Diwali or Deepavali is the most significant and popular festival celebrated in India. “Deepavali” translates from Sanskrit as rows (avali) of lights (deep) and so this festival is the ‘festival of lights’. In simple terms, Diwali is the celebration of light over darkness or good over evil, but as any serious observer knows, India’s ancient spiritual traditions are not merely concerned with the simplistic divisions of good and evil. This article will attempt to shed light on the deeper context and traditions of Diwali.
The five days of Diwali
Although the main celebrations happen on the new moon day (Amavasya) of the month of Karthik in the Indian lunar calendar, Diwali is actually a five-day festival starting two days prior to the new moon day. The five days are Dhanteras, Dhantrayodashi or Dhanvantari Jayanti followed by Naraka Chaturdashi, then Lakshmi Puja (observed as the main day of Diwali), Govardhan Puja or Padva and finally, Bhai Dooj.
Spiritual significance of Diwali
At a superficial level, Diwali is seen as the triumph of good over evil. The spiritual significance is the triumph of the light of knowledge over the darkness of ignorance. Light represents clarity; being able to see things the way they are, free of illusion.
At a relative level, Rama represents the individual soul. Emancipating his higher intellect or buddhi (Sita) from the clutches of ignorance (Ravana) with the help of the power of devotion or sadhana (Hanuman) and power of will (Lakshman), the individual soul (Rama) emerges victorious.
Rama also represents the inner sun. In his human form too, Rama belonged to the Suryavanshi clan, the solar dynasty. The period of Diwali is thus associated with the sun and yogic practices like the surya namaskar (sun salutation) are considered important at this time.
The light we celebrate at Diwali is the light of the Self. The Self is described in several ancient Indian texts as the “shining One”. The ancient invocations and mantras repeatedly invoked the light of the highest realisation:
Tamaso Maa Jyotir-Gamaya
Lead us from darkness to light
– In the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad
Tat Savitur Varenyam
That Supreme Being that is the radiating source of life, shining like the sun, is most desirable
– In the Gayatri Mantra
Amasvasya or new moon nights are anyway generally considered beneficial for spiritual practices aimed at liberation because on this day, life slows down on the planet and one is more clearly able to realise a distance between our bodies and our true selves. Symbolically, the moon, representing the mind, cannot be seen, allowing one to more easily recognise what is beyond the mind.
The true significance of Diwali is that when the veil of ignorance is lifted, light floods in. It is the recognition of the pure joy and bliss of the Self, the celebration of life. The light is always here and only appears to be covered up by darkness. Diwali is a reminder of that light that we are.
If there is light outside the window and darkness in the room, the light fills the whole room but if there is darkness outside the window and light in the room, the darkness does not engulf the room.
Read more about the 5 days of Diwali and the spiritual significance of Diwali in the LivingWise Project Digest
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