Yamadeepdaan – the tradition of burning lamps through the night – dedicated to Yama

Yamadeepdan, also known as Yama Deepdaan, is the first day of Diwali celebrations in North India and Gujarat. It is also known as Dhanteras. Diyas (lamps) are lit all night and these lamps are dedicated to Yam or Yamraj, the god of death. In 2013, the date of Yamadeepdaan is November 1. In some regions, lamps are lit for the ancestors and floated down a river or pond on the day.

Legend has it that a 16-year-old son of King Hima was destined to die on the fourth day of his marriage due to a snake bite. A girl agreed to marry the unlucky prince knowing his ill fate.

The young bride was confident of her spiritual wealth and decided to save the prince. On the fourth night, after their marriage, she refused to let him sleep.

She collected all her jewellery, ornaments, and also the gold and silver coins in the palace and placed them in a heap at the entrance of door. Then she lit innumerable Diyas (lamps) all over the palace. To keep her husband awake, she narrated tales and sang songs.

At the stroke of midnight, Lord Yama, the God of Death, reached the palace in the guise of a snake. But Yamraj’s eyes were blinded by the dazzle of the Diyas. This prevented him from entering the room where the young bride and prince was sitting.

When the attempts to enter the room failed, Lord Yama hid near the ornaments and coins, thinking that the prince might come there to look at the valuables. But the clever young bride did not allow the prince to venture out and soon sun appeared and Lord Yama returned disappointed.

This incident is celebrated as Yamadeepdaan on Dhanteras day. The tradition of burning lamps through the night on the day is dedicated to Lord Yama.