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The Spiritual Significance of Celebrating Diwali or Deepavali

Diwali is here once again, and we are all getting into the celebration mood. If you ask your guru, or look up religious books or even check the internet, you will find so many stories connected with this amazing festival of lights.

It is said, Lord Rama took about  21 days after defeating Ravana, so it falls approximately twenty days after Dusshera. And the obvious message is the triumph of good over evil. Quite in resonance, the next Avatar, Krishna too defeated the demon Narakasura on the same day.

An enigmatic and perhaps even older story links Diwali to Goddess Parvati playing dice with Shiva, and gambling during these days is actually supposed to get transformed into a holy act.

But Diwali is not limited to the plays of good and evil, it is a major festival to honour Lakshmi, Goddess of wealth, and till date Indian housewives not only invoke the Goddess Dhanlakshmi by pious prayer, but also invoke their own privilege of buying gold and silver, and utensils to run a better home on Dhan Teras,and this is a great time to remind the husbands to have the house repainted.

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Diwali is not just celebrated in India, but it is also enjoyed by millions in Nepal, Thailand, Kenya, Trinidad, Malaya and Siam, and many other countries where there are significant numbers of Hindus. In Nepal, Diwali is celebrated on the 3rd day of Tihar festival, 2nd biggest festival of the country.

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On this day, we all look forward to lighting lamps, bursting crackers, making and partaking sweets, wearing colorful clothes, buying all sorts of new things from toys to cars. For many traders, this marked the day to make new ledgers and accounts and even starting new businesses.

The spiritual significance of Diwali or Deepavali

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To understand this, we will have to first refer to the original name of the festival, which is “Deepavali” which means  “row of lights”, and that’s why we call it the festival of light.

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Light is always the symbol of divinity, knowledge, purity. By contrast, darkness is evil, sorrowful, ignorant. When we are in a room that is not well lit, how easy it is to become depressed and low, while in a place which is well lit, how natural to feel bright and wonderful.

Almost all the Rishis and gurus talk about the inner light, they have always told us that the inner-self has the ability to give us all happiness and health, joy and prosperity, but more importantly, it is our link with divinity, it is divinity itself residing within us. It becomes an easy analogy, that if the inner room is lit, all dark things will disappear.

Do you remember a song from Sant Jnaneshwar, “jyot se jyot jagate chalo, prem ki ganga bahate chalo”?

Upanishads says ” Tamassoma Jyotrigamayo”, from darkness, lead us to light. The Buddha implored truth seekers to be a lamp unto themselves. The famous Tibetan Buddhist mantra Om Mani Padme Hum, says the same thing, ” The jewel (light) is in the lotus (self) ”

or the fervent psalm 18:28 of the Bible  ‘The Lord will light my candle so, that it shall shine full bright;
The Lord my God will also make my darkness to be light.’

And the hath yogis only talk of lighting up the inner chakras one by one through austere effort and invoking the inner shakti kundalini.

But perhaps, the greatest allusion would be to the Gayatri mantra itself,which is in praise of the Sun as dispeller of darkness, “We meditate on the creator of all the three worlds, who is worthy of praise, being Himself the perfect embodiment of light and knowledge, helping us to dispell the darkness from our little self, to merge into the very  womb of  great effulgence”.

“We meditate on the creator of all the three worlds, who is worthy of praise, being Himself the perfect embodiment of light and knowledge, helping us to dispell the darkness from our little self, to merge into the very womb of great effulgence”.

Returning to the subject of good and evil. The evil we must win over is within, the good that wins is also within, we must light up the good, we must light our own lamp, and then spread it around.

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Interestingly, In Diwali we are supposed to light one central candle/lamp first, the Atma Jyoti, from which all the rest of the lamps are then lit, the significance is simple, we must first locate the inner self, and then all our other faculties will be lit.

Photo by Ankur Upadhyaya on 500px.com

We must know real happiness first, by knowing our Self, then only we can pass happiness to others.

This is important to note, very often we go about setting the world right, without taking a deep look at ourselves, and that’s how problems crop up, that’s how Ravana and Kamsa went wrong.

And there’s another important lesson on endurance:

when we light the first candle, we take so much care that it should not get extinguished, but we don’t take the same care to keep the very spirit of Diwali glowing! that’s how hundreds of Diwali go away only to find us plunged back in darker alleys till next year, why keep the spirit of love and happiness just for a week, and wait for the next year to rekindle it again?

I leave you to meditate upon Gurudev Rabindranath Tagore’s beautiful lines “The night is black kindle the lamp of love with thy life and devotion”

Happy Diwali!


Article by Shail Gulhati, the Author of the book Shiva, The ultimate time traveler