Diwali a Hindu Festival of Lights

Shehjar e-magazine
Diwali a Hindu Festival of Lights
A Journey from darkness to light

*Dr Chaman Lal Raina

Maha-Lakshmi is invoked through earthen lamps,with a wick of cotton and oil. Why?
The Hindus with a religious and spiritual bent of mind, consider the "Earth planet" as 'Bhu Devi", the incarnation of the Divine Mother. The Shaivites call earth as the Primary Tattva/category for the sustenance of life. It is followed by water,fire,air and space for being alive and to lead a normal life. We must have Akash--space,for breathing purposes and for movement, and for our human phenomenon purposes above the earth. These are termed as the Pancha Mahabhutas in the Sankhya philosophy as well,which are essential for the sustenance of life on this earth planet, as human beings. Our Rishis visualized the Mantra---"Tamasor Maa Jyotir Gamaya' (from Darkness to Light). Darkness means ignorance, and Jyoti means flame, which shines more in darkness,and provide Prakasha. Also Jyoti is needed in darkness for giving illumination and for safety purposes. The Rishis conceived of the Deepak/Diya, which is a combination of all the Mahabhutas, literally,the Prithvi Tattva/earth/soil, Jala Tattva/ water, Vayu Tattva/air, Agni Tattva/ fire and the Akash Tattva space/sky.

Soil is used as the primary element for making the Diya/deepak. It needs to be kneaded with water,the second element,followed by allowing it to dray in air the third element, It is put into clay oven,for igniting it to the point of being firm and solid.

When we look at the traditional Diya, it is a symbol of the Hiranya-Garbha, with all the Pancha Mahabhutas getting together . It needs oil as fuel and cotton wick,which reflects the Sattva Guna in the Diya/Deepak. On Amavasya night /no moon knight Lakshmi is invoked through kindling of the Diya.,with various Avals--rows. For Diya,we have a Kashmiri word as Tsong, and Deepavali is reveed as "Deep Maalaa"

An Indian festival popularly known by the name Diwali is celebrated by the millions of Indians around the globe to propitiate the Goddess of wealth, progress and prosperity in the traditional religious manner, by lightning the clay made lamps known as Diya. This celebration brings the message of mutual love and respect for religious harmony. Diya provides light in the darkness of night irrespective of religious affiliation and denomination, but creates a good will among all the communities through this festival of lights.

Essence of Diwali

Tamsor-ma-jyotir-gamaya is journey from darkness to light. A man of the spiritual temper thanks the Rigvedic Rishi in giving an aphorism of three words in the complete Sanskrit sentence of Tamsor Ma Jyotirgamaya. It means from darkness to light Linguistically, it is a fifteen syllabled Mantra dedicated to Maha Lakshmi, corresponding to the Kadi Mantra of the Shakti tradition of India.1

The fifteen syllable Mantra is very auspicious for peace, progress and prosperity, according to the Shaktivad. Shaktivad is the Shakti tradition of India, placing the Divine Mother as the nucleus of creation. It is also revered as Srishti and Prakriti in the Ratri Suktam of the Vedas. This Mantra is Vedic in language, Yogic in spirit and Upanishadic in content. Tamas means darkness, inertia, ignorance and illusion, while Jyoti is light, flame and illumination. Tamas is evil in man, but Jyoti is the spirituality within the recesses of a human being. The Mantra carries the great significance in understanding the Divinity manifested around the world.2

Deepa / Deepak is a Sanskrit word, which means Diya in Hindi language. In the Bhojapuri Hindi, it is known as Diwa, which means an earthen lamp or lamp made from clay . Avali means a range, a series , a string in Sanskrit language. Thus the Deepavali/ Diwali is the series of Diyas or earthen lamps offered to Shri Lakshmi on the specific day, which is popularly known as the Diwali. It is observed at the Sandhya/ twilight hours of the dusk at the proper Muhurta or auspicious hour3

Why earthen lamps? The soil of the mother earth is considered as the sacred element, according to the Puranas and Tantras. This has been established by the Vedas, claiming the earth planet as Prithvi Mata. 4

The wick of the lamp is termed as Vartika in Sanskrit. It is made of pure cotton, giving a twig shape of two whirls representing Purusha and Prakriti, with the base of Absolute Brahman, which is pure Sattva or emancipation. The cotton should be without any stain and giving it the shape of Shiva – Shakti in unison. The Lalita Sahsranama endorses that Shiva Shakti is Eka Rupini. It affirms that by the will of Shiva, the Supreme Shakti becomes One with Shiva. 5

That is Eternal Light and revered as Prakash according to the Tantras and Trika Shasana/ Siddhanta of Kashmir school of religious thought.6

The third ingredient that is needed is Ghee or clarified butter, and no oil is to be used. The source of Ghee is the milk from the cow, which is considered the sacred animal with the status of a mother in the Hindu religion, by the followers of the Sanatana Dharma. Thus broadly speaking, a trio of soil-cotton-ghee is necessiated to make the Deepak or Diya or Diwa illumining on the Diwali day.7

When the Deepak/ Diya is to be purchased?

The tradition recommends the Ashvin Purnima, which is full moon day, fifteen days prior to Diwali to purchase the Diyas. If it is not possible for any reason, then on any day barring the Dhanishta nakshatra/ not good constellation of five days, according to the astrological definition, as given in the Puranas.8

The eldest woman of the family is supposed to soak the Diya in water, till it absorbs water, lest the Diya should absorb the Ghee. The Diya need to be illumining for a considerable time of the night. The icon or a picture or a golden coin of Lakshmi is purchased on the Dhan Teras day. DhanTeras is the Apbramsha word for Trayodashi. The 13th Tithi/ Hindu system of calendar date is Trayodashi or the 13th digital moon . It is considered as the auspicious date for purchasing of the utensils for the kitchen. Dhan means wealth. Prosperity, good fortune. Lakshmi deity is associated with wealth. Since the day is dedicated to Shri Lakshmi, orthodox Hindus generally observe a fast on this Amavasya day. Amavasya is the no moon day in Sanskrit language.9

The Halwa, Puri, and sweet dishes made from wheat are prepared in the home. Batasha/ Patasha is purchased from the confectioner. Sweets are purchased from the Mishthan shop or sweets shop. Diwali is always observed on the Swati/ chitra, constellation, because the Diwali falls on the Swati/ Chitra Nakshatra/ constellation of the full dark night in the month of Kartika Amavasya , corresponding to the late September or early October. It is a collective celebration.10

Anna Kuta and Govardhana Puja/ worship is followed by the Bhai Dooj. Anna Kuta is for the commencement of the harvest . Govardhan Puja is for the promotion of the cattle wealth. The Diwali celebration is related to the second Purushartha/ yearnings known as Artha/ earning of wealth among the four Purushathas of Dharma,Artha, Kama , Moksha. In modern idom, the Diwali is a celebration of human resource associated with financial management within a home and enlarging its boundaries to a community ,thus focusing its application to the welfare of society. 11

Diwali is followed by the Bhai Dooj, when a sister prays for the welfare, long life and prosperity for her brother/brothers , in their new establishment and for maintaining the sacred relationship of brother and sister to see the society flourish for the higher values of life. The Bhai Dooj is post-Vedic celebration,as the term in itself suggests. The Bhai Dooj word is the Hindi word and not the Sanskrit word.

Puranik Puja of the Diwali

The Bija Mantra is the seed-syllable or the mystic alphabets of the Puranas. Every deity has got its own Bijaksharas.

The Bija Mantra of the Maha Lakshmi runs as:

“Om Asya Shri Maha Lakshmi Mantrasya Chavana Rishi
Anushtup Chhanda
MahaLakshmi Devata Shrim Bijam Hrim Shakti Om Kilakam
Om Shram Om Shrim.”12

The English translation runs as:
Chavana is the Rishi of this Mahalakshmi Mantra. The Meter of this Mantra is of four lines of eight syllables each . The Devi is the Maha Lakshmi,. The Spiritual seed is Shrim within the potency of Hrim Shakti. The nailing of this Mantra lies in Shram Shrim. This is how to invoke the Lakshmi, who is great and auspicious with all the attributes of prosperity, peace and mental equipoise. This leads to the mystical interpretation of the Diwali celebrations.13

Diwali can be loosely translated as the festival of lights. The houses, shops, are illumined. The Atashb/azi firecrackers/fire works are being played. After Diwali Puja celebration, sweets are partaken known as the Prasad and distributed among the friends, relatives, neighbors. It has retained the social recognition as well. Friends and well wishers send greetings in exchange. It is more of the exchange of mutual love, brotherhood and interaction between different religious denominations The general way of greeting is"Diwali ki Badhai"or "Shubha Diwali"or "Diwali Abinandan or Sita Ram," . People hug one another sharing mutual love, affection and for confidence building. The married daughter of any age gets a Saree, some cash and sweets from the parents. Young ones put on new frocks,shirts and generally a new dress is purchased to celebrate the occasion. Some purchase the gold coin, if gold is not possible they may purchase a silver coin and put it in their safety valet.14

People purchase a silver icon of Lakshmi and put in in their Puja room/ a sanctified place or the place assigned near a kitchen for the purposes of keeping sanctity. Those who can not afford that icon or Shri Yantra , which is the AGAMIC representation of Lakshmi, purchase a picture of Shri Lakshmi and offer flowers ,incence, Diya, unbroken rice, banana and recite the Bhajans dedicated to Lakshmi. The Devi is offered red flowers. The Sindoor/ vermilion is applied as the Tilkam on the forehead and on the Devi’s Murti/ icon.15

The sixteen step Puja is still current in some orthodox families and in the big temples around the globe. Some recite the Lakshmi Sahsranama, a thousand sacred words dedicated to the deity but a learned Pandit alone can do that. Puja. The Viniyoga / ritualistic deliberation of the Puja need to be done with the help of any Pandit, according to the Hindu tradition 16

The Lakshmi has been adored with eleven names of :
  1. Shri Chapala,
  2. Shri Chanchala.
  3. Shri Kamala,
  4. Shri Katyayani.
  5. Shri Jaganmata,
  6. Shri Vishva Vallabha,
  7. Shri Kamala vasini,
  8. Shri Padmanana.
  9. Shri Kamala Patraksha,
  10. Shri Shriya and
  11. Shri Maha Lakshmi.
All these characteristics of Lakshmi is that wealth is always fluctuating. It changes with respect to time,place and situation. Proper distribution of wealth is the essence to see the society flourishing in every endeavor. These eleven names of the Divine Lakshmi suggest the fair distribution of the resources and assets.17

Shri means auspiciousness. It is the beauty of soul and the rhythm of life, Shri Maha Lakshmi is the Yajurveda in form, according to the Markandeya Purana. To adore Shri Maha Lakshmi in the Shri Yantra is Tantrik in practice, but to adore Her in Murti of Lakshmi is Puranik in character , to offer fire Ahutis/ oblations in the Agnihotra is the Vedic way of invoking the Divine Mother in the form of Shri Maha Lakshmi.18

The quintessence of the Diwali can be summed up in the following couplet
“Lakshmi comes out to meet the soul of the world
Her spirit comes through the unknown depths ,
She makes the universe her instrument of wealth,
For me and for all she is the eternal strength .”

The function of celebrating the Diwali has been in practice since the Ramayana period, Shri Rama arrived after the exile of fourteen years to his home town Ayodhya after giving the crushing defeat to the Rakshasa/ evil in the form of Ravana , and finally killing him along with his brothers and sons, except Vibhishana. It was the Dusshera day, one day after Nava Ratra, dedicated to the Divine Mother. Then the well wishers , the citizens of Ayodhya gave a reception to Shri Rama and his consort Sita Devi, who is considered as the very incarnation of the Earth planet, by the Hindus; on this auspicious day. At the time of Sandhya, the the whole of Ayodhya, was illuminated with Deepaks. Thus Diwali came in prominence in Hinduism.19

Diwali in Hindu Diaspora

In the Hindu communities around the globe, this festival of light is observed with dedication and determination to keep the future generation abreast with the ancient heritage of India. The Diyas have taken the place of candles and mostly the oil lamps are used instead of ghee Diyas, to illumine the windows, fencing, doors around their residential houses in India or the Caribbean countries and in the Hindu Diaspora. But the "Ghee Ka Diya" is still current to wave or offer before the Deity Lakshmi in the temples. No MOM BATI/ wax candle is offered to the Deity in Indian temples but the electric illumination has become a part of system in the temple culture now. People prefer to illumine their houses with colorful electric bulbs in the urban areas. All the streets, pathways, business establishments are illumined to turn the dark night into the festival of light to please the Lakshmi,who is the Goddess of wealth and prosperity. The house hold women decorate the kitchen with the oil Diyas. Diya or Diwa is the essence of Deepawali. Because of the linguistic changes Deepavali has taken the generic name of Diwali.

To sum up, Diwali is religious festival of the Hindus. The experience of values are observed on the soil of India as this celebration touches the human psyche for attaining progress and prosperity. By an examination of given facts, it constructs a theory of Artha on the broader canvas of Dharma, which has logical consistency and empirical reality. It is a perpetual movement of events, which bring society very close to religion in the Hindu way of life.
  • Siboo Jaggan Nath, ‘Kashmir Shakta Vimarsha’ chap. Kadi Vidya, pub, Shakti Prakash Kendra Kashmir, India.1989
  • Saraswati Shri Brahmananda, ‘Supersonic and Ultrasonic Music, pub,Baba Bhagavandas Publication Trust, Monroe, NY
  • Jyotishi Dr M M,’Vijayeshvara Jantri’2003-04p.148
  • Prithvi Sukta of the Atharva Veda, hymn 12.9-14
  • Sastry R Ananthakrishna, English rendering Bhaskarray's Sanskrit commentary, pub: The Adyar Library and Research Center, Madras, India
  • Pandey Dr Kanti Chanra, ‘Indian AestheticsVol1, p 94, 97,102
  • Hindu Sanaskriti Anka of Gita Press Gorakhpur, India No 24, 1950, p 607
  • --- ibid---, based on the chapters 182-86
  • Survey by the author at Kashmir and Rajasthan.
  • Ed. Louis Renou,’ Hinduism’ p 34George braziller,IncNY1961
  • A talk given by Dhamma Priya B.S. Sahwal ,editor Madhyama Pratipada Indological Journal at Ajmer, India on the occasion of Diwali 1999
  • Ed Jyotishi Keshav Bhat,; Mantraatma Karma Kanda, Vol iii, Mantra related to Shri Lakshmi, Nirvana Sager Press, Mumbai1936
  • English translation by the author on the reference 12 Based on popular Hindu traditon
  • Raina Chaman Lal,’ Facets of Shri Chandi Nava- Durga’, Chapter- The procedure of Navarna, Sharda publishing House 2004. A learned Pandit in the Scriptures can perform the Viniyoga of the Shakti tradition, as it is occult, read with the Nitya Karma Puja Prakash ed.Mishra Shri Ram Bhavan Ji, Pub, Gita press Gorakhpur 1996
  • Amar Kosha Sanskrit dictionary.
  • Raina Chaman Lal, The Goddesses of India, chapter 5, Module for UG Students, at FIU. A popular belief among the believers that Diwali was introduced after Rama’s coronation, when the evil Ravana was killed.
*Dr. Chaman Lal Raina
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