked by fireworks and other festivities.
In Nepal, the Newar people worship Lakshmi on this day. The Newar are Buddhists but they worship many deities. These people celebrate Diwali for five days. The Buddhists also celebrate the day as Ashok Vijaydashami as it was on this day that the Mauryan Emperor Ashok gave up the path of violence and adopted the path of peace and also decided to convert to Buddhism.