Our Festival Diary blog series invites members and friends of WIN to prepare a ‘festival diary’, exploring the history and significance of specific rituals or outlining the routine of religious celebrations, as a window into the lived experience of people of different faiths. This Interfaith Week, we are sharing three Festival Diaries from friends of WIN to highlight how much we have in common as women of faith, as well as the deeper meaning of our festivals. Our first author is WIN Trustee, Dr Dharshana Sridhar, reflecting on the deeper meaning of Diwali as the Festival of Lights.
Diwali – The Festival of Lights
Diwali or Deepavali as it is also called, is famously known as the Festival of Lights. The triumph of good over evil is celebrated every year with the lighting of lamps, firework displays, exchanging of sweets and gifts and worshipping the Divine with gratitude, by Hindus across the world. I remember as a child, after listening to stories from my grandparents, always thinking that everything that’s wrong in the world would be put to right on Diwali day, because isn’t that what it was all about? Whilst that childish naivety has gone as I grew and learnt more about the world, the hope that Diwali signifies continues to remain within me and within humanity. There are many stories of why Diwali is celebrated. South Indians celebrate the killing of the demon Narakasuran by Sathyabhama, Lord Krishna’s wife and in North India, the return of Lord Rama with Goddess Sita back to Ayodhya, after killing the demon king Ravana, is celebrated as Diwali. Whilst the stories are interesting in themselves, like many other concepts in Hinduism, there is a deeper meaning to them.
Let’s take the Narakasura story. Here Lord Krishna represents the Supreme Power also known as the Para Brahmam or Matter. And Sathyabama represents the Energy that brings Matter to life (and different life forms), Shakthi, the Divine Mother. The Narakasura story is the simple explanation of Sri Vidhya, a form of Self Realisation through worshipping the Divine Mother. Hinduism believes that the Divine Mother alone can destroy the presence of one’s ego to enable one to receive the Grace of the Supreme Power, God. In the Ramayana, the demon king Ravana kidnaps Sita. This leads to a great war in which Rama and Lakshmana, with the help of Hanuman, defeat Ravana and free Sita from Lanka. Rama is the soul. Sita is the mind. Ravana is the ego. Lanka depicts the world and its material desires. The true meaning of Ramayana is that the Soul (Rama) needs to defeat the ego (Ravana) and liberate the mind (Sita) from the material world (Lanka). This is the crux of Ramayanam. When the ego is destroyed and the Grace of God is attained, the inner light is illuminated. Light is God. The very journey to enlightenment and therefore self-realisation is filled with many astonishing experiences with light. Thus, the real meaning of Deepavali is the experience of the inner light that takes place as we encounter and come closer to realizing our true nature, the soul. Deepavali is celebrating this day of enlightenment, of reaching the Light of God in our spiritual journey.
The Light of God signifies blessings, hope, goodness, peace and prosperity. As we watch the suffering of so many across the world, this Light of God is the hope that gives strength, resilience, and comfort to all who need it. We may have many rivers that lead to the one sea or ocean. Similarly, many of the faith systems and beliefs we all have, lead to the one Light of God. The Light is for all to seek and gain comfort and peace. This Diwali, as we celebrate with our families and friends, let us also pray for those in our own lives and across the world, to be blessed with God’s Light, so they receive His hope, His love and His everlasting peace.
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