Celebrate the Ancient Wisdom?
Intro: As you light the lamps of happiness and prosperity this Deepavali, remember to analyse the thought behind each ritual associated with the festival. Our ancient sages were learned men who started certain ‘prathas’ or rituals for valid scientific or social reasons. It is important to understand the relevance of those rituals in today’s context. ?
Diwali is the spoken form of the word Deepavali, literally meaning a row of lights (diyas). Conceptually we celebrate the victory of good over evil – light being the symbol of good, which dispels darkness i.e. evil. But there’s a lot more hidden in the depths of this concept.
The festival preparations and rituals typically extend over a five day period, but the main festival night of Deepavali coincides with the darkest, new moon night of the Hindu Lunisolar month Kartik. The festival dates back to ancient times as it finds mention in the Padma Purana, the Skanda Purana, and other Sanskrit scriptures. The divas (lamps) are mentioned in Skanda Purana to symbolically represent parts of sun, the cosmic giver of light and energy to all life, who seasonally transitions in the month of Kartik.
For the sake of environment
Deepavali marks the end of the rainy season. Most parts of India experience continuous or sporadic monsoon rains over the last three-odd months. The season brings with it dampness, which breeds many kinds of insects that cause health hazards both for humans and for crops.
Traditionally, the festival was celebrated with only earthen diyas, the most eco-friendly form of lighting. When you light lamps in millions, the insects are attracted to the fire and get killed. The lighted diyas are placed in every nook and corner of buildings, whether residential or commercial. You are not suppose to leave any part of a building unlighted–otherwise insects and flies in dark spots would survive. It’s also important to clean up household material after the rainy season to get rid of moths etc. It is because of this, there’s a tradition to spruce up houses, shops and other establishments just before Deepavali. The cleaning up exercise combined with the lighting of diyas clears the environment of all harmful organisms.
In South India, one month after Deepavali on Karthikai Poornima day (full moon day), every town and village lights bonfires. Millions of lamps are lighted in houses and temples, using special oil with medicinal properties. The lamps are made up of recyclable materials like clay.
In the ancient times, the learned men understood that the common people connect better to religious thought than to pure scientific reasoning. They simplified the concepts so that every person can relate and implement them. They were told Goddess Lakshmi likes cleanliness and will visit the cleanest house first. Hence, it became “extremely important to keep the house spotlessly clean and pure on Deepavali”. Lamps are lit in the evening to welcome the goddess. They are believed to light up her path.
Traditional firecrackers were harmless for humans and cattle, but they used to destroy insects and flies. Unfortunately, in recent times, thoughtless use of chemicals and other unsafe material in firecrackers and bombs in recent times only creates air and sound pollution—which is unpleasant and also harmful for the environment. We need to think responsibly before we use such material.
Significance of Fire
Fire (agni) is seen as a purifier in almost all communities and religions across the world. It is also the destroyer. Either way, communities have always felt a need to worship it. Even the oldest religious book Rig Veda begins with agni and ends with agni.
In Hindu thought, fire is the essence of all existence. It is the basis of all life, and the means of development. Fire is the builder, the preserver and the destroyer. Fire is the purifier and the consumer of all. Hindu prayers – be it Sanatan Dharm or Arya Samaj – are felt to be incomplete without ‘agni’. Hence the lighting of diyas and the prayers offered before Goddess Laskhmi in the presence of agni attained added significance.
The science of Mantras
Deepavali puja, as all other Hindu rituals, involves the recitation of mantras and shlokas. There is an amazing science associated with the mantras we chant. Even the West is now more and more convinced about the power of Sanskrit mantras.
Every single atom is known to vibrate in a specific frequency, whether it is part of metal, water, cell, or anything else. This is a given scientific fact. Having understood that sound is the most powerful element, our ancient sages developed the science of sound (shabda) therapy or ‘mantra’.
Mantras are believed to raise the power of prayers by connecting you directly to the Almighty. They also heal and empower human spirit through the science of sound. Mantras are impulses or rhythms of consciousness. They create vibrations in the spirit, and work at the level of the consciousness. Repetition of mantras creates a psychological or mental response that is very deep and beyond the realm of words or expression. It can only be experienced. The sound of ‘Om’, with which each mantra starts and ends, is in itself a powerful mantra.
Deepavali also marks the advent of winter. The days become shorter, and the ‘dark’ hours get extended. Psychologically this can be a depressing season. But if you welcome the season with lot of lights and colourful festivities, it has a very positive effect on the mind. Hence, this festival is also seen as the triumph of hope over despair.
Most importantly, the festival of lights is also the festival of togetherness and giving. All festivities involve the community, be it the puja, exchanging of sweets, lighting of diyas, or decorating the house. We are also supposed to share our wealth with those who are lesser privileged. So you have the tradition of giving gifts to your peers as well as all the workers in your community. The celebrations therefore becomes an opportunity to gather together, think together and act together.
On Deepavali night, fireworks light up the neighbourhood skies. Later, family members and invited friends celebrate the night over food and sweets. As they say, a family which eats together stays together. It is this community feeling, of being one large family, which is enhanced during the entire festival.
Deepavali also signifies harvest festival as it occurs at the end of a cropping season. October/November coincides with the end of a harvesting season, known as the Kharif season when the fresh crop of rice is available. Every harvest normally spells prosperity. The main puja on the second day of Deepavali celebrations involves a simple offering of rice (fresh harvest) and sweets to the Goddess of wealth, Maa Lakshmi. Farmers celebrate this festival with joy and offer praises to God for granting them a good crop. This custom is prevalent both in rural and urban areas, especially in Western India.
Unity in Diversity
There is some variation in regional practices and rituals associated with Deepavali across India. However, the underlying theme of community celebration of the victory of good over evil is the same. Depending on the region, prayers are offered before one or more deities, with the most common being the goddess of wealth and prosperity. In west, south and certain northern regions, Deepavali marks the start of a new Hindu year. Along with Goddess Lakshmi, offerings are made to Lord Ganesha who symbolises auspicious beginnings and fearless removal of obstacles; to maa Saraswati who symbolises music, literature and learning; and to Lord Kuber who symbolises treasury and wealth management.
In the eastern region, such as West Bengal, it is Goddess Kali who is worshipped and the festival is called Kali Puja. In the Braj and north central regions, Lord Krishna is celebrated.
For Arya Samaj followers, the day has an added significance because its founder Dayanand Saraswati attained samadhi on that day.
For Gujaratis and other business men, it is a New Year Day. They start their financial year on that day. Gujaratis heap food and sweets like mountains in a festival called Annakoot. The feast, with 56 or 108 different cuisines, is offered to Krishna, then shared and celebrated by the local community. Jains also celebrate Deepavali, because one of the greatest Tirthan-karas, Lord Mahavir, attained nirvana on Deepavali day.
Sikhs also celebrate Deepavali because the foundation for Golden Temple in Amritsar was laid on that day. Guru Amardas called all Sikhs to get the Gurus’ blessings on that day. One of the ten Sikh gurus, Hari Govind Singh was released from imprisonment by Mughal emperor Jahangir on that day.
Purpose of Deepavali
There are many reasons to celebrate Deepavali. The most endearing being the sense of togetherness and happiness that permeates the very air during the season. We must thank our ancestors for starting traditions that are relevant till today, and for giving us the opportunity to celebrate with our community this time every year. Let us enjoy ourselves with a positive thought for the environment. Let us also give our local craftsmen the chance to celebrate by buying their diyas and other crafts to decorate our house this Deepavali.
Abha Khanna Gupta ?(The writer is senior journalist and