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Love and Light

Deepavali: The Festival of Light

“The inner significance of Deepavali is to lead man from darkness to light. Man is perpetually plunged in darkness. Every time he is enveloped in darkness, he should light a lamp that is ever shining within him. Carry that lamp wherever you go. It will light your path wherever you may be.” As darkness comes early in the evening, and most of us are up before the sun has risen, an air of dreariness seems to descend over many of us at this time of the year. Memories of happy summer days have faded into the distance, and the chill in the air and gloomy weather doesn’t help! So it’s interesting to note that many of our major world religions have festivals of light at this time of year. Christmas, Hannukah and for Hindus, Sikhs and Jains we celebrate Deepavali/Divali – the Hindu Festival of Light! The word “Deepavali” literally means “a row of lights” and there are many origins of the festival. In some parts of India, it is associated with the destruction of the demon Narakasura by Lord Krishna and his consort Sathyabhama. Other people celebrate Lord Vishnu’s 5th incarnation, Vamana, and tells the story of how He destroyed King Bali’s pride. Many of us know the much loved story is that of Rama and Sita, when Deepavali marks the triumphant return of Lord Rama, Sita and Lakshmana to Ayodhya after their fourteen years of exile. The emphasis of all of these essentially celebrates the triumph of good over evil - through prayer, food, music and light. For several days before Deepavali, people clean the house from top to bottom, to signify a new beginning, a fresh start. On Deepavali Day, they wake up early, take ceremonial baths, wear new clothes and light deepams (decorated clay oil lamps) all over the house to show that, just as Rama destroyed the evil Ravana, just as Krishna destroyed the evil Narakasura, the light of God, the light of knowledge, will overcome the darkness of fear and ignorance in our lives.

In the temple, all the deepams are lit from the flame of one central lamp, signifying that each of us has a jivatma or soul and, although each of us may look different and separate, we have all come from the one and only original source of light – the paramatma or God. We also celebrate by eating sweet food, nothing bitter, symbolising our wish for all that is sweet and good in life. We even decorate our floors with intricate and brightly coloured patterns called Rangolis, and sometimes use similar designs to decorate our hands with mehndi patterns – so that we may see beautiful things all around us on this very special day. Gifts and greetings are exchanged and old and young, friends and family come together to celebrate this special day with a wonderful feast of good food and good company.

It is a day of great joy and happiness, which continues even into the night, when we light fireworks to chase away the darkness. Children love this festival because it is a chance to get new clothes and gifts from their parents. It is a day of fun and laughter, but it is also a day of prayer and thankfulness for all the good things that God has given us.

Swami says: “The inner significance of Deepavali is to lead man from darkness to light. Man is perpetually plunged in darkness. Every time he is enveloped in darkness, he should light a lamp that is ever shining within him. Carry that lamp wherever you go. It will light your path wherever you may be.”

Happy Deepavali to you all! May the light within illuminate our thoughts words and deeds and spread our Lord’s message of Love and Unity to all who surround us on this holiest of days.

By Geetha Maheshwaran