Deepavali: the festival of lights
Deepavali, which means “row of lamps,” is a five-day festival commencing on November 5th in 2010.
Referred to as the festival of lights, homes are given a thorough cleaning during this time and then illuminated at night with small earthenware oil lamps called diyas.
Also called Divali (or Diwali), it is the most popular of all the festivals in India, celebrated by Hindus, Jains, and Sikhs alike.
Like Christmas in the West, it is an occasion for buying and exchanging gifts. In fact, Deepavali has really become a time for serious shopping, with commercialism, as it is with Christmas, now starting to erode the spiritual side of the festival.
However, the holiday remains a joyous and friendly time across India; a time when everyone forgets and forgives the wrongs done by others. It represents a time of unity and instils warmth and charity in the people’s hearts.
The Origins of Deepavali
There are various origins attributed to this festival. It is an occasion for some to celebrate the marriage of Lakshmi, the Goddess of wealth and prosperity, to Lord Vishnu. Bengalis worship the Goddess Kali during this time.
Diwali also commemorates the triumphant return of Lord Rama to Ayodhya after defeating the Demon Ravana. Likewise, on this day, Sri Krishna killed the demon Narakasura; thus making the celebration of good triumphing over evil, light over darkness, and knowledge over ignorance, a significant aspect of this festival.
Diwali also marks the end of the harvest season in most of India; farmers thank the Goddess Lakshmi for their bounty and pray for a good harvest for the year to come. Business people regard this as a favourable day to start a new accounting year and invoke the blessings of the Goddess for a good year ahead.
A Deeper Meaning
The Sanskrit word Deepavali comes from the root words deep, meaning “light of the dharma”, and avail, which means “a continuous line.” Its meaning speaks to the eternal, continuous light within — the Atman — the eternal, cosmic soul which is beyond body and mind, which is pure, infinite, and eternal.
Divali is really the celebration of this Inner Light and the knowledge that it outshines all darkness. We are reminded during this time of our highest Divine nature; we are reminded that, as light dispels darkness, so should we continually strive to seek knowledge and dispel ignorance.
The ultimate aim of Deepavali is to set us all moving forward on the spiritual path so that we might ultimately attain illumination and remember our universal oneness with God. The lighting of the lamps is a symbolic representation of the reminder to light the lamps of wisdom, goodness, and God-consciousness in all of us.
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