On the auspicious day of Deepavali, people wake up early and begin their day with a warm oil bath before sunrise. They then wear new clothes, light candles, burst firecrackers and enjoy sweets with their loved ones. Though Deepavali is celebrated in South India a day ahead of Diwali in the northern states, this year, it falls on the same date – October 27.
“No Tamil Deepavali is complete without the ritualistic early morning oil bath where the eldest member of the family or the lady of the household puts three drops of sesame oil (with a gentle massage) on the heads of all family members before sunrise. Then a mix of herb powders or shikakai is used to wash off the oil. The bath is termed holy because it is considered as sacred as bathing in the river Ganges, which is why relatives and friends exchange pleasantries asking ‘Ganga Snanam Aacha?’ (Have you taken the holy bath?),” notes Chennai-based Padma Mathrubootham.
While in the northern regions, people consider Diwali as the day Lord Rama, Sita and Lakshmana return from 14 years of exile to a huge welcome with fireworks and rows of lights, in the southern regions except the state of Kerala, Deepavali is celebrated to mark the death of asura Narakasura at the hands of Lord Krishna. In Kerala, it is believed that King Mahabali died on the day, which is why it is not celebrated.
As per mythology, goddess Mahalaxmi is said to have hid behind a sesame tree, which is why sesame oil is used for the oil bath, explains writer Malika Guru. Symbolically, an oil bath implies new beginnings by removing egos, fights, self-esteem and jealousy. Additionally, when it comes to health and well-being, sesame oil is considered beneficial for reducing heat from the body.
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Additionally, it is said that applying oil not only moisturises the body, but also cleanses the skin of environmental pollutants and toxins, removing dead cells as well. It is also said to increase circulation of blood.
Massaging the head with warm oil relieves stress and calms the mind, which is said to stimulate the nerves and also aid in sensory motor integration.
Naraka Chaturdashi or Deepavali precedes the Amavasai day. One day before the festival, the stove top is cleaned, and then it is smeared with lime. Religious symbols are drawn on it.
“Turmeric and rice powder are kept in the vessel in which the oil is to be heated on Deepavali. Betel stem, turmeric and carom seeds are put in oil and heated up. After offering it to goddess Lakshmi, it is to be put on one’s hair. This is religiously carried on in many families,” Guru tells indianexpress.com.
In the coastal part of Karnataka, along with the traditional oil bath, people also worship King Bali who was crushed by Vaman. This ritual is known as Balipadyami. Farmers, in a boisterous celebration, offer food around paddy fields.
In Andhra Pradesh and Telangana, traditionally Deepavali marks the closing of accounts for businesses dependent on the agrarian cycle. Goddess Lakshmi, who symbolises wealth and prosperity, is worshipped during this time and people offer special ‘puja’ on the occasion.