The Darknight Diwali Light

Hearty, Happy Diwali Greetings to every dear reader-devotee! May this Diwali lighten up your life, may it lighten down your burden and may it enlighten your intellect and lead you from dark alleys to Lighted path!

This is a repeat Post originally published in this blog on 26th October 2011.

 

Five-day Festival

Our world today is at the crossroads. While charity to help the poor and needy is delightfully increasing, it is disconcerting to see the rise of violence – domestic or national, crime, obscenity, corruption and other expressions of ill-gotten wealth. Serious people devoted to God and godly means of living are indeed worrying about the future prospects of their children. Is there, among the gloomy cloudiness, any shiny ray of hope?

It is in this context that the various celebrations that have come to us from time immemorial from the spiritual land of Bharat hold the clue. One of the most loved celebration of all the Hindus the world over, is the Festival of Lights – Diwali, also called Deepavali.

Sri Rama with Sita and Lakhshmana returning to Ayodhya by pushpak-vimaan

Diwali signifies lighting of lamps in every household on the Amavashya night that follows the bright fortnight after Vijaya Dashmi. No doubt this occasion marks joy and merriment. On the Diwali night, rows of lamps decorate the houses and presents are exchanged. Diwali, in the north of India, is associated with the coronation of Bhagawan Sri Rama when he returned to Ayodhya (in Uttar Pradesh) by pushpak-vimaan after vanquishing the demon King of Ceylon, Ravana on the day of Dasshera. Sri Ram had been in exile for fourteen years and the people were pleased to see and welcome back him with rows of lit lamps.

This festival of five days gives us, Hindus, an opportunity to go beyond all external extravaganza. First day marks Dhanteras meaning the thirteenth day of wealth.  It is also called Dhanwantari Triodashi indicating the adoration of Dhanwantari. He is the God of Medicine for the devatas and originator of Ayurveda science. The importance of keeping one’s physique in a healthy way cannot be over stated. As the ancient Sanskrit dictum says, “shareeram aadyam khalu dharma saadhanam” – body is the best means for practising dharma, taking steps to improve one’s health becomes mandatory.

Sri Krishna releasing 16 000 princesses from prison…

From here, with strong body, one has to ascend to the state of strong mind. Thus the second day, called naraka chaturdashi, is the fourteenth day signifying release of 16,000 princesses from prison by Sri Krishna. Bhagawan Sri Krishna encountered the demon Narakasura and killed him after granting his wish that on his death day people must celebrate with lighting of diya (lamps) in rows, taking oil bath, distributing sweet meats and burning firecrackers. We all do the latter part but do not pay attention in removing the darkness that has come to reside in our hearts! As Swami Vivekananda says, darkness in a sealed room over one thousand years will instantly vanish the moment a matchstick is lit. Knowledge of God is light. The ignorance  inside is darkness – a prison. 16,000 women are none but our 16,000 nadis to be liberated from impurity.

If body and mind are kept free from impurities, then only this life can be truly enjoyed. As the Isha Upanishad says “ tena tyaktena bhunjeetaah” – this life can be enjoyed when detachment comes. The mind searches for the purpose of life and it tries to fix the goal. Lakshmi word comes from lakshya meaning goal. Thus the third day which is the most important day of the five days of festival is spent in the worship of Goddess Lakshmi whose dazzling luminosity is represented by rows of lamps. What is the ultimate goal of life? Bhagawan Sri Ramakrishna clearly spells out the purpose of human birth. He says that a man is born in vain who inspite of having a human body, does not attempt to realise God! In eastern parts of Bharat, Goddess Kaali is worshipped. She is evidently invoked in order that our rakta (blood-attachment) is dried up (swallowed) and our munda (ego-head) can be cut asunder by Her grace.

Sri Krishna holding mount Govardhan – painting of Bikaner School of Art – Circa 1690

When God becomes the focus, all obstructions, sufferings, troubles come to an end. Did He not assure in Gita that His devotee is never destroyed? – na me bhaktah pranashyati. Thus the fourth day is important milestone in the spiritual development of a sadhaka when he/she is rest assured of the protection of the Lord. This day is remembered as Govardhanpuja signifying how Bhagawan Sri Krishna lifted with his small finger the massive Govardhan mountain in order to protect his people from the deluge of rain.

Progress in spiritual life has some definite signs. One of them is the cheerful attitude with which one serves all brothers and sisters. The amity that is brought forth among the sisters and brothers is practised on the final fifth day as bhaidhuj. As per puranas Yama, the Lord of Death has assured that he would not bother those mortals who spread the message of love to their sisters. A perfect harmony leads to moksha, the ultimate liberation.

Thus this ‘Five-day Festival’ traces the spiritual expansion of human growth culminating in the gaining of knowledge of God. It offers an opportunity to dive deep into one’s heart and search for all types of demonic qualities residing inside. Thus, the need is felt to clear the darkness from the heart. To dispel away the internal darkness we have to light the lamp of knowledge. When a lamp is lit on Diwali, just pray to your chosen ideal that the darkness of ignorance be removed from your heart.

In the Bhagavad Gita, Bhagawan Sri Krishna says that out of compassion for the devotees, He, residing within their hearts, certainly destroys the darkness born of ignorance with the radiant lamp of knowledge. (Ch X.11). Hence, while celebrating Diwali, let us pray to the Divinity (in whatever form one may believe in) to bestow the right knowledge by which we can lead a peaceful and prosperous life with service to the poor and needy.

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The Darknight Diwali Light

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Hearty, Happy Diwali Greetings to every dear reader-devotee! May this Diwali lighten up your life, may it lighten down your burden and may it enlighten your intellect and lead you from dark alleys to Lighted path!

I owe an apology to all of you for not meeting you through this blog in the past four months. Well, its not fourteen years as Sri Rama’s exile! To return to blog writing is absolutely not only a pleasure but also a personal e-sadhana for me which I must nourish and cherish. This Diwali post is 101st and barely 2900 hits are required to reach one hundred one thousand hits! Enquiries from ever-loving readers evoke in me enough encouragement and I do hope at least once a month I shall, by His grace continue to visit your inbox without fail! Thanks for your wonderful support in keeping the lamp aflame!
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Five-day Festival

Our world today is at the crossroads. While charity to help the poor and needy is delightfully increasing, it is disconcerting to see the rise of violence – domestic or national, crime, obscenity, corruption and other expressions of ill-gotten wealth. Serious people devoted to God and godly means of living are indeed worrying about the future prospects of their children. Is there, among the gloomy cloudiness, any shiny ray of hope?

It is in this context that the various celebrations that have come to us from time immemorial from the spiritual land of Bharat hold the clue. One of the most loved celebration of all the Hindus the world over, is the Festival of Lights – Diwali, also called Deepavali.

Sri Rama with Sita and Lakhshmana returning to Ayodhya by pushpak-vimaan

Diwali signifies lighting of lamps in every household on the Amavashya night that follows the bright fortnight after Vijaya Dashmi. No doubt this occasion marks joy and merriment. On the Diwali night, rows of lamps decorate the houses and presents are exchanged. Diwali, in the north of India, is associated with the coronation of Bhagawan Sri Rama when he returned to Ayodhya (in Uttar Pradesh) by pushpak-vimaan after vanquishing the demon King of Ceylon, Ravana on the day of Dasshera. Sri Ram had been in exile for fourteen years and the people were pleased to see and welcome back him with rows of lit lamps.

This festival of five days gives us, Hindus, an opportunity to go beyond all external extravaganza. First day marks Dhanteras meaning the thirteenth day of wealth.  It is also called Dhanwantari Triodashi indicating the adoration of Dhanwantari. He is the God of Medicine for the devatas and originator of Ayurveda science. The importance of keeping one’s physique in a healthy way cannot be over stated. As the ancient Sanskrit dictum says, “shareeram aadyam khalu dharma saadhanam” – body is the best means for practising dharma, taking steps to improve one’s health becomes mandatory.

Sri Krishna releasing 16 000 princesses from prison...

From here, with strong body, one has to ascend to the state of strong mind. Thus the second day, called naraka chaturdashi, is the fourteenth day signifying release of 16,000 princesses from prison by Sri Krishna. Bhagawan Sri Krishna encountered the demon Narakasura and killed him after granting his wish that on his death day people must celebrate with lighting of diya (lamps) in rows, taking oil bath, distributing sweet meats and burning firecrackers. We all do the latter part but do not pay attention in removing the darkness that has come to reside in our hearts! As Swami Vivekananda says, darkness in a sealed room over one thousand years will instantly vanish the moment a matchstick is lit. Knowledge of God is light. The ignorance  inside is darkness – a prison. 16,000 women are none but our 16,000 nadis to be liberated from impurity.

If body and mind are kept free from impurities, then only this life can be truly enjoyed. As the Isha Upanishad says “ tena tyaktena bhunjeetaah” – this life can be enjoyed when detachment comes. The mind searches for the purpose of life and it tries to fix the goal. Lakshmi word comes from lakshya meaning goal. Thus the third day which is the most important day of the five days of festival is spent in the worship of Goddess Lakshmi whose dazzling luminosity is represented by rows of lamps. What is the ultimate goal of life? Bhagawan Sri Ramakrishna clearly spells out the purpose of human birth. He says that a man is born in vain who inspite of having a human body, does not attempt to realise God! In eastern parts of Bharat, Goddess Kaali is worshipped. She is evidently invoked in order that our rakta (blood-attachment) is dried up (swallowed) and our munda (ego-head) can be cut asunder by Her grace.

Sri Krishna holding mount Govardhan - painting of Bikaner School of Art - Circa 1690

When God becomes the focus, all obstructions, sufferings, troubles come to an end. Did He not assure in Gita that His devotee is never destroyed? – na me bhaktah pranashyati. Thus the fourth day is important milestone in the spiritual development of a sadhaka when he/she is rest assured of the protection of the Lord. This day is remembered as Govardhanpuja signifying how Bhagawan Sri Krishna lifted with his small finger the massive Govardhan mountain in order to protect his people from the deluge of rain.

Progress in spiritual life has some definite signs. One of them is the cheerful attitude with which one serves all brothers and sisters. The amity that is brought forth among the sisters and brothers is practised on the final fifth day as bhaidhuj. As per puranas Yama, the Lord of Death has assured that he would not bother those mortals who spread the message of love to their sisters. A perfect harmony leads to moksha, the ultimate liberation.

Thus this ‘Five-day Festival’ traces the spiritual expansion of human growth culminating in the gaining of knowledge of God. It offers an opportunity to dive deep into one’s heart and search for all types of demonic qualities residing inside. Thus, the need is felt to clear the darkness from the heart. To dispel away the internal darkness we have to light the lamp of knowledge. When a lamp is lit on Diwali, just pray to your chosen ideal that the darkness of ignorance be removed from your heart.

In the Bhagavad Gita, Bhagawan Sri Krishna says that out of compassion for the devotees, He, residing within their hearts, certainly destroys the darkness born of ignorance with the radiant lamp of knowledge. (Ch X.11). Hence, while celebrating Diwali, let us pray to the Divinity (in whatever form one may believe in) to bestow the right knowledge by which we can lead a peaceful and prosperous life with service to the poor and needy.

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Diwali – a Day to light up a life

Diwali Rangoli at Swaminarayan Mandir at Johannesburg, prepared at 1047 woman-hours!
Diwali Rangoli at Swaminarayan Mandir at Johannesburg, prepared at 1047 woman-hours!

Diwali is indeed, a glorious and colourful festival that is celebrated by all Hindus internationally. How Diwali unites and brings people and families together is a matter of experience of the millions. The beautiful array of clay lamps in all Hindu households creates an atmosphere of love, warmth, sharing, and more importantly, reminds of the existence of God in all beings. Therefore during this auspicious time, we should all try and improve ourselves spiritually. At this point, three important ennobling qualities come to mind: tyaga (sacrifice), seva (service) and prema (love).

Hearty, Happy Diwali Greetings! May this Diwali lighten up your life, may it lighten your burden and may it enlighten your path!
Diwali festival with child devotees of Johannesburg
Diwali festival with child devotees of Johannesburg

Diwali has become an occasion for charity of all sorts. If you give love, even if you do not give much of anything else, it does not matter. And however much you may give materially, if it is not done with love, it does not mean much. So it is love that makes all giving meaningful. I would like to relate a story of how love of virtuous deeds brought blessings.

Once upon a time the village of Nagpur in India was experiencing famine. There was such a scarcity of food that many people were starving and dying of hunger. A widow named Kamala and her little daughter, Kanama lived in this village. They were poor and had no means of earning money. The mother fell ill suddenly and she was worried about her little daughter. The little girl assured that she would be fine.

Kanama set out to beg food for her ailing mother. She tried begging at several households with no luck. Exhausted, the little girl finally rested under a tree. In the distance she saw a lady making roti. Kanama ran to her and begged for a piece of roti. So the lady offered her one piece of bread and Kanama accepted the bread gratefully and she said, “O, mother! my mom has not eaten anything for the last week, if only I can get one more piece of bread, I will really be grateful.” The kind lady gave her another piece of bread. Kanama was returning home happily.

The Ever Gracious Goddess Lakshmi - courtesy Veena Daya
The Ever Gracious Goddess Lakshmi - courtesy Veena Daya

On the way she saw a hungry dog looking for food. “Oh! what a pity! the dog cannot beg for food!”, so she thought and lovingly offered the dog one piece of bread. The dog ate the bread happily. When Kanama reached home, she narrated the incident to her mother. Kanama’s mother was happy to know her daughter was so compassionate. As they were about to eat the remaining piece of bread, they heard a voice at the door… “O mother! I am dying of hunger, please give me something to eat.” The virtuous Kamala said “someone is suffering from hunger, give away my share”. The compassionate little Kanama said “how can this poor beggar appease his hunger with half a piece of bread? Let me give him my share as well.” The beggar ate with great relish and said to Kanama, “May God bless you, my child.”

When the beggar left, both the mother and daughter fainted from hunger. Then Kamala had a dream in which Goddess Lakshmi, the divine consort of Lord Vishnu appeared to her and said, “O Kamala! Even though you and your daughter were starving, both of you lovingly gave away whatever you had to the hungry dog and the famished beggar. It was I, who appeared in these forms to test you. I am very pleased with your loving concern for others. May you have enough wealth and live happily.”

Their meritorious act brought rain to the village. The people of Nagpur were relieved of the sufferings due to the tyaga, seva and prema of the mother-daughter duo. This story shows us all, how God’s grace overflows to those who do sacrifice all in the service of others done in absolute love.  The following is taken from Prabuddha Bharata.

Once a very poor devotee had a strong desire to go to Varanasi to have the darshan of Lord Vishwanatha. But he was too poor to do so. Swami Adbhutananda, a direct disciple of Sri Ramakrishna, was then living in Varanasi. He came to know of the devotee’s earnest longing and wrote to him to somehow collect the one-way railway fare to Varanasi and that other things could be taken care of. Thus being assured, the devotee reached Varanasi with great difficulty and had the darshan of Lord Vishwanatha and Mother Annapurna, and enjoyed the holy company of Latu Maharaj.

Varanasi Vishwanatha in the iconic image of shivalingam
Varanasi Vishwanatha in the iconic image of shivalingam

But one day, at the Vishwanatha temple, he felt great mental anguish. After bathing in the Ganga and finishing his worship of Shiva with bel leaves, when he came out of the temple he saw that all the devotees were giving alms to mendicants and beggars according to their ability. He alone lacked the capacity to give in charity. He cried fie upon himself: ‘I am a poor, wretched beggar myself, deprived of this rare opportunity. On the contrary, having come to this holy place I am enjoying food and shelter provided by sadhus, and I do not have a penny to pay for it!’ He returned to his room with a heavy heart, closed the door and started shedding tears of grief. Latu Maharaj came to know everything and suggested: ‘What does it matter? You do one thing: tomorrow after bathing in the Ganga offer a handful of it to God and pray, “May all the miseries of the world be dispelled.”’ The devotee thought, ‘This is just a consolation for a helpless destitute like me. What merit can be derived from it?’ However, the next day the devotee did exactly as he was advised simply to honour the words of a great soul like Latu Maharaj. Immediately his mind became calm and serene, his heart was filled with an unspeakable bliss, and he felt blessed with divine grace. This is the result of true pilgrimage.

The idea of complete self-sacrifice is illustrated in Mahabharata and narrated by Swami Vivekananda in his Karma Yoga lectures.

After the battle of Kurukshetra the five Pândava brothers performed a great sacrifice and made very large gifts to the poor. All people expressed amazement at the greatness and richness of the sacrifice, and said that such a sacrifice the world had never seen before. But, after the ceremony, there came a little mongoose, half of whose body was golden, and the other half brown; and he began to roll on the floor of the sacrificial hall. He said to those around, “You are all liars; this is no sacrifice.” “What!” they exclaimed, “you say this is no sacrifice; do you not know how money and jewels were poured out to the poor and every one became rich and happy? This was the most wonderful sacrifice any man ever performed.”

Mongoose at Ramakrishna Centre, Durban
Mongoose at Ramakrishna Centre of SA, Durban courtesy Jody Fuchs

But the mongoose said, “There was once a little village, and in it there dwelt a poor Brahmin with his wife, his son, and his son’s wife. They were very poor and lived on small gifts made to them for preaching and teaching. There came in that land a three years’ famine, and the poor Brahmin suffered more than ever. At last when the family had starved for days, the father brought home one morning a little barley flour, which he had been fortunate enough to obtain, and he divided it into four parts, one for each member of the family. They prepared it for their meal, and just as they were about to eat, there was a knock at the door. The father opened it, and there stood a guest.

Now in India a guest is a sacred person; he is as a god for the time being, and must be treated as such. So the poor Brahmin said, ‘Come in, sir; you are welcome,’ He set before the guest his own portion of the food, which the guest quickly ate and said, ‘Oh, sir, you have killed me; I have been starving for ten days, and this little bit has but increased my hunger.’ Then the wife said to her husband, ‘Give him my share,’ but the husband said, ‘Not so.’ The wife however insisted, saying, ‘Here is a poor man, and it is our duty as householders to see that he is fed, and it is my duty as a wife to give him my portion, seeing that you have no more to offer him.’ Then she gave her share to the guest, which he ate, and said he was still burning with hunger. So the son said, ‘Take my portion also; it is the duty of a son to help his father to fulfil his obligations.’ The guest ate that, but remained still unsatisfied; so the son’s wife gave him her portion also. That was sufficient, and the guest departed, blessing them. That night those four people died of starvation.

A few granules of that flour had fallen on the floor; and when I rolled my body on them, half of it became golden, as you see. Since then I have been travelling all over the world, hoping to find another sacrifice like that, but nowhere have I found one; nowhere else has the other half of my body been turned into gold. That is why I say this is no sacrifice.”

It is my fervent prayer that each one of us be blessed with such noble and divine qualities! May the light of the lamp burn brightly in our hearts on this holy occasion of Diwali !

असतो मा सद्गमय | तमसो मा ज्योतिर्गमय | मृत्योर् मा अमृतं गमय | ॐ शांति: शांति: शांति: || Om asato ma sat gamaya | Tamaso ma jothir gamaya | Mrityor ma amritam gamaya | Om shanti shanti shanti ||