Corridors lit up with series of lamps, diyas, candles; floors outside the door decorated with beautiful rangolis; all the balconies, roofs and walls of the house glittering with candles or lightings; houses cleaned and renovated; people wearing new dress and greeting everyone with smile on the faces and sweets in hand- this describes the scene in every household during one of the most prominent festival celebrated in India and by Indians in many parts of the world- Deepawali or Diwali.
We all had celebrated Deepawali with a lot of zeal and happiness in the last month. Marking as the end of one calendar year as per the Hindu lunar calendar and the beginning of the New Year, this festival fills our lives with joy and newness. There are numerous folklores that narrate the importance of this festival of lights. Each of these symbolizes the spiritual significance of this day.
Deepawali is the festival which celebrated to mark the victory of the good over the evil, light over darkness, as a 5 day extravaganza all over the country. Celebrated on the newmoon night of the month of Kartik in October/November, it is primarily a harvest festival. Almost all ancient cultures of the world have certain harvest festivals at this time of the year – for instance, Halloween of the preChristian Europe, Sukkot of the Jews. But in India, it is a full five day affair, with many important events falling during this period that add on to the already weighty importance of Diwali. There are wonderful interesting epic legends that bring the joy and meaning of life alive by creating a visual panorama through various events marking this day. But all of these have a very subtle message to follow in our lives. Let’s have a look at the very interesting epical significance of this festival along with message it has to convey:
1. Coming back home or attainment of liberation-
Diwali is celebrated on the occasion of the return of Lord Shree Rama with his wife Shree Sita and younger brother Shree Lakshman, from his long fourteen years of exile in the forest, twenty days after killing Ravana. This is also celebrated as the day of coronation of Lord Rama and Sita as the Emperor and Empress of Ayodhya, marking the beginning of Rama-Rajya.For some, Diwali also celebrates the return of Pandavas after 12 years of exile and one year of Agyatavas in Mahabharata.
# It spiritually denotes the victory and re-establishment of the rule of the good, truth andrighteousness over the evil. Rama denotes benefactor, or the liberator, who is known to be the master or consort of Sita who was born from an earthen pot. Thus Sita symbolizes the soul which resides in the body of 5 elements, the primary of which is Earth. When the soul realizes itself, it marks its awakening and enlightenment and subsequently the liberation from fear, sorrow, worldly attachments, and other negative emotions rooted out of body consciousness. It is then believed to be dedicated to or belong to the master of the Universe- the true benefactor and serve the humanity through divinity. Ravana means one who makes everyone cry. He is shown as a 10 headed demon who was the mightiest of all the kings and rulers and was equally knowledgeable and a great devotee. It symbolizes worldly knowledge and external devotion without purity of the mind and soul due togross body consciousnessresulting inthe 10 vices of lust, anger, greed, attachment, ego, laziness, carelessness, jealousy, hatred and fear. When the Sita, the soul, crosses its limit of soul consciousness or Lakshman rekha (Lakshya- aim + Mann- mind), it gets carried away or abducted by the vices, the Ravana. It is then that it enters the clutches of vices and seeks re-union with the liberator. When we gain victory over our body consciousness, denoted as hitting the arrow of knowledge at that the root of all the vices, the soul or Sita is freed from the negativities and regains liberation or reunion with Rama. So this day is marked as the coronation of Rama and Sita, and return of Rama and Sita, i.e. coming back to their original consciousnessdenoted as the kingdom of- Ayodhaya (A + yudhya), which means a state of no more fight or conflict, as the soul has already been liberated from the vices which caused conflicts. Hence it is celebrated as a new beginning of a journey on the path of spiritual awareness (Ganesha), leading to knowledge (Saraswati or siddhi), prosperity and fortune (riddhi or Maha Lakshmi), worshipped in different forms of deities.
# In other religions too, this day is celebrated as the day of liberation or freedom. The Jain Prophet, Mahavira, the last of the Tirthankar of this era, is believed to have attained Nirvana or liberation on this day.
# Diwali for Sikhs marks the Bandi Chhor Divas, when Guru Har Gobind Singh freed himself and some Hindu kings who held strings of the cloth that Guru Har Gobind was wearing (as per the condition put forth for their freedom), from the Gwalior Fort, from the prison of the Mughal emperor, Jahangir, and arrived at the Golden Temple in Amritsar. Ever since then, Sikhs celebrate this day with the annual lighting up of Golden Temple, fireworks and other festivities. In the post-Guru Gobind Singh era, Sarbat Khalsa used to meet on Diwali and Baisakhi to discuss important issues concerning Sikh community.
2. Rituals performed on Diwali-
It is customary to clean each and every corner of the house and remove the old, unwanted and broken things from the house and bring in new ones. People wear new dresses on this day. On this darkest night, lots of earthen (or nowadays electric) lamps are lighted all over the house to dispel darkness, making it the festival of lights. Usually a bigger lamp is lighted first and all other smaller ones are lit either with this bigger one or with other already lit smaller lamps. Also, people express their joy by making special dishes, making and sharing sweets, and bursting fire crackers of many kinds. They invite and go to friends and neighbors too.
# The darkest night or the last night of the month symbolizes the end of ignorance and marks the beginning of the new phase of enlightenment celebrated as the New Year on the next day.
# Cleaning of the house and removing old things and bringing new ones denotes that to celebrate a new beginning, it is important to cleanse the mind, let go of the past and to forgive and forget the old rivalries, negative and unwanted memories and adopt newness in our consciousness and relations.
# Wearing new dress is equivalent to acquiring a new (actually original, but long forgotten) identity or awareness that ‘I the soul am wearing this costume of my body’.
# Lighting up of earthen lamps also has a similar meaning. It symbolizes that the light (knowledge) of awareness of the soul is ignited within this body (primarily made of the element Earth). The bigger lamp denotes the Supreme Consciousness which is instrumental in lighting up the smaller one- the souls in human body. Also, the already enlightened souls then become instrumental in lighting up the other ones still engaged in body consciousness. It is also ensured that on this day, the lamps or lights should not be turned off. But it gives us a message that our awareness of who we truly are should never be turned off. This awareness is what brings knowledge, purity, peace, prosperity and happiness in life.
# Making special dishes and particularly sweets and distributing among people, friends and neighbors means to make special efforts to re-unite with everyone around and making our relations sweet by creating sweet memories of togetherness on this day, speaking sweet words and celebrating each moment together.
# Bursting of fire crackers symbolizes bursting of our ego and differences with others and spreading the light and happiness to others as well.
3. Lakshmi- Ganesh- Saraswati puja-
This day is also significant as a day to honour and welcome the 4 armed deity, Shree Maha Lakshmi, considered to be the goddess of wealth in the Hindu mythology and the goddess of abundance and fortune for Buddhists. The 5-day festival of Diwali begins on the day Goddess Lakshmi was born from the churning of cosmic ocean of milk by the Devas (deities) and the Asuras (demons); while the night of Diwali is the day Lakshmi chose Lord Vishnu as her husband and they were married.Other Hindus believe that Diwali is the day Lord Vishnu came back to Lakshmi and their abode in the Vaikuntha; so those who worship Lakshmi receive the benefit of her good mood, and therefore are blessed with mental, physical and material wellbeing during the year ahead.
Along with her, Lord Ganesha (respected even by deities), the son of God Shiva and His consort goddess Parvati,and who symbolizes ethical beginnings and fearless remover of obstacles, is also worshipped and welcomed on this day as he is considered to be the bestower of Riddhi and Siddhi (wealth and attainment or enlightment) to all.
Saraswati, who embodies music, literature and learning and Kubera, who symbolizes book-keeping, treasury and wealth management are also welcomed and worshipped on this night along with Maha Lakshmi and Ganesha.
# This symbolizes that good fortune and prosperity comes to those who have a clean heart and mind and good feelings for others. Also, enlightenment automatically brings peace and invites prosperity in life.
# Birth of Lakshmi or fortune and prosperity shown as churning of cosmic ocean denotes the result of churning the ocean of our thoughts which has both the good (sur) and evil (asur). When we choose the good over evil, then we become the owners of good fortune.
# Maha Lakshmi depicted with the pot of wealth and showering wealth, sitting or standing on the lotus flower, holding lotus in her arms and ridding an owl represents attaining and holding the true spiritual and ethical wealth in our intellects and bestowing it to or sharing it with others. It is only possible retain such spiritual wealth when we detach ourselves from the influence of the negativities outside and around us and maintain a pure intellect- shown as a lotus flower. Owl represents ability to move and prevail even in darkness, soul-spirit, foresightedness and keeper of sacred knowledge. The ancient Greeks revered the goddess Athena, who was supposed to be the goddess of wisdom and guardian of the Acropolis. Her symbol was the owl, so the bird became a symbol of higher wisdom. The owl was a bird of prophecy and wisdom in many ancient cultures.But if not handled properly, it can lead to drain of wisdom resulting in failure and dull-headedness. This means that material wealth if not coupled with spiritual and ethical wealth can lead to drainage of the material wealth too.
# Ganesha represents good omen to embark on something new. So worshipping Ganesh means to receive good wishes upon the determination of having new consciousness. Also, he is believed to remove obstacles, and he is known to have 2 wives- Riddhiand Siddhi, whose significance is explained above. So, welcoming Ganesh means to have a life of fulfillment and all attainments by removal of all obstacles through true knowledge and its application. Which is why Saraswati, the goddess of knowledge is also worshipped along with Lakshmi and Ganesha.
4. All night meditation-
Hindus in India’s eastern region, such as Odisha and West Bengal, worship the goddess Kali instead of Lakshmi, and call the festival Kali Puja.It is prescribed that on this day, a worshipper should meditate throughout the night until dawn.
# When we think of Kali, values of strength, fearlessness, complete destruction of evil comes in our mind. She represents the form of goddess of Time, Creation, Destruction and Power. Kal means the changing aspect of time which brings things to life and death. So the worship of Kali is considered to grant liberation. Actually, it means to attain liberation from the fear or sorrow of death and destruction of the old and construction of the new is an inevitable law of the nature. One who attains knowledge about the self and invokes the soul consciousness goes beyond the feeling of sorrow and fear of death and is considered to attain liberation-in-life. On this day, worshipping Kali is symbolic to attainment of this true knowledge and liberation-in-life.
# Also, all night meditation is identical to real awakening during the time of ignorance. One who awakens the self automatically comes out of the darkness of ignorance.
5. Chopad Puja–
This is also considered as the end of the financial year for traditional merchants even today and old account books are balanced and new ones started. This day is also called Chopad Puja i.e. respecting or worshipping the account books.
# Closing of old account books is related to finishing our old sanskaras of negativity and closure or settlement of our old karmic accounts with others and embarking on a fresh start with creation of new positive karmic accounts of happiness with one another. It also reminds us to check what went wrong ethically in the past year and take resolutions to conduct business, work and dealings in a better, positive and ethical way for the next year.
6. Boon of Knowledge by Yama –
It is also believed that the young, patient, determined and seeker Nachiketa was sent to the door of Yama by his own father Vājashravasa, out of frustration by his constant questioning during a yagya set up by Vājashravasa. A guilty Yama who kept Nachiketa, a Brahmin guest,waiting for 3 days, promised to grant 3 boons to Nachiketa, who asked for the highest knowledge against all material attainments, as his last boon, even when tempted with wealth, women and even eternal life! The more Yama tempted him, the more resolved he got to get the truth about “after death”.
# Once again, through yet another folklore, attainment of true knowledge is the key to mark this day. As mentioned in the scriptures, the knowledge Yama gave to Nachiketa was of the soul, which is immortal and doesn’t die even after death of the body.
7. Other festivals related to Diwali-
Through many more stories and folklores related to other festivals in association with Diwali, similar message of attainment of new knowledge, awakening of the soul, victory of good over evil, life over death, liberation over bondages in life, surrendering ego and attaining blessings is conveyed.
# 2 days before this grand welcoming of Lord Rama and Sita, goddess Maha Lakshmi with Lord Ganesh and goddess Sarawati, is celebrated as Dhanteras, when everyone goes for shopping some form of metal, particularly gold or silver, denoting good fortune ready to enter the house or life of the people.
# It also marks as the day of victory over Yama (divinity of death) as per an ancient story where Yama, who came disguised as a serpent, was refrained from entering into the house by a wife devoted to save her husband’s life from Yama. She kept Yama waiting on the pile of gold with lamps lighting all over the house and kept her husband awake all night by singing melodious stories and songs. As a result, Yama whose eyes got blinded by the dazzle of those brilliant lights and gold, could not enter the house and sat there whole night listening to the melodious songs. In the morning he quietly went away.
# A day before Diwali is celebrated as Narak Chaturdashi. It is believed that this day marks the killing of the demon Naraksur by Lord Krishna.
# Also, on this day, the charitable but proud king Balisurrendered and offered his head to Lord Vishnu to keep his foot, who guised as a dwarf brahmana- Vamana, asked for only as much land as he could cover in three steps, but later expanded to cover the earth in one step and the heavens with the second. When Lord Vishnu put his foot on Bali’s head, Bali was pushed down to the nether worlds, the narak. But for his generosity, Lord Vishnu granted him the lamp of knowledge and allowed him to return to earth every year to light millions of lamps to dispel the darkness of ignorance and spread the light of knowledge.
# The day after Diwali is celebrated as New Year or Govardhan Puja which symbolizes respect for the ecology and elements of nature as a part of eco-system which is responsible for our sustenance of this planet.
# The fifth day is celebrated as Bhai Dooj or Bhaiya Dooj, and brothers visit their sister’s home. Sisters put the auspicious tilak on their brothers’ forehead, pray for them, and they eat delicious dishes and sweets together. The tilak represents victory and eating sweets together denotes sweetness in relationships.
Therefore, in these days when life is in the fast lane, pressure of work and liabilities in relationships piles up, Diwali season stands out in its importance to give it a perspective, attain knowledge, remain in true self awareness, sit back and enjoy personal relationships, reflect back on the year gone by and close all old negative karmic accounts, resolve to work hard for the next year and create new healthy and sweeter relations, and conduct business in an ethical and moral way. Thus after this Diwali, let bygones be bygones, forge new friendships and strengthen old ones.