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Diwali becomes a multinational Festival

Deepawali is the Festival of Light celebrated in India for the past thousands of years. From grass-thatched mud huts to palaces and from commercial organisations to places of worship, everyone marks the Festival with piety and fun.

As well as Hindus, people of other faiths including Jains, Sikhs, Buddhists, Christians and even Muslims participate in the festivities with enthusiasm.

Small clay or brass lamps are lit around homes, offices and Temples and Gurdwaras on Deepawali (Diwali) Day, symbolising the end of the darkness of the darkest night, the Amavasya (New Moon Day) in the month of Kartika (the eighth month of the Hindu Lunar Calendar).

Crackers, an essential feature of Deepawali celebrations, are every youth’s love along with an array of multi-coloured lights scattered over the high skies, transforming into multiple forms, such as images of Gods and Goddesses, flowers, animals and the National Flag.

Glorious victory

More than a religious festival confined to a community or race, Deepawali is perceived as the battle of light against darkness – a tiny lamp’s determination to illuminate the earth and the sky setting people free from the all-enshrouding darkness.

Deepawali celebrates this victory of the tiny lamp, its humble effort to fight and win over the gigantic darkness. People see in the effort of the tiny lamp their own effort to wade across the ocean of adversities. The efforts and the success achieved fills them with renewed confidence and fresh vigour for the days to come.

Deepawali is the Festival of renewing confidence – in oneself and among all people, irrespective of their beliefs. It is a Festival that inspires universal goodness and prosperity for all.

Whatever its sectarian contexts, for centuries it has attained the magnitude of a national festival breathing a strange sense of belonging. Whether the lamp is lit in a temple or chapel, in a hut or palace, before the image of Christ, Mahavira, Buddha or Lakshmi and Ganesh, or before the sacred Bir – Holy Scripture, in a Gurdwara or at home, it is essentially a desire for light, an intrinsic determination to combat darkness, inherent compulsion for freeing oneself from all that is narrow.

Shopping is an essential aspect of Deepawali, with families purchasing new clothes and gifts (depending on one’s financial ability). Sweets are distributed among the young and the old, symbolising warmth and goodwill.

The Crux of Deepawali

Sectarian contexts apart, light imparts to Deepawali universal breadth, a unique magnificence and divine dimensions that are rarely associated with a Festival.

As light is benevolent and auspicious, its birth and emergence, is by itself a celebration. Seers saw light as both the Supreme Creator, and the Creation.

Reiterating Kabir, Guru Nanak sang, ‘Eka Noor Te Saba Jaga Upaya’, meaning that the entire universe is born of one light. Prophet Mohammad said that the universe is nothing but the extension of His ‘Noor’ (Light).

They both saw the Creator as a glow of light. It was hardly different for Shaivites (followers of Lord Shiva) who consecrated the Supreme Being as Jyotir-linga – the light combined with phallus, the fertility factor. This Supreme One wished, ‘Ekoham Bahusyami’ (I am one but wish to multiply) and thus out of His expansion the cosmos came into being. Hardly different from these philosophical utterances is the common man’s allegory when on a child’s birth a mother sings, ‘Jjaga Ujiyaro Hoya’ (‘with the child’s birth, which symbolises to her the emergence of light, ‘The world is illuminated’). Alike, when a living being passes away, the wise say, ‘Jyoti Mein Jyoti Samani,’ that is, the flame has merged with the Supreme Flame.

The Buddhist tradition depicts, both in scriptures and art, a glowing flame passing off the body of Buddha to portray His ‘Maha Parinirvana,’ or final extinction.

Burning Light

The Rig Veda holds Surya, the Sun God in highest reverence; because, unless there is light, even the manifest does not manifest.

The Upanishad interpretation of the Rig Vedic Sukta is clearer. Emergence of light is also the emergence of cosmos, for even if the cosmos existed, it would not manifest unless there was light. That is why the tradition reiterated, ‘Tamsoma Jyotirgamaya’ (Let the darkness depart and the light emerge), in which manifested the desire of the non-manifest.

Biblical reference

Metaphorically or otherwise, it is by the emergence of light that the factum of Creation has been indicated, not in India alone but also everywhere in the world. The Biblical tradition heralds, ‘Let there be light and the light was there.’

Here also the Supreme One desired the emergence and creation followed light. Maybe, the light’s relation with the Creation was just symbolic, suggesting that the world existed in light and disappeared in darkness. However, light is God’s verse that he writes on the face of the universe, and hence, whatever is divine is endowed with light, while dark avenues are devil’s abode.

This light is the endless celebration by humans and nature. Perceptions, perspectives, dimensions and forms are all Light’s creation, and beauty, splendour, goodness, purity its finer shades.

With light is associated love, optimism, delight, festivities and everything that is auspicious, holy or divine. In its intrinsic form light is the attainment of ultimate knowledge and thereby of the supreme bliss, and thereafter there is no darkness and nothing in between the seer and the seen.

The light is, thus, the ultimate vision of this world and the world beyond, and so its celebration, a thing of this world as also of the other.

Nitin Kumar is the Editor of exoticindia.com. The above article has been reproduced with his permission. Exotic India 2013 ©

1. The Shiva Lingam is a popular form of worship

2. Fireworks depict light over darkness (Waitakere 2011)

3. The Sun God at the Universe core

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