Diwali is a five-day festival. Anecdotes from the Puranas abound for each of the days. Diwali can be observed by illuminating hundreds of candles in different parts of the temple and offering various preparations of food to the Deity. This ceremony was observed by the inhabitants of Ayodhya while Lord Rama was in exile, away from His kingdom. The joyful day on which Lord Rama returned is observed as Diwali, or Dipavali (“dipa” means candles, and “vali” means numerous.) During a different era, this was also the day on which Lord Krishna performed His childhood pastime of breaking the pots of yogurt and letting Himself be bound by Mother Yashoda.
The Five Days of Diwali (Dipavali)
( Taken from http://www.krishna.com/node/683 )
(Disclaimer: The following article was compiled by our editors from various sources and reflects the common lore associated with Diwali. More research will have to be done to find scriptural references for these stories.)
The First Day of Diwali
The first day of Diwali is called Dhanvantari Trayodasi, also Dhan Theras. It is the thirteenth lunar day of Krishna Paksh (the dark fortnight) of the month of Kartika. On this day, Lord Dhanvantari appeared, delivering Ayurvedic medicine for mankind.
This day marks the beginning of Diwali celebrations. On this day at sunset, Hindus bathe and offer oil lamps with prasada (sanctified food) to Yamaraja (the Lord of Death) and pray for protection from untimely death.
The Second Day of Diwali
The second day of Diwali is called Naraka Chaturdasi. It is the fourteenth lunar day of the dark fortnight of the month of Kartika and the eve of Diwali. On this day, Lord Krishna destroyed the demon Narakasura and liberated the 16,000 princesses which the demon held captive.
The Third Day of Diwali (actual Diwali)
This is the actual day of Diwali, the Hindu New Year, when worship unto Mother Lakshmi is performed. Hindus cleanse themselves and join with their families and their Pandit (priest) and worship the divine Goddess Lakshmi, the consort of Lord Vishnu, to achieve the blessings of wealth and prosperity, and triumph of good over evil and light over darkness. This is also the day on which Lord Rama returned to Ayodhya, having successfully rescued Sita and defeated the demon, Ravana. (See: “Origins of Diwali,” below.)
The Fourth Day of Diwali
On this day, Govardhana Puja is performed. Many thousands of years ago, Lord Krishna caused the people of Vraja to worship this sacred hill. From then on, every year, Hindus worship Govardhana to honour that first Puja done by the people of Vraja.
It is written in the Ramayana that when the bridge to Lanka was being built by the Vanara army, Hanuman (a divine loyal servant of Lord Rama possessing enormous strength) brought a mountain as material to help with the construction of the bridge. When a call was given that enough materials had already been obtained, Hanuman placed the mountain down before he reached the construction site. Due to lack of time, he did not return the mountain to its original place.
The deity presiding over this mountain spoke to Hanuman asking of his reason for leaving the mountain there. Hanuman replied that the mountain should remain there until the age of Dvapara when Lord Rama incarnates as Lord Krishna, who will shower His grace on the mountain, and will instruct that the mountain be worshiped not only in that age but in ages to come. This deity whom Hanuman spoke to was none other than Govardhana (an incarnation of Lord Krishna), who manifested Himself in the form of the mountain.
To fulfill this decree, Govardhan Puja was performed and this celebration is continued to this day.
Furthermore, Bali Maharaja was defeated on this day by Lord Krishna’s dwarf brahmana incarnation, Vamanadeva.
The Fifth Day of Diwali
The fifth day of the Diwali is called Bhratri Dooj. This is the day after Govardhana Puja is performed and normally two days after Diwali day. It is a day dedicated to sisters. We have heard about Raksha Bandhan (brothers’ day). Well this is sisters’ day.
Many moons ago, in the Vedic era, Yama (Yamaraja, the Lord of Death) visited his sister, Yamuna, on this day. He gave his sister a Vardhan (boon) that whoever visits her on this day shall be liberated from all sins. They will achieve moksha, or liberation.
From then on, brothers visit their sisters on this day to enquire of their welfare, and many faithful bathe in the holy waters of the Yamuna river.
This day marks the end of the five days of Diwali celebrations.
This day is also known as Bhai Fota among Bengalis. Bhai Fota is an event especially among Bengalis when the sister prays for her brother’s safety, success and well being.
The Origin of Diwali
According to the epic Ramayana, Diwali commemorates the return of Lord Rama, an incarnation of Krishna and the eldest son of King Dasharath of Ayodhya, from his 14-year exile with Sita and Lakshman after killing Ravana, a demon king. The people of Ayodhya illuminated the kingdom with earthen diyas (oil lamps) and fireworks to celebrate the return of their king.
In rural areas of India, Diwali, which occurs at the end of a growing season, marks a Harvest Festival. Harvests normally spell prosperity. After reaping their harvest, farmers celebrate with joy and offer praises to God for granting them a good crop.
At the time of the reign of Emperor Prithu, for example, there was a worldwide famine. He ordered that all available cultivatable lands be ploughed. When the rains came, the land became very fertile and grains were planted. The harvest provided food not only to feed all of India, but for all civilisation at the time. This harvest was close to Diwali time and was a good reason to celebrate Diwali with great joy and merriment by a wider community.
When Lord Krishna destroyed Narakasura on the day before Diwali, the news of it travelled very rapidly throughout the land. It gave people who were already in a joyful mood another reason for celebrating Diwali with greater pride and elaboration.
In the Adi Parva of the Mahabarata, the Pandavas returned from the forest during Diwali time. Once more, the celebrations extended beyond the boundaries of India.