NATIONAL FESTIVAL OF LIGHTS PROCLAIMING VICTORY OF GOOD OVER EVIL
The Festival of Diwali or Deepavali—the National Festival Of Lights— falls tomorrow (26th October 2011). This festival has held India’s heart captive from times immemorial. Rabindranath Tagore, referring to the hoary and sacred tradition of holy ceremonies and festivals, rightly said: ‘India of geography, India of history and tradition, India of our forefathers, fairs and festivals and above all the India of our dreams, minds and hearts cannot change.’
Diwali is celebrated on the darkest night (Ammavasya) following Dashera, midway in time between New Moon and Full Moon. Diwali is the Festival of Lights, celebrated all over India as an occasion to worship GODDESS LAKSHMI. This is the time when people in all parts of India celebrate the beginning of something new; a time to ushert in prosperity and happiness in their lives. Diwali is an occasion when people light diyas (small oil lamps) all over their home to welcome Goddess Lakshmi in their homes. The festival is marked by distribution of gifts, sharing of wealth and celebration by sharing sweets with friends and relations and lighting firecrackers.
Bharat Mata carries in her bosom diverse cultures drawn from infinite spiritual sources and traditions. And therefore it is no wonder that our sacred Motherland is imbued with the spirit and aura of festivities radiating across India all through the year. Most of the Indian festivals find their origin in Hindu Itihas. Diwali is one such widely loved festival. One of the popular stories relating to Diwali is the return of Lord Rama to Ayodhya after fourteen years of exile. His arrival was awaited by a vast concourse of subjects who gathered round the throne waiting in anxious expectation for the return of their beloved King Rama to Ayodhya.
The word ‘Diwali’ is the corruption of the Sanskrit word ‘Deepavali’—Deepa meaning light and Avali, meaning a row. It means a row of lights and indeed illumination forms its main attraction. Every home—lowly or mighty—the hut of the poor or the mansion of the rich—gets alit with the orange glow of twinkling diyas (small earthen lamps) to welcome Lakshmi, Goddess of Wealth and Prosperity. Multi-coloured Rangoli designs, floral decorations and fireworks lend picturesqueness and grandeur to this festival which heralds the advent of joy, mirth and happiness in the ensuing year.
There are many other Puranic stories that enrich and enhance the significance of Diwali. The quintessence of Diwali celebrations lies in these timeless and immortal stories of Eternal India about which Sister Nivedita (1867-1911), one of the foremost disciples of Swami Vivekananda (1863-1902) wrote with such ecstasy and elequence.
One such story relates to the killing of Narakasura by Satyabhama. Narakasura ruled the kingdom of Pradyoshapuram. Puranas have it that Narakasura, son of Bhudevi, acquired immense power from a blessing given by Lord Brahma after a severe penance. Under his rule, the villagers suffered a lot of hardship as the demon tortured the people and kidnapped the women to be imprisoned in his palace with his invincible might. Unable to bear the tyranny of Narakasura, the celestial beings pleaded with Lord Krishna to save them from his torture. But Narakasura had a boon that he would face death only at the hands of his mother Bhudevi. So, Lord Krishna asked his wife Sathyabhama, the reincarnation of Bhudevi, to be his charioteer in the battle with Narakasura. When Lord Krishna fell unconscious after being hit by an arrow of Narakasura, the enraged Sathyabhama took up a bow and aimed an arrow at Narakasura, killing him instantly. Later Lord Krishna reminded Sathyabhama about the boon that Narakasura had obtained — that he could only be killed by his mother Bhudevi.
Thus the message of Naraka Chaturdashi is that the good of the society should always prevail over one’s own personal bonds. It is interesting to note that Bhudevi, mother of the slain demon Narakasura, declared that his death should not be a day of mourning but an occasion for public celebrations and rejoicing. People rejoice by lighting fireworks which are regarded as the effigies of Narakasura who was killed on this day by Satyabhama.
Another story rooted in myth, tradition and legend connected with Diwali festival every year relates to what is known as Dhanteras or Dhantrayodashi. Yesterday (Tuesday, 25th October 2011) was the day of Dhanteras The legend of Samudramanthan——the churning of the ocean by the Devas and Asuras—leading to the emergence of Ambrosia and Goddess Lakshmi forms the basis of Dhanteras.
Yet another interesting story regarding this day relates to the sixteen year old son of King Hima. As per his horoscope he was doomed to die by a snake-bite on the fourth day of his marriage. On that particular fourth day of his marriage, his young wife did not allow him to sleep. She laid all the ornaments and lots of gold and silver coins in a big heap at the entrance of her husband’s bedroom and lighted innumerable lamps all over the place. And she went on telling stories and singing songs. When Lord Yama, the god of death arrived there in the guise of a serpent his eyes got blinded by that dazzle of those brilliant lights and he could not enter the prince’s chamber. So he climbed on top of the heap of the ornaments and coins and sat there whole night listening to the melodious songs. In the morning he quietly went away. Thus the young wife saved her husband from the clutches of death. Since then this day of Dhanteras came to be known as the day of ‘YAMADEEPDAAN’. On Yamadeepdan Day lamps are kept burning throughout the night in reverential adoration to Lord Yama, the God of Death.
There are different regional/zonal traditions relating to the Diwali festivities in India. In West Bengal, it is celebrated as ‘KALI PUJA’.
After nineteen days of the completion of the Durga Puja, the whole State of West Bengal gets geared up to celebrate another popular festival, the KALI PUJA. Kali is worshipped as the Mother Goddess who protects the people from evil. The Puja actually takes place at midnight on the day of the new moon. During the Kali Puja all houses are lit up with candles decorated around the house. During this Puja, children and adults revel in bursting firecrackers.
The Sikhs celebrate Diwali to signify the return of the Sixth Guru Hargobind to Amritsar in 1620 along with 52 Hindu kings imprisoned along with him by Emperor Jahangir.
The Jain communities of India hold Diwali as a New Year’s Day. Lord Mahavira, the founder of Jainism, attained his Nirvana on this day. In Maharashtra also, on Diwali day for all Hindus traditional early baths with oil and ‘Uptan’ (paste) of gram flour and fragrant powders are a `must’. All through the ritual of baths, deafening sounds of crackers and fireworks create a joyous festive atmosphere which enables all the children to enjoy their holy bathing on Diwali day. Afterwards steamed vermicelli with milk and sugar or puffed rice with curd is served.
Param Poojya Dr Jayanth Balaji Athavale, Founder of Sanatan Sanstha, one of the foremost Hindu Saints in India today who is waging a non-violent struggle for a Hindu Renaissance has strongly spoken against the mindless, indiscriminate, extensive and widespread use of wax candles by the Hindus to celebrate the Diwali festival. Most candles are made from paraffin wax which is a residue of petroleum refining process. Thus it is the bottom most 5 per cent or so of the oil barrel that the gasoline industry rejects. This unflattering material is then mixed with industry-strength bleach which gives it the familiar white color. When this mixture is burned as a candle it emits harmful toxins, soot and many of the noxious gasses. He has recommended the widespread use of age old and traditional earthen terracotta oil lamps.
Traditional earthen oil lamp, Paraffin wax candle
On Diwali Day we celebrate the victory of good over evil, defeat of the Asuras by the Devas. Diwali festival is not just a show of lights. In order to understand the soul and spirit of India, we should realize that it is not a group of Hindus celebrating a holiday which unites them. It is a gathering of humans celebrating the Birth of Light, the Birth of Righteousness — that is the essential and time-defying, underlying religious and cultural unity of India amidst its diversity. We celebrate the festival of Eternal Illumination, asking for LIGHT to dawn on our minds, in our hearts, letting its warm glow mix with our blood in our nerves and veins. After all, don’t the Upanishads say:
‘Agni is Light and the Light is Agni.
Indra is Light and the Light is Indra.
Surya is Light and the Light is Surya.’
On the eve of Diwali, tomorrow (26th October, 2011) —the great Festival of Lights—I cannot help recalling the following beautiful verses of Sri Aurobindo (1872-1950):
Thy golden Light came down into my brain
And the grey rooms of mind sun-touched became
A bright reply to Wisdom’s occult plane,
A calm illumination and a flame.
Thy golden Light came down into my throat,
And all my speech is now a tune divine,
A paean-song of Thee my single note;
My words are drunk with the Immortal’s wine.
Thy golden Light came down into my heart
Smiting my life with Thy eternity;
Now has it grown a temple where Thou art
And all its passions point towards only Thee.
Thy golden Light came down into my feet,
My earth is now Thy playfield and Thy seat.