festival of lights – celebrating the triumph of good
Many of us have heard the expression, “You become what you think.” Lately, life can seem to be rather dismal, if the recent natural disasters and “newsworthy” happenings are what we choose to focus upon. From hurricanes and brush fires to unsavory political decisions, it might seem as if negative forces are winning on the planet. However, many spiritual traditions assert that good always triumphs, and that our collective intentions for peace, love and harmony gather energy and form a gentle veil that embraces the earth. Every November, the beautiful Indian festival of Diwali (pronounced “Dee-vah-lee”) is celebrated, in which people consciously acknowledge the power of light over darkness. Diwali offers hope, as millions of people around the globe send forth prayers for happiness and prosperity into the cosmos.
Diwali comes from the Sanskrit word “Deepavali” with “deepa” meaning light and “avali” meaning “a row.” Thus, Diwali means “row of lights” and signifies illumination on many levels. Diwali marks the release of negativity and the invitation of blessings through prayers to Ganesh for new beginnings, good luck and the removal of obstacles, and prayers to Goddess Lakshmi for spiritual and material wealth. Diwali is the time in which our consciousness is deliberately propelled toward positive outcomes and the anticipation of benevolent energies in our lives.
Diwali is celebrated after the New Moon in late October or early November. This year, Diwali falls on November 1st. Twenty days prior to Diwali, the important festival of Dussehra occurs. Dussehra celebrates the Ramayana which is the epic story of King Rama (an incarnation of Lord Vishnu) vanquishing evil on the earth as personified by the demon Ravana. On Diwali day, it is believed that Rama returned to his kingdom in a triumphant celebration of righteousness and goodness. During Diwali, temporary platforms are erected throughout cites and villages for reenactments of the Ramayana.
Diwali is preceded by grand preparations. Homes, temples and places of business are thoroughly cleaned, and unused items are discarded in a gesture of getting rid of the old and making room for the new. Intricate designs called “rangoli” are drawn with colored powder at entrances to buildings and are accompanied by elaborate floral arrangements. Small, clay, oil lamps burn throughout the night as a way to celebrate light and to encourage prosperity. In windows and everywhere outside on the ground, one sees these tiny lamps flickering like magical beacons in the night. It is said that Goddess Lakshmi finds her way to our homes through these lights that welcome her arrival. Fireworks are set off throughout the night, amidst joyfulness and laughter. During Diwali, businesspeople close out their old books and begin their New Year. Everyone dresses in new clothing and exchanges sweets and gifts, while in temples and on home altars, deities are washed and honored amidst puja prayer ceremonies.
Though many people will only celebrate Diwali on November 1st this year, the actual holiday extends for five days, including two days before and two days after the main day, with each day holding a slightly different significance. The first day is called “Dhanteras” from the word “dhan” meaning “wealth.” During this day, Ganesh and Lakshmi are welcomed into the space. Prayers are initiated and tiny footprints are drawn with flour on the ground to signify Lakshmi’s coming arrival. Coins are exchanged for good luck and the oil lamps are lit as a way to expel dark energies.
The second day of Diwali is devoted to prayers for a positive future. On this day, it is believed that Lord Krishna freed the world from fear. People rest, enjoy oil massage and prepare for the actual Diwali day. The third and main day of Diwali falls on the dark night of Amavasya, the lunar eclipse, and is devoted entirely to Goddess Lakshmi. It is believed that on this day, Lakshmi visits the Earth, showering blessings of prosperity upon us. One legend says that Goddess Parvati played dice with Lord Shiva, decreeing that whosoever gambled on this night would prosper throughout the coming year!
The fourth day of Diwali is considered the most auspicious day to begin any new endeavor. Wives offer prayers for their husbands’ long lives and husbands acknowledge wives for their caring. On the fifth and final day of Diwali, the love between sisters and brothers is celebrated. Diwali ends with closing prayers and the realization that goodness exists everywhere. The lights that people have lit honor those who have passed on, but have brightened our lives.
This year, as Diwali lamps are illuminated around the world, we all have the opportunity to join in this collective wave of positive vibrations. We may clean our homes and meditation spaces, while inviting good fortune into our lives and everywhere. Diwali marks an appropriate time to consciously intend for all people, animals and aspects of Nature to be surrounded by love and hope. In fact, Diwali can be celebrated any time – the festival merely serves as a reminder that any negative occurrence in the world is not nearly as important as people coming together and responding in a positive way.