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Rectitude should uplift the festive spirit

I arrived in Auckland with my family in 1971 on a teaching assignment at the University of Auckland mathematics department.

Most of the Indian immigrants those days were from Fiji or from the Indian states of Gujarat and Punjab.

They were mainly in green grocery business or worked in factories, very few in whiter collar professions.

Indian cultural festivals were on low profile, mostly confined to private homes.

Mahatma Gandhi Hall, the venue of Auckland Indian Association was in a small building on Victoria Street in the city.

Rectitude should uplift- Vamanamurthy 2.JPGWe used to gather there to celebrate religious festivals like Krishna Janmashtami, Ganesh Chaturthi, Navaratri and Diwali and Indian Independence Day and Republic Day, with modest cultural programmes.

The average Kiwi had no concept of Indian religious festivals and their significance.

The temple of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (Iskcon) was also in a small building on Gribblehirst Road in Mt Albert, where some devotees used to gather occasionally for religious celebrations.

One significant event was the visit of Acharya His Holiness Srila Prabhupada Bhaktivedanta Swamy, the founder of Iskon.

Cultural spread

With a big influx of professionals from all parts of India in the 1990s, Indian culture began to make its mark to become an integral part of New Zealand’s rainbow.

Diwali in particular is now celebrated with all pomp and glory by a wide cross-section of the resident population not only in Auckland but also in other major cities.

Even our lawmakers host a Diwali reception in parliament buildings in Wellington every year, which is also attended by community leader from various cities.

In all religions, a festival is a celebration that integrates spiritual, philosophical, religious and cultural aspects of human life.

The spiritual aspect is based on the basic human need for inner peace, joy and fulfilment.

The philosophical aspect is based on the principle of the triumph of good over evil in the constant struggle between the two.

Naturally, this victory deserves to be rejoiced and celebrated.

This is also to remind ourselves and future generations that in the constant strife between good and evil, the good alone shall always win (Satyam Eva Jayate).

The religious aspect deals with the rituals of each festival.

The mythological stories that are related to the manifestation of God provide the religious strength for the festival.

The cultural aspect deals with the customs, activities, food, dress, social interaction with family and friends.

In the words of Sriranga Sadguru, a yogi-seer, “The planetary positions at the time of these festivals are favourable to spiritual development and one should make the best use of these special timings.”

The word ‘Diwali’ is an abbreviation of the Sanskrit expression ‘Deepavali,’ which is a conjunction Deepa (light) and Avali (row).

For centuries, the festival has been one of the most important annual events in India, just as Christmas has been in many parts of the world.

Diwali has spiritual, economic, social and commercial aspects and is of universal appeal.

According to ancient scriptures, the entire universe has eternal periodic existence.

Each periodic cycle is divided into four ‘Yugas’ (Ages) and each running into several million years. They are, in order, ‘Krita Yuga,’ ‘Treta Yuga,’ ‘Dwapara Yuga’ and Kali Yuga’ (the present Age).

For the purpose of saving the virtuous and destroying evil (Dushta Shikshana, Shishta Rakshana), the Lord Almighty manifested on earth five times during the ‘Krita Yuga’ (the Matsya, Koorma, Varaha, Narasimha and Vamana forms), twice in ‘Treta Yuga’ (the Parashurama, Rama forms), twice in ‘Dwapara Yuga’ (as Krishna and Buddha).

His reincarnation as ‘Kalki’ during the current ‘Kali Yuga,’ is yet to take place.

Hindus thus believe that there are ten manifestations in all.

Diwali is a joyful celebration of the following significant legends.

(a) In ‘Krita Yuga,’ Lord Vamana stamps His foot on the powerful and devoted, but

evil king Bali’s head, bringing great relief to the anxious angels, while granting at the same time, salvation to the departed soul of the king

(b) In ‘Treta Yuga,’ Lord Rama destroys the evil demon king Ravana, frees His

consort Sita and returns to the kingdom of Ayodhya after 14 years in exile

(c) In ‘Dwapara Yuga,’ Lord Krishna destroys the evil demon Narakasura and

establishes righteousness, peace, happiness and prosperity all over the world.

Thus, the spiritual significance can be summarised as celebration of triumph of Light over Darkness, Knowledge over Ignorance, Truth over Untruth, Non-violence over Violence, Love over Hate, Peace over War, Prosperity over Poverty, Happiness over Misery.

Economically, Diwali is celebration of the Harvest season, after hard work in farms and fields. Families and friends get together and celebrate with sumptuous feast, colourful illuminations and fireworks.

Interestingly, Diwali is akin to ‘Guy Fawkes Day’ in the West with display of fireworks.

Socially, newly-wed couples are invited to the homes of the bride for joyful celebration of their happy union and for future happiness and prosperity.

Commercially, as in the case of Christmas, people go on shopping spree and exchange gifts among families and friends.

Certain business communities in India close their previous year’s financial accounts and start fresh a new financial year. They worship Mahalakshmi, the Goddess of Wealth, to shower on them, Wealth, Health & Prosperity.

Diwali therefore marks their New Year’s Day.

Lord Krishna says:

Of all plants, the sacred Tulasi is dearest to Me

Of all months, Kartika is dearest

Of all places of pilgrimage, My beloved Dwaraka is dearest

And of all days, Ekadashi is dearest

(Padma Purana, Uttara Khanda 112.3)

So, on this holy day, let us kindle our hearts with the light of God, making a true ‘fresh start.’ Let us pray to the Lord to bestow on us the divine gifts of faith, purity and devotion. With those gifts, we will always be peaceful, prosperous, and fulfilled.

Let us celebrate Diwali this year as a true ‘holy day,’ and not just as another frivolous ‘holiday.’

May God Bless All with Peace and Happiness.

Professor Mavina Krishna Vamanamurthy passed away in Auckland on April 6, 2009. In reproducing the above article which he wrote for our Diwali 2007 Special, we pay homage to this great man who was widely respected for his erudition and qualities of companionship and human values. He was a true cultural and social ambassador, offering ready support and assistance in disseminating information on behalf of any not-for-profit organisation, networking with community members through his extensive database. His involvement in academics and cultural life spanned more than four decades. He is survived by his wife Ratna, daughters Geetha and Sonia and son Raghu.

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