narak chaturdashi falls on the second day of the five day long festival of diwali.
diwali festival last for 5 days:
1st day – dhanteras. people buy new utensils and one diya is burned whole night for yama (the god of death)
2nd day – narak chaturdashi or chotti diwali. in south india, early morning people apply oil on their body.
3rd day – badi diwali or the day when firecrackers are burned and goddess lakshmi is worshiped.
4th day – govardhana pooja (celebrated in north india) and balipratipada (celebrated in south india)
5th day – bhai dhuj. festival dedicated to brother and sister bonding.
naraka chaturdashi story:
the story about narakasur is mentioned in shrimadbhagvat puran. narakasur was a powerful demon king. he was the child of earth goddess bhudevi (bhumi) and varaha (third avatar of vishnu) . once he defeated lord indira (ruler of heaven) and snatched away the beautiful earrings of mother goddess aditi. he also imprisoned 16,000 daughters of gods and saints in his harem.
lord krishna wife satyabhama was a relative of goddess aditi. when she came to know about the evil deeds of narakasur, she resolved to teach him a lesson. satyabhama approached lord krishna for permission to wage a war against narakasura.
so satyabhama and lord krishna fought the war with narakasur and in the end satyabhama killed him. because narakasur had a boon that only his mother can kill him. satyabhama is believed to be an avatar of bhudevi, the earth goddess. as per another legend, it was lord krishna who killed him.
before dying, narakasur realized his mistakes. he also requested a boon that his death anniversary should be celebrated by all people on earth. thats why this day is celebrated as ‘naraka chaturdashi’.
after narakasur was killed, lord krishna smeared his entire body with the demon’s blood. so when he returned home then grand preparations were made for a bath to cleanse the demon blood.
in south india, people wear new clothes after taking oil bath early in the morning. for this turmeric and pepper are added to gingelly oil (sesame oil or til ke tel) and boiled for the early morning oil bath. oil and turmeric-sandalwood paste is also applied to the body. this is known as ‘abhyang snan’.
after the bath, people greet each other saying “do you had your ganges bath”. because it is believed that taking sesame oil bath early morning on this day is equivalent to taking bath in holy ganges and will protect you from going to hell or doing evil deeds. people wear fresh clothes and burn crackers. vadas and payasam (kheer) are offered to god as bhog. sweets are exchanged.
in bengal region, this day is dedicated to the worship of goddess kali. here the festival is known by the name kalichoudas. where kali means dark (eternal) and chaudas means fourteenth as this is celebrated on the 14th day of the dark half of kartik month. it is believed that on this day goddess kali killed the demon narakasura.
in goa region, the paper-made effigies of narakasura are made. these effigies are filled with firecrackers and grass. narakasura effigies are burnt at around 4 o’clock in the morning and then firecrackers are burst, and people return home to take a scented oil bath. it is believed that narakasura had kidnapped 16,000 women from goa and lord krishna killed him and rescued the women.
reference – south indian festivals and traditions book by maithily jagannathan