Dhanteras also called Dhan (wealth/affluence) Trayodashi (13th day) is the first day of Diwali Celebrations. It falls on 13th day of the Krishna paksha i.e. dark fortnight in Hindu calendar month of Ashwin.
There are two key stories associated with this day…
First Story: It is the story of a young 16-year-old prince, Hima. It was predicted that he would die of snake bite on the fourth day after his marriage. This surely was a major cause of worry for his new bride. So, on that day, she did not allow him to sleep and kept themselves awake by singing devotional songs of worship and praise. She also laid out all her jewelry ornaments and riches which included lots of gold and silver coins in a heap at the entrance of their sleeping chamber and lit lamps all over the place to maintain vigil.
It is believed that from then on, that day (which happened to be the 13 th. day of Ashwin Krishna Paksha) was celebrated as the Dhanteras.
Spiritually what this signifies is that when we can conduct ourselves with love and detachment, we are able to win over even our worst and seemingly indefatigable enemy- death! To save her husband’s life, his bride not only showed love and caring but she utilized intelligence (which is also a form of wealth) and was willing to part with her jewelry and riches. By doing this, she could not only defeat death but also gain more complete abundance in the form of love, wealth and happiness.
It is obvious that this story is associated with the celebrations of Diwali- since it shows rejoicing after one has won victory over enemies. The actual victory of good over evil is celebrated on Dussehra which comes approximately 18 days before Dhanteras or 20 days before Laxmi Pujan.
Goddess Laxmi is worshipped and celebrated during the upcoming amavasya (Laxmi Pujan)- which is typically on the 14th day of Krishna Paksha (Ashwin month) or the amavasya starting the month of Kartik. I.e. depending on lunar cycles, the actual muhurta for Laxmi Pujan falls along with Kali Chaudas and Narak Chaturdashi on the 14th. day of Ashwin Krishna paksha or the actual Kartik amavasya the following day.
How Dhanteras is celebrated:
In olden days people would fill their water reservoirs on this day. They would take a special ritual bath after massaging themselves with oil and herbal body paste. This was a way of not only getting ready for Diwali celebrations but also getting one’s body ready for winter. Note that Ayurveda specifically mentions about Ritucharya, which is taking specific health-enhancing steps when seasons change.
In addition, people light earthen lamps all over their home, particularly at the entrance to welcome Goddess Laxmi. Even before Diwali. people especially clean and decorate their homes, any needed repairs are conducted and the dwelling beautified with fresh flowers and the aromas of herbal incense. Artistic drawings called Rangolis are also drawn at the main entrance to make one’s home is even more appealing and welcoming to the Goddess.