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Decoding Dhanteras: Ode to the glitter of gold

Decoding Dhanteras: Ode to the glitter of gold
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After almost 20 days of paying obeisance to mother of goddess Durga, now it’s time to welcome goddess of prosperity Lakshmi with the celebration of Dhanteras.

Dhanteras is the first day of celebrations during the festival of Diwali. This day is also referred to as Dhanwantari Triodasi or Dhantrayodashi. The festival of Dhanteras falls in the month of Kartik (Oct-Nov) on the thirteenth day of the dark fortnight. This auspicious day is celebrated two days before the festival of lights, Diwali.

‘Dhan’ refers to wealth while trayodashi means 13th day. Therefore, Dhanteras is literally translated as wealth on the 13th day. On this day, prayers are offered to the goddess Lakshmi, asking her for blessings in the form of wealth. She is also asked to provide prosperity in all business endeavours for the coming year. Dhanteras is considered a very auspicious day and is celebrated with great pomp and gaiety, especially by members of the trading community.

Although prayers are offered to the goddess Lakshmi on Dhanteras, the legend behind its celebration deals with the Hindu God of death, Yama. Legend has it that the 16-year-old son of King Hima was destined to die on the fourth day after his marriage. This was foretold by an astrologer as per the boy’s horoscope. However, his wife refused to accept this fate for her husband.

On the fourth day of their marriage, she would not allow her husband to sleep. She laid all the ornaments of the house, as well as a horde of silver and gold coins at the entrance of her husband’s chamber. The entire room was brightly lit with a large number of lamps and the young wife too stayed awake all night singing songs and telling stories.

Yama arrived at the chamber in the guise of a serpent, in order to claim his victim. However, the dazzling brilliance of the lights blinded him and made it impossible for him to enter the Prince’s room. He climbed on top of the ornaments placed at the entrance and spent the night enchanted by the melody of the songs the wife sang. When morning came, he left quietly, without killing the Prince. Thus, the wife was successful in saving her husband. In this regard, Dhanteras is also referred to as Yamadeepdan.

On Yamadeepdan, lamps are left burning throughout the night as a form of reverence to Yama. It is also the night when people light lamps and float them down a river, in memory of their ancestors.
Since this day is associated with wealth, business premises as well as houses are renovated and decorated to welcome the goddess of wealth. The entrance to a house or an office premises will be beautifully decorated with a rangoli artwork that comprises of traditional motifs. To herald her arrival, miniature footprints are drawn all over the house using vermillion and rice flour. Lamps are kept burning throughout the night.

Since Dhanteras is considered to be auspicious with regard to wealth and prosperity, women in the household make it a point to buy articles or ornaments of gold or silver on this day. If this is not possible, women will at least buy a few new utensils for the home. This is because the purchase of new dhan, especially in the form of a precious metal is said to bring good luck to the home.

On the evening of Dhanteras, a Lakshmi puja is performed to ask for prosperity in the coming year. Also, tiny clay diyas or lamps are lit in order to ward off evil spirits. Devotional songs called bhajans are sung in praise of the goddess. In Maharashtra, there is an added custom of Naivedya. In this custom, a mixture of pounded coriander seeds and jaggery is prepared as a traditional sweet and offered to the Goddess. In Southern India, cows are adorned with ornaments and worshipped on this day as they are considered to be the reincarnation of the goddess Lakshmi.
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