‘Light’ ~ The Crux of Diwali
Diwali is here and its time for celebration. Where and how will you be spending this Festival of Lights? So what have you planned for Diwali? What sweets are you making this time? Are you decorating your home with electric lights? Any special purchase planned for the family? Have you done the list of people you want to send e-cards? What will you be cooking for Diwali? Any plans for celebrating Diwali in a deeper spiritual manner?
Deepavali or Diwali is all about lights with its spiritual and metaphysical significance. Diwali is India’s biggest and most significant festival – celebrated by Hindus, Jains, Sikhs and Buddhists. Diwali sees every household glowing under the light of lamps, candles, and fireworks. It is a pretty holiday, with friends and family paying each other visits and giving gifts of Indian sweets. Deepavali (deep = light and avali = a row i.e., a row of lights) is certainly the biggest and the brightest of all Hindu festivals.
Historically, there are many reasons on the origins of this colourful festival. Diwali was the celebration of Lord Ram’s homecoming to Ayodhya after victory over the tyrannical Ravan. On this day, the Goddess of wealth, Lakshmi incarnated during the churning of the ocean, hence the association of Diwali with Goddess Lakshmi. Diwali is generally associated with abundance invoking Goddess Lakshmi ~ the Goddess of prosperity and life’s true gift. The masters declared that the true gift of life is the unfolding of our inner divinity.
On Diwali day, Goddess Lakshmi is invoked as the Goddess of abundance. Abundance in the way of friendships and relationships, wisdom, inspired expression, good health, caring interactions, zeal, confidence, peace of mind, material wealth etc. However in her true nature, according to the hymn Lakshmi asthakam, Goddess Lakshmi is the personification of the ultimate truth Goddess of all, and who is the mother of all the worlds.
Diwali is also to celebrate the victorious return of Lord Krishna, after victory over the diabolically fallen Narakasura and rescued 16,000 women from his captivity. The celebration of this freedom went on for two days including the Diwali day as a victory festival. According to the great epic ‘Mahabharata’, it was this day when the mighty and righteous Pandavas appeared from their 12 years of banishment as a result of their defeat in the hands of the Kauravas at the game of dice. The subjects who loved the Pandavas celebrated the day by lighting the earthen lamps. One of the greatest Hindu King Vikramaditya was coronated on the Diwali day; hence Diwali became a historical event as well.
For the Sikh community, the origin of Diwali was since the illumination of the city of Amritsar commemorating the return of their sixth Guru – Guru Har Gobind Ji (1595-1644). People illuminated lamps in the way to Shri Harmandhir Sahib (Golden Temple) to honor and welcome their beloved Guru. The first Sikh Guru Nanak Dev even sang ‘Eka noor te saba jaga upaya’, that is, the entire universe is born of one light. For Jains, the day commemorates the passing into Nirvan of their latest enlightened master Vardhaman Mahaveer (599 – 527 BCE). Buddhists especially Newar Buddhists from Nepal celebrate Diwali to remember Indian Emperor Ashoka (304–232 BCE) who adopted Buddhism on this day.
No Hindu festival is complete without its spiritual significance and so is Diwali. The wise say that the real significance of Diwali is intrinsic and hidden in the very symbolic worship, rituals and traditions associated with it. Diwali the festival of lights signifies the victory of knowledge over ignorance using the symbol of ‘light’. As is typical of Hindu symbolism, the metaphysics is about discovering what underlies the symbol of ‘light’.
At a metaphysical level, our Gurus say that the spiritual significance of this major Hindu festival lies in the discovery of the knowledge of our infinite potential in all of us and dispelling the ignorance of this knowledge. Hence ideally on Diwali day, the tradition among spiritual speakers is to light a lamp, sit quietly, withdraw the senses and invoke to abide on the supreme light of our soul that illuminates everything.
For those in the spiritual path, the Diwali day is yet another reminder on the ultimate purpose of human life. To reach this supreme goal of life, the scriptures propose the dawn of knowledge through the inner light – enlightenment of the soul.
About this inner light, core Hindu scriptures like the Katha Upanishad say that “The sun does not shine there, nor the moon, nor the stars; nor do these lightnings shine there, much less this fire. When He shines, everything shines after Him; by His light all is lighted”. Thus inferring that all the lights of the world cannot be compared even to a ray of the inner light of the soul (self). This festival thus urges us to transcend and abide in this light of lights and enjoy the supreme Deepavali.
This meaning of Diwali is exemplified in an ancient Vedic prayer in Sanskrit: “O God, lead me from untruth to truth, from darkness to light, and from death to immortality.
Since we light lamps in Diwali, here’s one such Diwali blessing, in the perennial wisdom traditions of Hinduism (Vedanta):
‘Fill the Heart with the oil of Love. Place in it the wick of single-pointed mind. Light it with the Knowledge of Truth and remove the darkness of Ignorance around you. Just as one lamp can light many lamps; let each of us kindle this Light in many hearts.’
Happy Deepavali to you and your families.