Dahnteras marks the beginning of the festival of lights. Primarily celebrated in the Northern and Western part of India, this festival is also called as Dhanatrayodashi. Dhan means wealth and Trayodashi means thirteenth. According to the Hindu Calendar, Dhanteras is celebrated on the thirteenth day of the month of Ashvin. So it is literally translated as wealth on the thirteenth day. Since this is the night before Diwali, it is also called ‘Chhoti Diwali‘.
According to the Hindu mythology, Lakshmi is regarded as the Goddess who provides prosperity and wealth and Kuber is regarded as the Lord of assets and wealth. On Dhanteras people offer their prayers to Goddess Lakshmi and Lord Kuber to receive blessings in the form of wealth and prosperity. Buying precious metals and utensils is considered to bring good luck and hence the market has some interesting offers on this day.
Dhanteras is widely celebrated in the business community. It is regarded as a very auspicious occasion and generally lots of business men and traders launch their new ventures on this day. Houses and work places are decorated, rangoli designs are drawn at the door step and miniature footprints of the goddess are made on the pathways to mark the long awaited arrival of Goddess Lakshmi. In the evening, lanterns and clay lamps are lit to drive away shadows of the evil spirits. Lakshmi Puja is performed and bhajans and prayers in praise of the Goddess are also recited.
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.
Although prayers are offered to the goddess Lakshmi on Dhanteras, the story behind its celebration deals with the Hindu God of death, Yama. Legend has it that the horoscope of the 16 year old son of King Hima was predicted, and he was destined to die by a snake bite on fourth day after his marriage. The young wife however refused to accept this fate of her husband so 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 lamps and the young wife stayed awake all night singing songs and telling stories. When Yama, the god of Death, arrived at the prince’s doorstep in the guise of a Serpent, his eyes were dazzled and blinded by the brilliance of the lamps and the jewellery. 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. At sunrise, 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.
Another legend says that in the cosmic battle between the gods and the demons when both churned the ocean for Amrit or divine nectar, Dhanavantri – the physician of the gods and an incarnation of Vishnu – emerged carrying a pot of the elixir. So, according to this mythological tale, the word Dhanteras comes from the name Dhanavantri, the divine doctor.