The festival of lights binds people and is a synthesis of spirituality, culture and social values. But the significance of this is not just limited to lighting a lamp or the rituals and celebration that surround the myriad stories and legends connected with it.
The festival of lights is not limited to Deepavali or Diwali but is a month long affair known by different names across India and around the world. The last month of the autumn season and the ensuing time of Devi Paksha(the time of the feminine) is known as the month of Kartik or Kartika in India. As the days are becoming shorter, this month ushers in a lot of fire rituals. Diwali is about the symbolic meaning light carries within us, as a manifestation of the element of fire that is fundamental to the whole existence. It is also about the ushering in a close connection to the ecological and seasonal changes happening within and around us.
Invoking the Inner Shakti
Starting with Diwali, the essence of the festival lies in its very spirit, ‘Tamaso ma jyotirgamaya’ which means “ Lead me from darkness to light.” It has a deep spiritual meaning, it essentially means the awareness of the inner light(shakti) that is a manifestation of Adishakti. It is this light that has the power to outshine darkness and clear all obstacles in life. It is this light that leads us from an inner state of inertia towards exuberance and awareness to lead a truly fulfilling life. As the Shakti within rises, She unfolds the magic of life in manifold ways.
Guiding the sun
Festivals that fall in the month of Kartik have a deep ecological and symbolic meaning too. The light of the sun represents the light of all life. And as the sun continues to fade, we seek ways to kindle the light of life within ourselves and each other. And so, the symbolism is that of a way to call the sun back to us. To guide it back by shining our own light out into the world. While celebrations across the world might have cultural and historical overtones, the act of lighting a candle or a fire, even to plug in the christmas lights or float lanterns into water or sky is to kindle the very light of life in the darkest hours of the season. This is to continue until the sun is ushered in the dawn of a new spring.
Bridging the worlds
Usually, there is a saying according to the bygone traditions, that as the Kartik month comes, you must double the lamps that you light because one thing is, the days have become shorter so you need a little more light to do your daily activity. Another thing is you are multiplying the light of life. The rituals are also about lighting lamps for the whole existence. Interestingly, during Diwali or Karthika Pournami, usually one central lamp is lit first, the ‘Atma Jyoti’, from which the rest of the lamps are lit. Ancestors and subtle and divine beings who represent the beacon of human consciousness or transcendence are also honoured during these times.
Ushering wealth in all forms
During the time of Diwali and even the days following it, all sources of wealth are venerated. Goddess Lakshmi pujan is an important part of the rituals which is a seeker’s desire for prosperity, wealth(both material and beyond) and good health. The efforts of men and women to keep everything clean and tidy, buy new things or even discard old things during these times is to usher wealth in all forms into life.
Change of seasons and better health
In the Ayurvedic and other ancient traditions, it is recognised that bodies go through a transition towards a predominantly Kapha nature(earth and water element) during this month. When in balance, it gives stability but in imbalance it brings inertia, flu, and all mucus and respiratory related problems. To overcome the same, the tradition advised that one undertakes Abhyanga-snana(ritualistic baths), eating seasonal foods, cooking with herbs, yoga and exercises and subsequently igniting the fire in our body, especially the digestive fire.
The festival of light is also a time for expression as it finds its way through sharing, caring, dressing up the deities, and creativity as expressed through art and performance. During the darkest months of the year, a time to become a beacon of light that shines bright, no matter what life brings. If there is no light, there is no experience of anything around us. If the inner shakti is invoked, our perception expands and we truly live up to the mantra, ‘lead us from darkness to light’. If we come together and support each other, then we live truly fulfilling lives.
Sant Jnaneshwar says, Jyot Se Jyot Jalate Chalo Prem Ki Ganga Bahate Chalo Raah Mein Aaye Jo Deen Dukhi Sab Ko Gale Se Lagate Chal As you go along light another’s lamp with your own Let the river of love flow as you go If you meet anyone with sorrow along your way Embrace him as you go