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The Essence of Diwali : Light, Listen, Learn, Care

by Dr. Meenakshi Bhattacharjee, Rice University, Houston TX

by Dr. Meenakshi Bhattacharjee, Rice University, Houston TX

Looking back to Diwali during childhood days in India, one recalls a celebration that was about fostering community, camaraderie and caring relationships. These interactions were intertwined into the celebration of the messages and the lessons, of which the overriding one was the triumph of good over evil, as symbolized by Rama’s destruction of Ravan.
For us, reflecting beyond this was never entertained, as the beauty of life was its simplicity and genuineness. Deepavali is about imbibing and spreading light; in fact the symbol of light holds deep significance for Hindus in particular but humanity in general, and its role in overcoming darkness is manifold – education over ignorance, good over evil, caring compassion over heartlessness, forgiveness over the desire for revenge, understanding and empathy over judgementalism, the embrace of atomic oneness over the sewing of discord and divisions, a helping hand over a crablike mentality, suffusing joy over negativism and pessimism.
So how does one let light in? How does one emerge into the light? Actually, merely celebrating Diwali does not get one there; the acquisition and display of light is a continual and ongoing process. It begins with small acts such as helping an elderly or physically challenged person across the road or street; giving up one’s seat in public transportation to an elderly person or a pregnant woman; offering encouragement and/or bringing a smile to someone who’s feeling down or listening with empathy to others as they unburden. With time and the shaping of characters, the searcher progresses to the point where sharing is caring imbues the spirit and giving of oneself toward the empowerment of others and the upliftment of society.
In effect, walking the talk of seeking light must become second nature. Indeed may this Diwali be one of ever encircling light in an ever-expanding world of brotherhood and humanity. And may the flames of your light become embers illuminating the path towards a life of seva with its attendant soulful satisfaction, serenity and harmony.
Having said that let us see the many mythical and historical reasons why Diwali is a great time to celebrate.
Goddess Lakshmi’s Birthday: On this very Diwali the goddess of wealth, Lakshmi is said to have been incarnated from the depth of the bottomless ocean. The Hindu scriptures tell us that both Devas (gods) and Asuras (demons) were mortal (Mrita) at one point of time. Seeking a deathless condition (Amarattva), they churned the ocean to seek Amrita, the nectar of immortality (an event mentioned in the Hindu scriptures as “Samudra-manthan”), during which a host of divine celestial objects came up.

Hindu Goddess Lakshmi of wealth, prosperity, fortune, and the embodiment of beauty

Hindu Goddess Lakshmi of wealth, prosperity, fortune, and the embodiment of beauty

Prime among these was Goddess Lakshmi, the daughter of the king of the milky ocean, who arose on the new moon day (amaavasyaa) of the Kartik month. She was subsequently married to Lord Vishnu on the same darkest night of the year and brilliant lamps were illuminated and placed in rows to mark this holy occasion.
Hence the association of Diwali with Goddess Lakshmi and the tradition of lighting of lamps and candles during the festival. To this day, Hindus celebrate the birth of the goddess Lakshmi and her marriage to Lord Vishnu on Diwali and seek her blessings for the coming year.
Vishnu Rescued Lakshmi:
The Bhagavata Purana (also known as Srimad Bhagavatam), the most sacred Hindu text, reveals how on a Diwali Lord Vishnu, in his fifth incarnation as Vaman-avtaara, rescued Lakshmi from the prison of King Bali during the Treta Yug. Bali, or rather King Mahabali, was a powerful demon king who ruled the earth.
Powered by a boon granted to him by Lord Brahma, Bali was invincible and even gods failed to defeat him in battles. Although a wise and perfect king otherwise, Mahabali was violent in his ways with the Devas (gods). On their insistence, Lord Vishnu disguised himself as a short Brahmin and approached Bali for some charity.
The righteous and benevolent King couldn’t refuse the Brahmin’s offer and was tricked into giving up his kingship and wealth (of which Lakshmi is said to be the Goddess). Diwali marks this overcoming of Mahabali by Lord Vishnu and this is another reason why Goddess Lakshmi is worshipped on Diwali. In Kerala, the festival of ‘Onam’ is celebrated around the month of August to mark this legend.

NEXT WEEK: Krishna kills Narakaasur


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