EXPLORING CULTURES & TRADITIONS: Diwali Festival in Goa (Part 1/3)

Author: Gauri Kshirsagar

This year that is 2020, due to online school the twins could spend the whole of Diwali month in Goa, celebrating with their grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins. Goa is the birth place of my twins. They were born here and spent their early years here at my maternal home. So being Goans, the culture and traditions of Goa hold a special place in their hearts.

Diwali in Goa is a big religious event. It is celebrated over 5 days in October or November, with the Naraka Chaturdashi day being the most important. Diwali is the confluence of five festivals in Goa, which include:

  1. Dhanatrayodashi
  2. Narak Chaturdashi
  3. Laxmi Pujan
  4. Bhaubij
  5. Balipratipada   (Padvo)


Dhanteras, also known as ‘Dhanatrayodash’ marks the beginning of the Diwali festival in Goa. On this day, people purchase utensils and jewellery to bring good luck. The word is derived from ‘Dhan’ meaning wealth and ‘Teras’ which means thirteen. The day falls on the thirteen lunar day of Krishna Paksha in the Hindu month of the calendar, every year. The day usually falls 1-2 days before Diwali. This year, the festival was celebrated on the 13th of November, which was Friday and one day before the festival of lights.

Just like many Indian festivals, this day is too linked to famous Hindu mythological stories. There’s an interesting story behind Dhanteras, for which people worship Lord Yamaraja on this day. As per one of the popular stories, it is believed that the horoscope of a king’s son predicted that he will die on the fourth day of marriage after getting bitten by a snake. On the 4th day of his marriage, his wife decided to turn the fate around. She made sure her husband didn’t sleep, as she narrated stories to keep him awake.

To lure the snake away, she laid out all the ornaments and coins at the entrance in a heap. It is believed when the God of Death came in disguise of a snake, he was blinded by all the dazzling jewellery and coins. This way the serpent couldn’t enter the prince’s chamber and also got hooked to the wife’s stories and songs. It is believed that he silently left the place in the morning and bared the life of the prince.

Another interesting story which is very popular is the one featuring Lord Dhanvantari, who is the physician of the Gods and an incarnation of Lord Vishnu, who came out of an ocean that is believed to be churned by the Gods and demons on the day of Dhanteras.

Since then Dhanteras is known as one of the most auspicious days and one of the biggest festivals for Hindus. People also worship Lord Yamaraja, the God of Death in the night and offer prayers to seek blessings. Just before Diwali people clean their houses, decorate with lights and diyas to keep the evil forces and negative energy away.


There are many legends related to the festival of Diwali in India. However in Goa the Narkasur legend of Diwali is well known and is the reason for the Diwali celebrations. Diwali in Goa is marked by Narak-chaturdashi, in which huge effigies of the demon Narkasur are built and then burnt.

According to the legend of Narkasur it is known that in the ancient times, the beautiful land of Goi or Gomantak was ruled by the demon king Narkasur. Narkasur had obtained a lot of powers which made him quite arrogant and he began to spread terror, causing destruction and torture people wherever he went.

The people of Goa thus prayed and the gods asked Lord Krishna for help. A great battle was fought between Narkasur and Lord Krishna in which Lord Krishna, with the help of Satyabhama, shot his famous Sudharshan Chakra, and slayed the demon. 

This gave birth to a beautiful tradition in Goa of making Narkasur effigies. 

We first make a skeleton using bamboo strips woven together. Then we cover the skeleton with old newspaper using homemade glue. We decorate the effigy using bright coloured paper. 

The mask is also made of paper, which is made as scarier as possible. The inside of the effigy is kept hollow, so that we can enter it and make Narkasur dance on the beats of the drum. Some firecrackers are also put into the effigy for some excitement, while burning it. The effigy of Narkasur is then taken in a procession and later burnt at dawn amidst a lot of firework to begin the festival of Diwali.

Below is a small video of the ‘Narkasur’ the twins made with their cousins.

Thus the evil demon who ruled Goa met his end in the wee hours of the morning. 

As a mark of victory, Krishna is said to have streaked his forehead with Narkasura’s blood as a symbol of victory, hence the next morning for the Diwali rituals we are shown our reflection in red coloured  water which represents the demon’s blood.

When Krishna returned home, his wives anointed him at his doorstep, an early morning ritual still followed by many to wake up at dawn on Diwali day and have an aarti performed at their doorstep.

The kaarit fruit is a type of muskmelon found in Goa. Similar to a cucumber, the kaarit has a bitter taste. This fruit is stamped by the heel of the left foot on the second day of Diwali by everyone. Its significance is when Lord Krishna kills the demon Narakasur by stamping his heel of left foot and destroys him.

Also the people held captive by Narkasur were released and they lit lamps in their houses to mark the end of darkness and the beginning of light in Goa.

Almost every home is decorated with diyas, which are earthen lamps. They are put up in every corner, even just outside the entrance. The light is a symbol of goodness to fight off evil. The diya’s oil represents dirt (hatred, jealousy, greed, lust etc.), which we all have, and which makes us impure. We fight off evil by burning off the oil and emitting the light. This helps us become enlightened and pure. The diya also signifies knowledge. The lamps can remove the darkness and bring in new thoughts, new ideas, and greater knowledge.

Rangoli images can be seen in most homes during the festival. Rangoli is a beautiful hand-painted design you will find in the courtyard or the living room, close to the entrance. It is made with flower petals, colored sand, dry flour, and colored rice. The rangoli images are colorful and have complicated designs. But a rangoli design is not just for decoration. There is a deeper significance. It is to stop evil from getting into the home.

Making a lantern at home is also a custom followed in Goa. A Kandeel is a lantern with a wooden framework and covered in coloured matte or glossy papers. These lanterns are generally hung in front of homes during Diwali. Kandeel in Sanskrit is known as akasha deepa (lantern of the sky) or ‘akash diwa’ (sky light). Hindus in earlier days set kandeels afloat high, a gesture to invite the spirits of their ancestors moving around to come back home and be with them during the festival time; hence the name akasha deepa (lantern of the sky) or Akasha Kandil. Floating lamps are banned in Goa now, due to risk of fire.

During the Hindu lunar month of ‘Kartika’, people used to put akasha deepam, on rooftops or tree branches, and light them at night until break of dawn in the nights leading up to the Karthika Paurnami (full moon) day or Diwali day. Earlier, oil lamps were used, which were attached to the kandeel; now coloured electric lights are used instead. Kandeels are hung for around a month from the first day of Diwali. Kandeels are traditionally built in a crystal shape with tails at the bottom; shapes include stars, globes, delicate dotted designs, and simple drawings. Opaque papers cut into a complex design give more beauty to a Kandeel by blocking some of the light behind it.

Diwali is definitely not complete without numerous sweets, the most famous being the ‘fov’/फोव made out of processed rice. They are made in different ways and flavours like रोसातले फोव (processed in coconut milk), दूधातले फोव (processed rice in sweetened milk), तिखट फोव (spicy processed rice) and काव्यलेखन फोव (processed rice mixed with jaggery and coconut). There are many more sweets and savouries like चकली (chakli), शंकरपाळी (shankarpali), चिवडो (chivdo), नालाची चटणी (Coconut chutney), म्हैसूर पाक (Mysore Pak), हलवो (halvo), गुलाबजाम (Gulab Jam), चण्याची उसळ (chanyachi Usal) and different types of लाडू .

On Diwali morning people wear new clothes, and visit their relatives and friends to have each other’s ‘fov’!

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