The day before Diwali is celebrated as Chhoti Diwali or Naraka Chaturdasi on a smaller scale, with fewer lights lit and bursting of crackers. The morning after Choti Diwali, women of the house make beautifully-hued rangoli in the courtyard, tiny footprints of rice paste being a special feature. In Hindu homes a ritual puja to Goddess Lakshmi and Lord Rama is performed in the evening. Bhajans or devotional songs are sung in their honour along with aarti. Soon after, diyas are lit in and around the house; at the entrance, near the Tulsi plant. Lights festoon houses and crackers are burst with fervent enthusiasm.
Legends behind Chhoti Diwali
The famed story reveals that demon king Narakasura, ruler of Pragjyotishpur (a province to the South of Nepal) after defeating Lord Indra snatched away the brilliant earrings of Aditi, the Mother Goddess (mother of the heavenly deites and a relative of Satyabhama, Lord Krishna's wife) and imprisoned sixteen thousand daughters of saints in his harem.
Satyabhama was infuriated by Narakasura's malice towards women, and appealed to Krishna for a chance to destroy Narakasura. The legend endorses that the demon was cursed to be killed by a woman. Krishna granted Satyabhama the boon to fight Narakasura and she entered the battle field with Krishna as the charioteer. During the war Krishna empowered Satyabhama to slay the demon and rescue the imprisoned women along with recovering Mother Goddess Aditi’s earrings. After Narakasura was beheaded, Lord Krishna married all the sixteen thousand women to spare them disgrace.
Bhudevi, the mother of slain Narakasura, declared that his death should not be mourned but be an occasion to rejoice. Since then, Deepavali is celebrated every year with joyous abandon and fire works.
As a symbol of triumph Lord Krishna smeared his forehead with the demon king's blood, returning home in the early morning of Narak Chaturdashi. The womenfolk massaged his body with oil and gave him a bath to wash away the filth. Ever since, the custom of bathing before sunrise on this day became a traditional practice, particularly in Maharashtra.
In South India, victory of the divine over mundane is celebrated in a peculiar fashion. People wake up before sunrise prepare a paste by mixing kumkum in oil, symbolizing blood and after breaking a bitter fruit symbolising the head of the demon King smashed by Krishna, apply it on their foreheads. Soon after, they have an oil bath using sandalwood paste.
In Maharashtra as well, traditional early baths with oil and uptan are a `must'. All through the ritual deafening sounds of crackers and fireworks are prevalent so that children enjoy bathing. Later steamed vermicelli with milk and sugar or puffed rice with curd is served.
This day is also famed as Bali Pratipada. Pratiprada literally means ‘below the opponent's foot’. According to myth, Bali was an immensely powerful king. When God felt that King Bali was becoming too mighty, Vishnu, incarnating as Vaman Avatara, appeared in his court. The dwarf Brahmin asked for land he could cover in three paces. King Bali readily granted the Brahmin’s request since he was famed for philanthropy. Precisely then, the Brahmin converted into Lord Vishnu, covering heaven with his first step and the earth with his second. With his third step Lord Vishnu covered king Bali's head and pushed him underground. Simultaneously impressed with King Bali's generosity, Lord Vishnu granted him the lamp of knowledge and allowed him to visit his kingdom once a year.
Ever since, King Bali’s death was commemorated as celebrations of Chhoti Diwali.