As per the Hindu calendar Dhanteras falls on thirteenth day of the month of Kartik and is celebrated two days prior to Diwali. "Dhan" means wealth and "teras" means the thirteenth.
With the advent of Dhanteras Diwali celebrations start off in full swing. Homes, offices and businesses are cleaned and beautified with colorful lights, flowers and "rangoli" or (patters and designs made with colored flowers, colored petals, colored powders etc) to welcome prosperity, happiness and success.
For city dwellers it is a time for festivities and shopping. People purchase gold, silver and utensils as a sign of good luck and good fortune. Dhanteras is also considered an auspicious occasion to purchase land, car, investments or commence new business enterprise
Village folks devote this day to worshiping Goddess Lakshmi in the form of their cattle since that forms the pillar of their livelihood. In south India it is also tradition to beautify and adorn cows to worship them on Dhanteras day. Cows imply wealth for peasants and are also considered incarnation of Goddess Lakshmi.
On Dhanteras, many people draw foot-prints with rice flour and vermillion powder in their homes to greet Goddess Lakshmi and bring eternal good fortunes in their homes. North indians perform Lakshmi puja with new utensils or jewellery on this day.
Legends Of Dhanteras Day:
Long ago, King Hima had a son who was doomed to die by snake bite on the fourth day of his marriage. In due course the prince grew up and married a beautiful princess. The princess, when she heard of her prince's fate, did not let him sleep on the fourth day of their marriage.
She blocked all entrances and the foyer with heaps of gold, silver and diamonds. She illuminated every nook and corner of the palace with dazzling lamps and sang songs the whole night long.
At the deadly hour when Yamraj or the God of death, entered her chamber in the guise of a snake, he was blinded by all the dazzling light and glitter and he left without entering into the prince's chamber. The prince was saved.
Since then, the day of Dhanteras is celebrated by people buying gold and silver coins and jewelery. They also light up oil lamps and keep them burning whole night long. They sing and celebrate long into the night to ward of evil spirits.
The legend of "Samudramanthan" or churning of the ocean is also associated with Dhanteras. It is believed that when the Gods and demons were churning the ocean for "amrit" or nectar, Dhanvantri appeared with a dazzling jar of amrit.
Dhanvantri is the doctor or the healer of Gods and signifies health. He is also the incarnation of Vishnu. Dhanvantri implies health as wealth or as a fortune in life.
In maharashtra, women make a diya or oil lamp with kneaded flour for every male member in their families. The diyas are offered to Yamraj, the God of death, to bless all male members with a long and prosperous life. A male member's well being is associated with stability, prosperity, protection, power and repute for the family.
There is also a custom to pound dry coriander seeds with jaggery and offer it as "prasad" or "naivedyam" to Goddess Lakshmi on Dhanteras day.