DEEPAVALI, ITS REAL MEANING
By: Dr. Nipan Shroff
Deepawali is a festival of lights. Just as we light our homes and streets with lights we need to recognize the inner light that is present in all of us. This inner light connects us with God, and guides us during our arduous journey through life. In a spiritual context, as this light penetrates inwards, it brightens all aspects of life, driving away darkness (of ignorance) and usher in the light (of knowledge and Divinity.)
Throughout India, Diwali is the most festive and joyful time of the year. Deepa-wali or Diwali literally means a "row of lights and lamps." During this festive season, it is common custom for every home to be brightly lit and decorated. According to Hindu mythology, Lakshmi, the Goddess of Wealth, goes from house to house on this night and enters only those houses, which are illuminated and avoids those in darkness. Goddess Lakshmi was one of the 14 jewels that was recovered from the churning of the ocean called Sumudra Manthan. The birth of Laksmi is celebrated by Hindus and Sikhs throughout the world as a time filled with light and love
Diwali is celebrated on the fifteenth day in the dark half of Kartik (October - November). It is the darkest night of the darkest period. Ironically enough it is a celebration of light! Diwali is hailed as the triumph of good over evil. Although there are several interpretations on the symbolism and rituals surrounding Diwali; one such interpretation is that it is a celebration of our Lord Rama's glorious return to his Kingdom after fourteen years of exile in the forests. The people of Ayodhya were so delighted that they lit thousands of earthen oil lamps to welcome Lord Rama back home. This commemoration of Lord Rama's return signifies the triumph of good over evil; of righteousness over treachery; of truth over falsehood and indeed, of light over darkness.
There are three main aspects of Diwali: The first is the celebration of light; the second is that Diwali marks the beginning of the New Year and a day for "starting afresh"; and the third is the worship of Mahalakshmi.
CELEBRATION OF LIGHT:
"Which else shall beautify a home but the flame of a lovely lamp?, Which else shall adorn the mind but the light of Wisdom Deep ?"
On Diwali, we line our homes and streets with lanterns, light colorful fireworks and watch the children play with sparklers. Diwali, however, is not simply a festival of light where we may burn candles, and indulge in fireworks and sparklers. Although these festivities are wonderful ways of expressing our happiness, they are not the true meaning of Diwali.
On a deeper level, Diwali signifies the light which dispels the darkness of ignorance; it is the light which illuminates our journey through life. The purpose is not to glorify the light of the candle, nor the brilliance of the firecracker. The purpose is to glorify the light of God as He bestows the real and everlasting light upon the darkness of this mundane world. Why do we decorate our homes with lanterns and candles? These lanterns signify God's light, penetrating through the ignorance and sins of our daily lives. A home bathed in light is a home in which anger, pain and ignorance are dispelled; it is a home that is close to God. However, too many people are more concerned with an outward aesthetic display and spend days and a great deal of money to purchase the most beautiful candles and lamps. The true light of Diwali should be within us. It should symbolize the personal relationship between God and us. It should not focus on the decorations solely to attract attention from passing cars, or to become the envy of the neighborhood. The spiritual "light" of Diwali should penetrate inward, as only that will have lasting benefit.
DIWALI AS A FRESH START:
Diwali also marks the beginning of the Hindu New Year. In the joyous mood of this season, we clean our rooms, homes, and our offices, and let the light of Diwali enter all corners of our lives. We begin the year with new checkbooks, diaries and calendars. It is a day of "starting afresh."
As we perform our "house-keeping" and empty out cabinets, we must not forget our own self. What about cleansing our hearts and minds? That is where the real cleaning begins. That is the real meaning of "starting afresh." We must clean our hearts, ridding them of darkness and bitterness; we must make them clean and sparkling places for God to dwell. We must be as thorough with ourselves as we are with our homes. We should look inwardly and ask, "Are there any dark corners in our hearts we have avoided for so long? Are we simply "sweeping all the dirt under the rug?" At this time, we need to cleanse ourselves, so the God's light can shine through.
WORSHIP OF MAHA LAKSHMI:
The third, and perhaps most important, aspect of Diwali is the worship of Maha Lakshmi. Maha Lakshmi is the goddess of wealth and prosperity. On Diwali, we pray to her for prosperity and ask her to lavish her blessings upon us. Yet, all too often, we infer "prosperity" to mean money, material possessions, and earthly pleasures. However, this is NOT the true wealth in life; this is not what makes us prosperous. We should remember that it is only God's presence in our lives that makes us rich and illuminates our lives. Some people may not have material possessions and it may seem like these people live a less fortunate life than others. But if we look a little closer, we will see that what we refer to as "poor people" have a light shining in their eyes, a glow on their faces and a song in their hearts. Money certainly cannot buy that.
On Diwali, we pray to Maha Lakshmi to bestow real prosperity upon us, the prosperity that brings light to our lives and sparkle to our eyes. We must pray for an abundance of faith, and not money. Rather than for the attainment of material wealth, we must pray for success in our spiritual lives. On this holy day, we must fill our hearts and minds with the light of God.
Our pujya Swamiji Saraswati says:
"May the light of love and devotion shine brightly in your hearts,
May the light of understanding shine in your minds
May the light of harmony glow in your home,
May the light of service shine forth ceaselessly from your hands.
May your presence light the lamps of love wherever you go.
May your smile, your words and your actions be as sweet
as the sweets eaten on this festive occasion.
May Maha Lakshmi bring you the true wealth of peace, health, inner happiness and Love.
May this festival of lights light up your life, and may your future be bright!"