Diwali - India's Festival of Lights - Lighting the Global Spirit of Joy
In my interactions with Americans in different walks of life, I have discovered that they know little about Diwali – the very important festival of India. I am not surprised. Part of the reason may be an oversight on our part in not educating or inviting American friends to experience the joyous celebrations practically in all Indian homes. It is important that we actively mainstream our culture, religion and philosophy. I believe such cultural bridges would promote understanding, celebrate diversity, and strengthen our underlying unity as Americans. In my own way, I take the Diwali to people and share sweets with. I have found people always very appreciative of that approach.
Diwali this year falls on October 28. As it is celebrated according to a lunar calendar, it falls each year on a different date but always night when moon does not rise (amavasya). Generally, it is in the same two-week period about this time in autumn (many other religions also follow a lunar calendar for their holy days). Diwali marks the beginning of new moon and New Year and the culmination of almost a month long religious festivities. It is a joyous holiday season with charitable spirit, much the same way as the Christmas season here in the United States.
The festival is the celebration of the joy of life itself through music, singing, dancing, feasting and religious ceremonies. In India, Diwali festivities may vary somewhat by regions but they all include array of lights, a rich spirit of happiness, worship, thankfulness to the Absolute for life’s blessings and prayers for peace and prosperity in the world. It truly is the only festival that is celebrated all over India.
Diwali is the celebration of the return of Lord Rama to his kingdom in Ayodhaya after vanquishing Ravana, the wicked king of Lanka. The lights of welcome signify divinity and purity of Lord Rama in whose presence there is no place for darkness, evil or misery in society. Lord Rama is the symbol of the highest moral and ethical ideals of life. He is believed to have established a just, free and compassionate order in his kingdom. In Hindu religion, Lord Rama is worshiped as the seventh incarnation of God. The Jain community celebrates the enlightenment of Lord Mahavir on this day. The sixth Guru Har Gobind of the Sikhs returned from the captivity of the Moslem rulers and it was a glorious welcome as the Harimandir Sahib in Amritsar was gloriously lighted on this day.
Sri Lakshmi (the mother goddess of prosperity) Poojan (worship) is also an essential part of Diwali gala. Let me briefly share with you the meaning and the message of Diwali in relation to the Lakshmi Poojan.
Sri Lakshmi - the consort of Lord Vishnu, the preserver god in the Hindu trinity - is the goddess of wealth, good fortune, and material fulfillment in this world as well as the symbol of spiritual transcendence. One of the hymns in the Rig Veda of the Hindus is dedicated to Sri Lakshmi. It describes her as "Pragyanam Bhavasi Mata" - the benevolent mother and source of wisdom.
In all of her representations in human form she is shown with four hands to signify her divine attributes.
Her front right-hand palm is open in the "Var Mudra" posture signifying her benevolent concern and her readiness to grant our wishes for material well being, fame and fortune. It is imperative upon us to be worthy of receiving and using the gifts wisely and compassionately for the welfare of humanity.
Her front left hand is raised in the "Abhay Mudra" posture assuring us to be courageous. Not to be afraid of life’s obstacles, and stay engaged in honest work and doing good.
We need to be always conscious of her presence around us and be worthy to receive her grace to protect us from misery and pain in life.
The rear two hands are symbols for spiritual transcendence.
She is also shown standing or seated on a lotus flower. The lotus flower grows in muddy waters of the mythical cosmic ocean where her consort, Lord Vishnu, dreams the world dream. The lotus is a sign of her presence even when her human form is not there. There is a spiritual message in the symbolic lotus. It grows in water but is not wetted or soiled by it. It is a great metaphor to remind us that
THE GODDESS LAKSHMI
we should live in the world as part of it, to live life fully and productively engaged in all of its necessary aspects yet apart from it implying to be unattached to the pleasures of the senses as they wane. Sri Lakshmi – Lotus association is genuinely Indian. It is also a spiritual symbol of space and time where things originate, continue, and are finally absorbed within it. Similar mother goddess images are present in the west. The Greek goddess Artemis is considered equivalent to Sri Lakshmi. In the Buddhist tradition, Sri Lakshmi becomes the Pragyaa Parmita, the wisdom of enlightenment leading to Nirvana.
The Diwali ceremony in our house lasts about thirty minutes. It is generally attended by 30 to 40 family, friends, and guests. It is a tradition continuing from our house in Punjab, India. The ceremony includes a short discourse on the spirituality and symbolism of the event, the chanting of the Gayatri Mantra, the Mool Mantra from the Guru Garanth Sahib of the Sikhs, the singing of devotional song (s) and its conclusion with Aarti (prayer). The celebrations continue with a vegetarian feast, music, and dancing. The gifts of sweets are also exchanged. It is the season for sharing, for giving, and for reflecting.
This is the spirit of Diwali for me. I wish everyone a very happy and prosperous Diwali and New Year.