Dhanteras is the first day that marks the festival of Diwali in India. This year it is on November 13th, 2020.
It is celebrated on the thirteenth lunar day of Krishna Paksha (dark fortnight) in the Hindu calendar month of Kartik. Dhanvantari, who is also worshipped on the occasion of Dhanteras, is considered the God of Ayurveda who imparted the wisdom of Ayurveda for the betterment of mankind, and to help rid it of the suffering of disease.
The Indian ministry of Ayurveda, Yoga and Naturopathy, Unani, Siddha and Homeopathy, announced its decision to observe Dhanteras, as the “National Ayurveda Day”, which was first observed on 28 October 2016. Usually, Gujarati families will enjoy a meal of daal baath and malpura to ring in the new year.
Vasubaras marks the beginning of the celebration of Diwali festival. On Vasubaras, the Cow and her calf are worshipped. The Cow holds a very sacred place in the Vedic Mythology. Referred to as “Gau Mata”, she is worshipped and nurtured with the utmost respect. “Gau Mata” and her Prasad “Pancha Gavya”, or “Panchamrut”, are frequently used in all Hindu celebrations. Vasubaras is followed by Dhanteras.
Dhanteras is the worship of lord Dhanvantari. Lord Dhanvantari, according to Hindu Mythology, emerged during Samudra Manthan, holding a Kalasha full of Amrit (an Ayurvedic herbal mix) in one hand and the sacred text about Ayurveda in the other hand. He is considered to be the Vaidya of Gods.
The festival is celebrated as “Lakshmi Puja” Which is performed in the evenings when lamps of clay (Diyas) are lit. Bhajan’s devotional songs in praise of Goddess Lakshmi, are sung and “Naivedya” of traditional sweets is offered to the Goddess. A peculiar custom in Maharashtra exists where people lightly pound dry coriander seeds (Dhane in Marathi for Dhanatrayodashi) with jaggery and offer the mixture as Naivedya.
On Dhanteras, homes that have not yet been cleaned in preparation for Diwali are thoroughly cleansed and whitewashed, and Lord Dhanvantari, the god of health and ayurveda, is worshiped in the evening. The main entrance are decorated with colorful lanterns, holiday lights and traditional motifs of Rangoli designs are made to welcome the Goddess of Wealth and Prosperity. To indicate her long-awaited arrival, small footprint’s are drawn with rice flour and vermilion powder all over the houses. On the night of Dhanteras, diyas (lamps) are ritually kept burning all through the nights in honor of Lakshmi and Dhanvantari.
On this day, Hindus consider it as an extremely auspicious day to make new purchases, especially gold or silver articles and new utensils. It is believed that new “Dhan” (wealth) or some form of precious metal is a sign of good luck. In modern times, Dhanteras has come to be known as the most auspicious occasion for buying gold, silver and other metals especially kitchenware. The day also sees heavy purchases of appliances and automobiles.
On this night, the lights are set out every night both in the sky lamps and as offerings at the base of a Tulsi plant and also in the form of diyas, which are placed in front of the doorways of homes. This light is an offering to Yama, the Host of Death, to avert untimely death during the time of the Diwali festival. This day is a celebration aimed at increasing wealth and prosperity. Dhanteras engages themes of cleansing, renewal, and the securing of auspiciousness in the form of Lakshmi.
In the villages, cattle are adorned and worshiped by farmers as they form the main source of their income.
On Dhanteras, special offering called Naivedya is prepared for Goddess Lakshmi and an elaborate meal is cooked at home as part of the beginning of Diwali festivities. Some dishes/foods are typical of Dhanteras that are prepared to bring in good fortune. In Eastern and parts of North India, whole wheat or atte ka halwa is made in the evening and offered to Goddess Lakshmi. Made in clarified butter and milk.
Long-grain cracked wheat sauteed with ghee and sugar known as “lapsi” is very popular in several parts of the country, and may be accompanied by a curry of yard-long beans, that symbolize longevity.
In Maharashtra, as part of the Naivedya offerings, dry coriander seeds are mixed with jaggery and offered as prasad to Goddess Lakshmi.
Panchamrit, a holy preparation made by mixing honey, curd, milk, ghee and sugar is prepared for the evening Puja and is distributed as prasad.
Boondi Laddoo, a favourite of Lord Ganesha and a symbol of celebrations is another important sweet which is in the offering list during Dhanteras.
Kheer or rice pudding made with jaggery, milk and rice is considered auspicious and is a must have during the Dhanteras Puja.