India is a land of festivals. Many festivals are celebrated here with great grandeur. Every festival has a historical, religious or mythological significance behind it. Deepavali is one of the most popular festivals of India and is being celebrated for the past thousands of years. The name of the festival is obtained from the row (avali) of clay lamps (or deepa) that Indians light outside their homes to symbolize the inner light that protects us from spiritual darkness.

Let us go back to the Ramayana, several thousands of years ago, when Ayodhya became almost like a ghost city on Lord Rama’s exile, due to Kaikeyi’s plotting. All the people were thrust into sorrow and distress for fourteen unbearably long years. When Lord Rama finally returned to Ayodhya, they spontaneously celebrated this joyful reunion with the divine and welcomed Lord Rama back to their city, illuminating their homes.

Lord Rama’s homecoming is a historical reality; this event also has immense significance in our lives. Lord Rama was the King of Ayodhya. We can compare Ayodhya to our heart and Lord Rama to its Lord, the ultimate object of love and devotion for all of us. Due to our narrow-minded and mistaken beliefs, we too have banished the Lord from our heart. Just as Ayodhya became a ghost town when Lord Rama departed, our heart has become polluted with negative thoughts like anger, hatred, violence, lust, envy, wickedness, fear, greed, prejudice, depression, fear, oppression, anxiety, boredom, loneliness and stress. Our lives too are without a purpose.

However, the significant difference between us and the people of Ayodhya is that they knew without a doubt that their grief was due to separation from the Lord. But we are generally and often slow to identify the root cause of our unhappiness. We pursue materialistic goals – possessions, status, power, prestige, fame and position. But these illusions offer only momentary enjoyment and do not provide eternal fulfillment. Hence, with all the comforts in our lives, our lives are still frustrating and disappointing.

Darkness symbolizes ignorance and light represents knowledge. Lighting a lamp symbolizes the destruction (through knowledge) of all these negative thoughts. The light from the earthen lamps (diyas) should also light our hearts with divine love, brotherhood and friendship.

The flame of a lamp has two attributes. One is to expel darkness. The other is a continuous upward movement. Even when a lamp is kept in a pit, the flame moves upwards. The sages have therefore respected the lamp of wisdom as the flame that leads people to higher levels. Hence, while lighting the external lamps (diyas), people should make every effort to light the lamps within them. Further, we light numerous lamps with one candle. The light, with which other lamps are lit, is a Symbol of the Divine. The other lamps obtain their light from the One Supreme Light.

In the evening, many people pray in their homes. They worship Ganesha, the God of Wisdom, the remover of all obstacles and Lakshmi, the Goddess of Prosperity and Good Fortune. Some believe that Lakshmi roams around the Earth looking for clean and spotless homes where she will be welcomed. People clean their homes and open their doors and windows, and lights are left burning all night, so that Lakshmi may feel welcome and enter.

Deepavali signifies the triumph of good over evil:

· In North India, they celebrate the story of King Rama’s return to Ayodhya (after he defeated Ravana), by lighting rows of clay lamps.

· South India celebrates it as the day that Lord Krishna defeated the demon Narakasura.

· In Western India the festival represents the day that Lord Vishnu, the Preserver (one of the main Gods of the Hindu Trinity) sent the demon King Bali to rule the lower world.

· In West Bengal and some other areas in North India, during Deepavali, Goddess Kali is worshipped. Just as the lights drive away the darkness, Goddess Kali drives away the evil forces in our world.

Deepavali is an official holiday in India, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Myanmar, Singapore, Malaysia, Mauritius, Trinidad & Tobago, Guyana, Suriname and Fiji.

Anup Y. Attavar 

Connecting Indians
B.E. Mech. (COEP, Pune);
P.G.D.I.T. – International Trade (IIFT, New Delhi)
Alumnus – Loyola High School, Pune (India)
Special Correspondent – Dwarka Parichay (Western India)