Known as "deepavali" in the southern part of India, Diwali is more than a "festival of lights". The word "deepavali" is a Sanskrit word meaning "the array of lights". The festival is celebrated are slightly different from the customs followed in North India. Diwali falls on the fifteenth day of the dark fortnight of Ashwin, the seventh month according to the Hindu calendar. During Diwali, the entire country indulges in lighting candles and clay lamps. The women engaged in preparations and the kids engage in entertainment like busting crackers. The day before Diwali, women indulge in cleaning and decorating the house. In south India, Diwali is a four-day festival celebrated in commemoration of the victory of lord Krishna over the demon Naraka. Apart from the rituals, the celebration part is akin to that of North India. Bursting crackers is common to all parts of the country.
In the era of Lord Krishna, there was a cruel and powerful king named 'Narakasura', who captivated thousands on inhabitants. Lord Krishna defeated and killed him and smudged his blood on his forehead on returning home the next morning, before sunrise. Narakasura's mother declared that the death of her son is a conquest of good over evil and that it should not be day of regret, rather a day to rejoice. Therefore, when Lord Krishna returned he applied scented oil all over his body before taking bath. Since then, on the occasion of Diwali, the people of south India wake up before sunrise and take an early bath.
Another legend is of King Bali, who was extremely powerful and ambitious while at the same time, equally benevolent. Even the Gods started fearing him and requested lord Vishnu to stop him from possible attack on heaven. Lord Vishnu incarnated as a dwarf Brahmin called Vamana, paid a visit to King Bali and asked for three feet of land, which he could cover with three steps. Bali agreed to it, thinking it was a minor request, but little did he know about the consequences. Once Bali granted him the wish, Vamana grew up and became a gigantic figure that he covered the earth in his first step, heaven and netherworld in second step and there was nothing left for his third step. On asking for his third step of land, Bali bowed down to offer his head as the third place to keep his promise. Lord Vishnu stepped on his head and pushed him to "Patal Lok". But Lord Vishnu was impressed by his generosity and his adherence to his words, so he granted him the blessing of reappearing on earth to spread knowledge and also that he will be remembered for his kindness.
The eldest of the family members applies sesame oil on the heads of all the other members of the family. The bath begins with the youngest one in the family, with the breaking of bitter fruits before bath and the application of kumkum paste. The fruit signifies the head of Narakasura and the kumkum paste the blood. People decorate their houses with rangoli, beetle leaves, flowers, essense sticks, etc. and also indulge in the preparation of traditional sweets typical to the regions of South India.
The evenings are characterized by the lighting of candles to welcome Goddess Lasksmi, which is followed in north India as well. Before bursting fireworks, they offer a special puja to their ancestors as they believe that their souls depart on Diwali. The rest of the evening is drowned in the noise of crackers and merry making.