24 Oct 2014

Diwali and the Victory of Light over darkness

Diwali Celebrations 2013
Last night, at Shree Peetha Nilaya, the abode of Goddess Mahalakshmi we celebrated Diwali, which marks the culmination of three consecutive nights of prayers dedicated to Mahalakshmi.

Mahalakshmi murti at the main entrance of Shree Peetha Nilaya
The word ‘Diwali’ is an abbreviation from ‘Deepavali’ which means ‘row of lights’, because the central tradition of this festival in itself is the lighting of oil lamps or candles.

Lighting clay lamps during Diwali celebrations 2013
Rangoli decorations outside of Shree Peetha Nilaya's main entrance during Diwali celebration 2014

Rangoli decorations at Shree Peetha Nilaya's main entrance during Diwali celebration 2014
The rangolis are also a characteristic of the traditional decoration during this festivity. They are put there in order to welcome Mahalakshmi. Her footprints on the floor represent the manifestation of Her presence among us.

Mahalakshmi's footprints in the main entrance of Shree Peetha Nilaya during Diwali celebration 2014
There are many regional myths, legends and beliefs which can be associated to these three days of prayers, depending on the regions within India and the school of Hindu philosophy. However, in the end they are all related to the symbolic victory of light over darkness, knowledge over ignorance, good over evil, and hope over despair. The first night of prayers is called Dhanteras and it is commonly associated to Dhanvantari, an incarnation of Mahavishnu who came out of the churning of the Milky Ocean holding the pot of amrit, the elixir of immortality. The second night of the Mahalakshmi prayers is also referred to as Naraka Chaturdashi which commemorates the killing of the demon Narakasura by Krishna and Satyabhama. And the third night usually commemorates the end of Lord Rama’s 14 years of exile and His return to Ayodhya.

At Shree Peetha Nilaya, by the end of this third night of prayers, the main festive aspect of Diwali celebrations is revealed with the lighting of candles and lamps: everyone is giving an opportunity to light a candle or a lamp and spread it symbolically by displaying it outside of the centre's main entrance.

Lighting candles and lamps during Diwali celebrations 2014

There are a few key points related to Diwali celebrations which Sri Swami Vishwananda has emphasised throughout the years:  Mahalakhmi's veneration, the lighting of the Inner Light, the symbolism of the clay lamp and the dharmic example of Lord Rama.

Mahalakhmi's veneration

Puja to Mahalakshmi Kubera during Diwali celebrations 2013
“Goddess Lakshmi is venerated on this day because She is the Light Herself and She is the one who gives the Shakti; She is the one who gives the power to sustain everything, to sustain life itself. She removes the darkness and shines the light which She Herself represents. It is true, She is the Goddess of wealth, but wealth has different meanings. If somebody is running towards material wealth outside, of course She will provide; She is the provider, She will give wealth as material wealth. But on the spiritual path, She also gives another kind of wealth, which is spiritual wealth. Her name in that aspect is Saubhagya Dayini. She gives whatever pleases Her devotee. She fulfils the innerwish of Her devotee, as long as it is constructive. By praying to Her on Diwali, She bestows happiness, joy – in both ways, on the spiritual way and on the material way, because She is the fullness of everything. She doesn’t just give half. She gives the fullness, but She also reflects the fullness of how much one is dedicated towards Her. If you dedicate yourself halfway, She will give you half. This is the half fullness. The fullness of what you can bear. If She gives you more than that, you will not be able to handle it. She also gives the ultimate fullness, the hundred percent, but you have to learn to surrender completely to Her and this fullness She will give.” (JL3, p. 337)

Lighting of the Inner Light

Lighting a candle during Diwali celebrations 2014

“Diwali is the festival of light. The festival of light, why? It is because when Rama killed Ravana and was returning to his kingdom in Ayodhya, the people celebrated by lighting little lamps, showing that light vanquishes the darkness. It is also to remind us of our inner light. Mankind likes to dwell in the darkness of the mind and they like to hang on that. They forget that deeper, inside their heart, there is also the light. Diwali is when people light the light, the inner light, reminding themselves that, yes, the altar light is one thing but the most important is to light the inner light and let it shine. When you start to light from inside, when your heart starts to beam with the light of Love, it attracts more than positivity; it attracts the Lord Himself. When you attract the Lord Himself, you can just surrender. This is what Diwali means – to awaken the inner light and let it shine.” (JL3, p. 336)

Symbolism of the clay lamp

Sri Swami Vishwananda lighting a clay lamp during Diwali celebrations 2013

“A clay lamp is very symbolic, actually. With the symbol of a clay lamp we say, ‘God, you are the Light, but we are the batti – the thread.’ This is the connection that we have with the Divine. The clay lamp is our body and symbolises that this body is just dust and dust it shall be. And inside is the light burning, is the Love burning inside of you. So rise, make your intellect be illuminated by the Grace of God, by the Grace of the Divine Mother, so that in this life, you can take the opportunity and realise your Self. Realise where you come from, realise who you are in reality, realise your work, your mission and realise where you are going, what your real duty in life is. Let this light shine through you. Become a messenger of this Love, become a messenger of the Divine – not just limiting yourselves, being what your mind perceives you to be. That’s also why we light this lamp.” (Sri Swami Vishwananda youtube channel)

Dharmic example of Lord Rama

Ram Navami celebrations 2012
In “the story of Rama. You see, his life was not that easy. He was sent into the forest and of course He encountered many challenges, but He faced them. He didn’t make Himself weak. He didn’t run away or go crying. He didn’t say ‘I renounce my mission. I’m finished with it.’ It’s the same thing when you pursue God-Realisation or Self-Realisation – no matter what comes, you have to be strong. Through this determination of being strong, the Divine will give you the energy, but this part is not God who has to do it, but you who have to do it.” (JL2 p. 84)

“You see, to love God is not an easy task, it’s true – but it’s not impossible. On that way there are lots of tests that He puts you to. There are lots of challenges that He puts you through. But actually, these tests and challenges are just to make you stronger if you are surrendered. But if you are not surrendered, you will fall. You will break. This choice is up to you. You have to ask yourself what you really want. It is not wrong to want the world, but you will gain the world. Same thing – whatever you wish deeply inside of you, She will fulfill it. She will happily give you what you want, until at last you ask Her for what you have really come here for. So, this Diwali, pray to Goddess Lakshmi in the form of Parashakti, the Shakti which pervades everything, that She in Her motherly Love, carries you, handles you, and looks after you.” (JL3 p. 366)