Naraka-chaturdaśī & Dīpāvali: Origin and significance

In all this chaos, there sprouts some doubts about the festivals. If Naraka-chaturdaśī is celebrated on the occasion of Sri Krishna killing Naraka-asura, then, why only the killing of this particular asura is celebrated?

By Srinivas Jammalamadaka, Assistant Professor, Department of Bharatiya Darshan, Kavikulaguru Kalidas Sanskrit University, Ramtek


Bhārat, the land of Sanātana dharma, for all bhāratīyas across the globe, has many rituals, festivals, practices, etc., as part of life. All rituals etc., have an origin, multi-layered purpose, and significance to them. Dīpāvali/Diwali and Naraka-chaturdaśī are two such festivals, which can be considered as the main ornament in the necklace of festivals. Over a period of time, a structural dismantling of every sanātana practice is being done intentionally. Branding dīpavali as Jashn-e-riwaz, or calling it a celebration of Light, ladoos, and, Love, branding it as a festival causing air pollution, etcetera. An attempt is also made to disassociate the festival with sanātana dharma and further propagate this festival has nothing to do with sanātana dharma like they are trying to do with yoga, by portraying ladies without tilakam/bindi carrying diyas on advertisements on the occasion of Diwali are some such attempts. It is high time that we should try to know what all these sanātana practices are up to. Are they so futile, that they can be distorted or misinterpreted so easily? every sanātanī should ask questions to themselves and try finding answers about the origin and significance of all our practices.

Adhikaraṇa Method

In the present exercise, I try to explain the origin and significance of Narakāchaturdaśī and dīpavalī in this essay using the adhikaraṇa method from pūrva mīmamsā śāstra. Adhikaraṇa is a scientific method of proving or explaining a topic. It is used in the commentaries of Jaiminīya mīmāmsā sūtras and commentaries on Bādarāyaṇa Brahma sūtras. An adhikaraṇa has six constituents –

 विषयो विशयश्चैव पूर्वपक्षस्तथोत्तरम्। प्रयोजनं सङ्गतिश्च शास्त्रेऽधिकरणं स्मृतम्॥

1. Sangati (Context for discussion)

2. Viṣaya (subject of discussion)

3. Viśaya/Saṃśaya (doubt/contradiction)

4. Pūrvapakṣa (preliminary understanding)

5. Siddhānta (Primary/final understanding)

6. Prayojanam (Purpose of discussion)

In this manner, a discussion/explanation can be perfect and eliminate deviations, etc., of the main topic/point.


Every year when Naraka-chaturdaśī & Dīpāvali festivals are nearby, there comes some or the other controversy about bursting crackers, how to celebrate it in an eco-friendly manner, does celebrating Naraka-chaturdaśī, is a symbol of celebrating oppression on lower castes by upper caste? and, celebrities pop up giving unnecessary advice about how to celebrate Dīpāvali. On television and the internet, new advertisements pop up trying to say ‘Ramzan’ has ‘Ram’ in it and ‘Diwali’ has ‘Ali’ in it, and bhaichara is natural in India. And advice how Dīpāvali can be celebrated without crackers and help the environment etc. 


Naraka-chaturdaśī & Dīpāvali are two festivals that occur in a row and are celebrated grandly across the globe by Bhāratīyas. Naraka-chaturdaśī is celebrated on the fourteenth tithi of āśviyuja lunar month. And Dīpāvali on the amāvāsya (new moon) of āśviyuja lunar month.    


In all this chaos, there sprouts some doubts about the festivals. If Naraka-chaturdaśī is celebrated on the occasion of Sri Krishna killing Naraka-asura, then, why only the killing of this particular asura is celebrated? Sri Krishna has Killed many other asuras in his avatara. Why aren’t we celebrating the other asura-saṃhāras?

And in the story of Naraka-asura-vadha, some old films, depict that Sri Krishna was unconscious due to an astra deployed by Naraka-asura and Satyabhama, one of Sri Krishna’s wives, who was present at the war, took up the bow and killed Naraka-asura.

And coming to Dīpāvali, it is famous as the festival of lights. We decorate all our homes with dīpas. And Dīpārādhana (lighting Dīpa) is performed as a part of daily puja in the morning and in the evening. So, what could be the significance of lighting many Dīpas on this particular day?

Do we have any other purpose or origin for these festivals? Was my ultimate question.


The initial understanding (without research) was that it is a pure cultural festival. Naraka-asura is the metaphor for bad and evil. And Sri Krishna/Satyabhama killing him is a metaphor of good, divine winning over bad and evil.

Coming to Dīpāvali, the light of Dīpa is a metaphor for knowledge and the darkness of the new moon day is a metaphor for ignorance. So, by lighting many Dīpas it is a depiction of ignorance being diminished by knowledge.

But still, the origin and significance of these festivals are not clear.


Dharma sindhu is one among many popular dharma śāstra works. In this work, we find details of rituals of many auspicious days. Details of various vratas that are to be performed on particularly auspicious tithis (lunar day).

According to dharma sindhu, the fourteenth day of the second half (kriṣna pakṣa) of āśviyuja month, is called naraka chaturdaśī. There are five things that one has to perform on this day. They are –

  1. Tailābhyanga snānam
  2. Kārtika snānam
  3. Yama tarpaṇam
  4. Ulkā dānam & ulkā pradarśanam
  5. Dīpaprajvalanam

Tailābhyanga snānam

Taila means sesame oil, and abhyanga means the application of oil on head in such a way that the oil spreads all over the body, and when the oil is poured on the shoulders and massaged thoroughly, it is called abhyanga [1]. According to aṣṭānga hṛdaya of Srī Vāgbhaṭa (āyurveda text), abhyanga is part of daily routine. For a healthy routine, before bathing, one is advised to apply oil all over the body and do exercise. This is an advice from āyurveda. coming to dharma śāstra, in particular occasions, such as, birthdays or particular festivals it is part of the occasion. so, here it is called naimittika karma, which makes it compulsory practice for that day. Hence, if one does not do abhyanga snānam on naraka charturdaśī, he/she will acquire pāpam. That is why it is stated as – 

नरकभीरुभिः तैलेन अभ्यङ्गस्नानं कार्यम् (who fear naraka, should do abhyanga snānam (on narakachaturdaśī))[2]

Why sesame oil?

Sesame oil is considered to be the king of oils in Ayurveda. It has all the virtues of all other oils, and at the time of naraka chaturdaśī, winter starts in most parts of Bharat. A massage with sesame oil would generate the right amount of heat in the body and helps in maintaining optimal body temperature. 

After abhyangam, snanam or bath is to be done. Before bath, a small lump of mud which is taken by hala (plough), along with apāmārga(uttareṇī/achyranthes aspera) stem, should be stirred thrice in the water chanting –

सीतालोष्टसमायुक्त सकंटकदलान्वित। हर पापमपामार्ग भ्राम्यमाणः पुनःपुनः॥ (O apāmārga! With a lump of mud taken by hala, by stirring again and again in water, may diminish my pāpaṃ)  

After bath tilakadhāraṇam (applying tilakam on forehead) is to be done. After that nitya anuṣṭhānam (daily ritual) is to be performed.

Kārtika snānam

After nitya anuṣṭhānam, one should again bath. This is called Kārtika snānam or Ganga snānam in some parts of southern bharat . Kārtika snānam is also one kind of naimittika karma. Starting from āśviyuja śukla (first half) daśamī, ekādaśī or pūṇimā (full moon) until one month, i.e. kārtika pūrṇimā, every day after completing morning bath and nitya anuṣṭānam, one has to do kārtika snānam. This snānam is said to be done for anugraha of viṣṇu. The process –

  • give arghya (water) to viṣṇu by chanting – नमः कमलनाभाय नमस्ते जलशायिने। नमस्तेऽस्तु हृषीकेश गृहाणार्घ्यं नमोऽस्तु ते॥
  • then bath by chanting – कार्तिकेऽहं करिष्यामि प्रातःस्नानं जनार्दन। प्रीत्यर्थं तव देवेश दामोदर मया सह॥ ध्यात्वाऽहं त्वां च देवेश जलेऽस्मिन् स्नातुमुद्यतः। तव प्रसादात्पापं मे दामोदर विनश्यतु॥
  • then again give arghya two times by chanting – नित्ये नैमित्तिके कृष्ण कार्तिके पापनाशने। गृहाणार्घ्यं मया दत्तं राधया सहितो हरे। व्रतिनः कार्तिके मासि स्नातस्य विधिवन्मम। गृहाणार्घ्यं मया दत्तं राधया सहितो हरे॥

Who is not able to do kārtika snānam for said duration, due to various reasons, one can do at least three days. Who is not able to do three days, he/she should do kārtika snānam on naraka chaturdaśī, without fail. 

Yama Tarpaṇaṃ

After kārtika snānam, ine has to do yama tarpaṇaṃ. Tarpaṇaṃ is a kind of homage to devatas by presenting libations of water. Yama tarpaṇaṃ is performed while chanting 14 names of lord yama –

यमाय(1) धर्मराजाय(2) मृत्यवे(3) च् अंतकाय(4) च। वैवस्वताय(5) कालाय(6) सर्वभूतक्षयाय(7) च॥ औदुंबराय(8) धर्माय(9) नीलाय(10) परमेष्ठिने(11)। महोदराय(12) चित्राय(13) चित्रगुप्ताय(14) ते नमः॥

While presenting libations of water, the water should be flowing from forefingers (deva-tīrthaṃ) or from the place between thumb and index finger (pitṛ- tīrthaṃ). And the word तर्पयामि should be uttered thrice. For example, यमाय तर्पयामि, तर्पयामि, तर्पयामि. धर्मराजाय तर्पयामि, तर्पयामि, तर्पयामि. So on and so forth. And the person should be facing the south direction, which is the direction of Yama. This tarpaṇaṃ is prescribed to only males who had upanayana samskara. The yajñopavītam (sacred thread) should be in nivīta form (like garland). Females and males who did not had upanayana samskara, should utter the above śloka facing south.

Ulkā dānam & ulkā pradarśanam

Ulkā means an object which emits light. In the present context it means sparklers, crackers etc. After yama tarpaṇaṃ, ulkā dānam is to be done. That means one should give sparklers, crackers to others.

What is the purpose of ulkā dānam?

The second half or kṛṣna pakṣa of bhādrapada lunar month is called as mahālaya pakṣa or pitṛ pakṣa. At this time our ancestors visit us in bhūloka to bless us. That is why ṣrāddhas are performed in these fifteen days. These pitṛ devatas return to pitṛ loka starting from naraka chaturdaśī. Hence, by igniting light through crackers, sparklers etc. in the night, it is believed to help them in their return journey. That is why while performing ulkā dānam the below śloka is to be uttered –

अग्निदग्धाश्च ये जीवाः येऽप्यदग्धाः कुले मम॥ उज्ज्वलज्ज्योतिषा दग्धाः ते यांतु परमां गतिम्। यमलोकं परित्यज्य आगता ये महालये॥ उज्ज्वलज्ज्योतिषा वर्त्म प्रपश्यंतु व्रजंतु ते॥ (our ancestors who had proper cremation and who did not have proper cremation in my family, may they all have a good afterlife. Those ancestors who have come at mahalaya pakṣa, may they be able to see their way properly in their return journey (while we light the crackers)). On this day, in the evening, lamps have to be lit, and the sky is to be lit by crackers, sparklers etc.

Naraka-asura-vadha and its relation to Naraka-chaturdaśī

There is no mention of Naraka-asura-vadha in this context. Naraka-chaturdaśī is all about lord yama and pitṛ devatas. Some say that naraka-chaturdaśī and narakasura-vadha have a relation. But, that claim does not have evidence. So I searched for the legend of Naraka-asura-vadha puranas etc.

I found the legend of Naraka-asura-vadha in three places –

  1. Srīmadbhāgavatam (59th adhyāya of uttarārdha of 10th skanda)
  2. Hari vamṣa (khila mahābhārataṃ or extended mahabharatam) (63rd adhyāya of 2nd parva (viṣnu parva)
  3. Viṣṇupurāṇam (29th adhyāya of 5th aṃśa)

Among these three sources, Hari vamṣa has elaborate descriptions of naraka-asura-vadha. Srīmadbhāgavatam had moderate version and Viṣṇupurāṇam has the shortest version. In all these sources the storyline is the same –

  • Naraka-asura was the king of Pragjyotisha rājya.
  • Naraka-asura was the son of bhūdevi. That is why he is called bhauma or bhūmāsura.
  • He stole Aditi’s kuṇḍalas (ear ornaments).
  • Kept 16,000 women belonging to various kings, devatas etc., in his captivity.
  • Upon the request from devatas, Sṛī Kṛṣṇa, along with Satyabhāma went and killed naraka-asura.
  • Then bhūdevi returns Aditi’s kuṇḍalas.

No mention of relation between naraka-chaturdaśī and narakasura-vadha is mentioned in the above sources. No mention of Sṛī Kṛṣṇa being unconscious, and Satyabhāmā killing naraka-asura has any mention. Some claim bhūdevi having a boon from Sṛī Kṛṣṇa, about celebrating naraka-chaturdaśī as remembrance of naraka-asura-vadha. This claim also does not have any mention in the said sources. Hence, the relation between naraka-chaturdaśī and narakasura-vadha does not have any logical reasoning or factual evidence. 

Though there is no problem in stating a relation between naraka-chaturdaśī and narakasura-vadha, not knowing the origin and significance of this festival will lead to the present chaotic situation that we all are experiencing now.


New moon day (amāvāsyā) of āśviyuja lunar month is called dīpāvalī. Dīpāvalī literally means row of lighted lamps. On the occasion of dīpāvalī –

  1. Abhyanga snānaṃ
  2. Dīpadānaṃ
  3. Lakshmīpujanaṃ
  4. Dīpaprajvalanaṃ
  5. Ulkā pradarṣanam

Are to be done. The purpose of dīpadānaṃ, lakshmīpujanaṃ, dīpaprajvalanaṃ and, ulkā pradarṣanam is lakṣmīprapti (prosperity) and alakṣmī nirasanam (riddance of poverty). Here the concept of poverty and prosperity is not confined to only money, but has a wider boundary, covering mental prosperity, food, children etc. also. 


In this way, naraka-chaturdaśī and dīpāvalī have a strong origin in our puranas and dharma śāstras, and also have a multi-layered significance to the rituals and practices related to them. May the re-discovery of these elements of all our practices should and shall instil a great amount of confidence and pride in us and eventually lead to a greater Indic renaissance.

यदत्र सौष्ठवं किञ्चित् तद्गुरोरेव मे न हि।

यदत्राऽसौष्ठवं किञ्चित् तन्ममैव गुरोः न हि॥

If any virtues are found in my narration those belong to my gurus and not me, and, if any fault lines are found, I am the one responsible and not my gurus.

Etat phalam Śrī parameśwararpaṇamastu


  1.  मूर्ध्नि दत्तं यदा तैलं भवेत् सर्वाङ्गसङ्गतम्। स्रोतोभिः तर्पयेद्बाहू स चाभ्यङ्ग उदाहृतः॥ – शब्दकल्पद्रुमः
  2.   Dharma sindhu 92

Apply Now