Diwali is a time of the year when families, friends and co-mmunities come together in a spirit of celebration and joy. Spiritual insights are woven around the customs and rituals associated with Diwali. The festival of light also has deeper meaning as we are warding off the darkness of ignorance, of anger, of temptations, with the light of wisdom, love and freedom. Indian culture says that we are all one. Indian culture says that as our brothers and sisters suffer in darkness, so we too are suffering. It is, therefore, our divine duty to help dispel the darkness in their lives and to help alleviate their suffering. Diwali is celebration of the message of Lord Rama’s life of sacrifice and dharma.
Diwali is a time of the year when families, friends and communities come together in a spirit of celebration and joy. Festive bonhomie apart, many myths, legends and spiritual insights are woven around the customs and rituals associated with Diwali. The celebrations commence a day before Amavasya on Naraka Chaturdasi, which marks the vanquishing of the demon Narakasura by Lord Krishna and Satyabhama. According to the Puranas, demon king Narakasura had acquired immense power through penance and had imprisoned the gods. He had also held captive 16,000 celestial princesses.
The next day, which is Amavasya or new moon day, Goddess Lakshmi is worshipped. It is believed that on this day Lakshmi emerged from the Kshirasagara (during Samudra-manthan) when the gods and demons were churning it.
According to another legend, Lord Vishnu vanquished demon king Bali and liberated Lakshmi and other deities from his bondage on this day. In northern India, Diwali is also celebrated as the return to Ayodhya of Lord Rama, Sita and Lakshmana, after 14 years of exile in the forest. They returned triumphant, having vanquished and killed Ravana.
Another Puranic legend says that the land of Bharat had become insolvent and destitute, and it was King Prithu, who restored it to its prosperity during his reign. So Diwali is also said to be a celebration of rejuvenation of Bharat by King Prithu.
The evil characters in these legends represent the vices or weaknesses in human beings namely, lust, anger, greed, attachment and ego. Narakasura, Ravana and Bali symbolize unrighteous forces while Prithu, Rama and Krishna represent the incorporeal and the Almighty, who defeats these forces and liberates all human souls from the bondage of vices.
The Puranic legends are symptomatic of the present age of Kaliyuga when such demonic forces have totally enslaved human intellect. The deities and royal princesses in these legends are symbolic of human beings, who once lived in Satyuga, the age of righteousness.
During the darkness of ignorance and unrighteousness, God leads us to the light of knowledge and righteousness. Through enlightened souls, God re-establishes peace and prosperity on earth, often remembered as Ram Rajya, Heaven or Vaikuntha.
To celebrate Diwali in an enlightened way, it would be worthwhile to understand the significance of the rituals associated with it. Before Diwali, people clean their homes, painting and decorating the anew.
This symbolizes cleaning our minds of negative attributes such as lust, anger, greed and ego and painting it with the colors of the original qualities of the soul — purity, love, joy and bliss.
Illuminating homes with earthen lamps, colorful lights and candles on Diwali is like lighting the lamp of self-awareness — to help us realize that we are immortal and divine souls, the children of the Supreme Soul.
On this auspicious day, businessmen close their yearly account books and start new ones. We have to make a vow to end all animosities and unrighteous acts and begin a new account of righteous karma.
Invoking Lakshmi to bestow prosperity signifies the dawn of Satyuga on earth when peace, prosperity and happiness will be restored. Hence, the coming of Lakshmi implies that prosperity will return to earth only when vice and ignorance are removed and Kaliyuga comes to an end.
Meditators consider the night before Diwali auspicious for achieving mantra siddhi or actualization of mantra. One can acquire all spiritual powers through practice of the mantra — Manmanabhav — to focus the mind on God alone. It is also considered charitable to donate lamps on Diwali. Sharing the light of spiritual wisdom is a great charity.
This is not only aesthetically beautiful but has a deeper meaning to it as we are warding off the darkness of ignorance, of anger, of temptations, with the light of wisdom, love and freedom.
What is the real darkness, which must be dispelled? It is the darkness within us, the darkness of ignorance, of selfishness, of duality that has to be eliminated. Indian culture says that we are all one. Indian culture says that as our brothers and sisters suffer in darkness, so we too are suffering, although we may not be aware of it.
It is, therefore, our divine duty to help dispel the darkness in their lives and to help alleviate their suffering. Diwali is celebration of the message of Lord Rama’s life of sacrifice and dharma.