Dhanteras marks the auspicious first day of the five-day Diwali Festival celebrated in India. Also known as, ‘Dhanatrayodashi’ or ‘Dhanvantari Trayodashi’, it is actually the thirteenth lunar day of Krishna Paksha, in the Hindu calendar month of Ashwin/Kartik. The word ‘Dhan’ literally means wealth; while, ‘Teras’ means 13th day as per Hindu calendar.
Dhanteras is celebrated with great pomp & show, especially among the trading community. At dusk, on this day, Hindus bathe themselves & offer their prayers with lighted diyas (oil lamps) to Lord Yama Raja – the God of Death. This is done to ask for security from untimely & inconvenient deaths. Obeisance to Lord Yama is offered close to the holy Tulsi tree. In the evening, people worship Goddess Lakshmi for prosperity, along with Lord Kuber as the treasurer of wealth & bestowal of riches.
Story & Significance:
The story behind Dhanteras begins with the legendary tale of King Hima’s 16 year old son. According to horoscope predictions, the boy would apparently die on the fourth day of his marriage by snake-bite.
When the fateful day did arrive, his newly-wed wife did not allow him to sleep. She laid out all her ornaments and lots of gold & silver coins in a heap at the entrance of their sleeping chamber. She also lit lamps throughout the place. After that, she narrated stories & sang songs to keep her husband from falling asleep. The next day, when Yama, the God of Death, arrived at the prince’s doorstep in the guise of a Serpent, his eyes were blinded by the brilliance of the lamps & the jewelry. Yama, ultimately, could not enter the Prince’s chamber. Henceforth, he climbed on top of the heap of gold coins & sat there the entire night listening to the stories and songs. In the morning, he silently went away. The young prince was, thus, saved from the clutches of death by his clever new bride. This day came to be celebrated as Dhanteras.
According to another popular myth, during the event of ‘Samudramanthan’ when the Gods and demons churned the ocean for Amrita or nectar, Dhanvantari (the physician of the Gods and an incarnation of Vishnu) emerged carrying a jar of the elixir on the day of Dhanteras.
How Dhanteras is celebrated:
To celebrate this auspicious day, various household & business holders decorate their premises with colorful motifs – also known as Rangoli. These are beautiful designs that are hand painted to welcome the Goddess of Wealth – Lakshmi. Lamps, candles and Diyas are lit. The day is also considered auspicious to buy gold. Women deck themselves up in new clothes & head to the jewelry stores to purchase gold or silver. Puja is performed in the evening in houses to ward off evil spirits.
Many people purchase silver idols of Lakshmi and Ganesha on this occasion. It is believed – that placing these idols at a proper place results in heightened wealth, success and growth.
Dhanteras and Bengalis:
The cultural vibrancy in India spreads far and wide. Till very recently, Dhanteras was not celebrated with such fancy in West Bengal, as it is celebrated today. Prominently, Bengalis are unprejudiced & welcoming. While Dhanteras may be a North Indian custom, Bengalis celebrate it with equal religiosity. The craze for buying gold & silver among Bengali women bears testimony to this.