In Hindu culture, the symbol of light manifests from the smallest practices such as lighting a lamp, to large rituals in which fire takes the centre stage. Yet the most vivid use of Light in Sanatana Dharma is in the festival of lights or Deepawali.
Deepawali, or Diwali as it is called in North India, simply means a row or an array of lights. This name stems mainly from the practice of lighting innumerable lamps during the evening of the festival, in various arrangements. However, in modern times, Deepawali encompasses much more than just lighting lamps. As the most popular festival in Hinduism, it fulfills a number of different purposes at various levels.
At the most outer or grossest level- Deepawali represents an event to bring people together in an atmosphere of cheer and good will. Families meet and greet each other, distribute gifts and have great fun. Since Diwali is generally the time that employees receive their end of year bonuses, there is some extra in the pocket to spend on their children or spouses. For children and youth in particular, Diwali is synonymous with fire crackers, games on the streets and beautiful light formations. Houses and streets are decorated beautifully, and all types of talented people are included to add to the beauty and joy of the event – whether through art, music, dance, drama and various other cultural programs.
Diwali, Trafalgar Square London
At a deeper level-
Deepawali is a religious festival in which values are imparted through rituals, stories and worship. In many parts of India, Lakshmi Puja is performed during Diwali, invoking material and spiritual well being. In some parts of the country, a Puja to Lord Krishna or Lord Rama
is performed instead. These variations in religious practices are linked with the folklore or history behind the festival. In North India it is said that Deepawali originated in Ayodhya when Sri Rama re-entered His kingdom after 14 years in exile. The citizens of the city were so happy that the Lord was returning that they lit up all the streets with lamps. Another popular story, found mainly in South India is related to Lord Krishna who killed Narakasura on this day, to the joy of all those who were suffering under that demon. Though the stories are different, all convey the simple yet important message that Satyam Eva Jayate, the Truth alone wins, and the Lord is infinitely compassionate to the followers of Dharma. These rituals and stories also connect the present with the past and demonstrates the great culture and ideals practiced by our forefathers. In this way, Deepawali is a highly significant vehicle for carrying our culture through the ages.
(above pix) Diwali in Singapur
At the very core of Deepawali – a level generally forgotten by most people, is the philosophy. Indian culture is essentially a spiritual culture, and every practice is based on eternal spiritual principles. The imagery of light is most relevant here. Our Scriptures teach that the goal of our life is to gain knowledge of the Truth or God, and thereby release ourselves from the bondage created by spiritual ignorance. This most profound teaching is brought out in the symbol of light – as light dispels darkness, the light of knowledge dispels the darkness of ignorance in our hearts. Thus light is a wonderful symbol of knowledge. Furthermore, one lamp can light many others without its own light diminishing. In the same way, knowledge can be shared with any number of people without the knowledge diminishing in the giver – and in fact, sharing the knowledge adds more to the wisdom of the teacher. Therefore, this action of lighting a number of lamp provides a powerful instruction for our life: gain the light of knowledge from the wise, and then spread it to others, ever dispelling all darkness around us. In this way, the glorious and healing spiritual culture of India can reach out benefit the most number of people. This is a vision, therefore, that not only caters for the individual but the entire society – a grand vision, indeed!
Diwali light decoration
In addition to knowledge, light also indicates the Lord or Consciousness within us all.
As we chant in our aarti – tameva bhaantam anubhaati sarvam, tasya bhaasa sarvam idam vibhaati. It is by His illumination that the whole is illumined, the world exists or shines after His existence. The Self is Pure Existence and therefore, by its Presence, the world appears to exist. Depending on that Existence, everything exists. Thus the symbol of the Light is most profound and if understood clearly, can be an efficient indicator of the Truth or Self. Importantly, it is through this festival that this most profound message of the Rishis can be heard in Satsang halls right across the country.
The beauty of Deepawali is that it is all inclusive. All people of all inclinations will find joy in this festival – whether a householder who wants to spend time with his family, children and youth who enjoy the firecrackers, whether an artist who wants to convey their talent through art, music, drama, whether religious people who want to invoke the grace and blessings of the Lord for the coming year, or spiritual seekers who want to dive deep and realise that Truth. When we understand and experience all these different aspects of Deepawali, we will come to see not only the greatness of the festival, but also the glory of our culture which truly is based on an all encompassing vision, embracing people of all walks of life, all ages, all interests and all aptitudes.
A Shanepedia Compilation
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