Thoughts on the eve of Diwali – October 2019

26 Oct

Another year has gone by and tomorrow, 27 Oct 2019, India will celebrate Diwali.

In Hindustan (Hindi speaking states of India), Diwali is celebrated as the day when Lord Ram returned to Ayodhya with his wife, brother and Hanuman after killing Ravana.

In some areas in North India, Diwali is celebrated as the day when the Pandavas returned to their kingdom in Hastinapur, along with their wife Draupadi and mother Kunti.

Diwali is also celebrated as the day on which, Goddess Lakshmi emerged from the sea of milk. The night of Diwali is celebrated with colors to celebrate the marriage of Lord Vishnu to Lakshmi.

In Eastern India, Diwali celebrations remind us of the victory of Kali over demons.

About 50 years ago, in Kerala and Tamilnadu there was virtually no celebration of Deepavali (not Diwali). However, some communities in the Deccan Plateau, located South of the Vindhyas, in the area between the Malabar Coast and the Coromandel Coast, celebrate Diwali as the day on which Lord Krishna triumphed over Narakasura.

Kerala splurges on the Onam festival at which time it is believed that King Mahabali visits his people. The most important festival of Tamilnadu is Pongal, although they have a festival of lights known as “Karthigai Deepam” which falls during the month of Karthigai (Nov-Dec). Lamps are lit to celebrate the day when the moon aligns with the Karthigai constellation. It is also believed to be the day on which Lord Shiva appeared in Thiruvannamalai hills and to commemorate this event, a huge fire is lit atop the hill.

Due to high economic growth and low population growth in the South Indian States, there has been a steady flow of North Indian migrant labour arriving in the South Indian States in search of jobs since the 1980’s. This explains the celebration of Diwali in some districts in South India at present.

For some communities in Kerala and Tamilnad, Deepavali is celebrated as the day Lord Krishna defeated Narakasura.

For the Sikhs, Diwali is celebrated in memory of the day when Guru Har Gobind was freed along with fifty two rajas from the Gwalior Fort. This celebration coincides with the Hindu festival of Diwali, although the Sikhs call the day, “Bandi Chhorh Divas” (day of release of detainees).

On Diwali day, usually in October-November, the Sikhs have a one-day celebration in their Gurdwaras. Illuminations with Deewé (earthen oil lamps) decorate and light up the Gurdwaras and homes.

For Jains, Diwali is the day when Mahavira attained nirvana.

***

After the death of Aurangazeb in 1707, the mighty Mughal Empire began to break up and regional rulers consolidated their power even as central control began to crumble. The violent raid of Nadir Shah in 1739 in which thousands of innocent citizens of Delhi were slaughtered was probably the death blow to the Mughal Empire. Accumulated Mughal treasure of centuries including the famous Peacock Throne of Shah Jahan was carried away by Nadir Shah.

The East India Company which had come to Delhi as petitioners to the Great Mughal now began to assert its power, enforced by a trained army and navy. Technology in the form of firearms and gunpowder enhanced and consolidated their power.

After the Mutiny in the Bengal Army in 1857, the East India Company shed the pretense of being vassals of the Mughal Emperor and gradually morphed into the British Indian Empire, after sending the last Mughal into exile in Burma (Myanmar).

At the time of Indian Independence in 1947, in addition to the areas directly ruled by the British, there were some 565 Princely States which were allowed limited powers although they were under the oversight of Political Officers called, “Residents”.

So we have the “India that is Bharat” which was handed over to an Indian Government which legislated the partition of the country into India and Pakistan (which had territories in the North West and the North East called East Pakistan.)

There is an appearance of similarity in religion, culture and language in this patchwork state, which on closer inspection reveal significant differences.

The way Diwali is celebrated all over India is a good reminder that despite our different beliefs and practices, there is an overall unity and good natured co-existence. Pax Indica is disturbed when we mistake unity for uniformity. Real skill lies in managing the diversity, not using brute force to produce ethnic, religious, cultural and political clones in the country.

***

Diwali “celebrates a move from darkness to light. It is the ultimate triumph of good over evil.” (https://www.narendramodi.in/diwali-a-move-from-darkness-to-light-the-ultimate-triumph-of-good-over-evil-3082)

A well known prayer frequently used in Indian schools and during spiritual functions in India is a Shanti Mantra from the Brihadaranyaka Upanishads (1.3.28):

असतोमा सद्गमय ।
तमसोमा ज्योतिर् गमय ।
मृत्योर्मामृतं गमय ॥
ॐ शान्ति शान्ति शान्तिः ।।

asato mā sadgamaya
tamasomā jyotir gamaya
mrityormāamritam gamaya
Oṁ śhānti śhānti śhāntiḥ

From ignorance, lead me to truth;
From darkness, lead me to light;
From death, lead me to immortality
Om peace, peace, peace

Daylight and darkness provide a basis for the natural rhythm of our lives. They also symbolise the binaries of knowledge and ignorance, chaos and order, and life and death.

In other religions too, moving from darkness to light; from ignorance to knowledge is a recurring theme.

There are frequent references in the Bible to darkness and light. In John 8:12, Jesus is identified with light:

Then Jesus again spoke to them, saying, ‘I am the Light of the world; he who follows Me will not walk in the darkness, but will have the Light of life‘”.

Pre-Christian Gods like Mithra and Helios were both Sun Gods who represented light which dispels darkness. Mithra was an Indo-Iranian God while Helios was a Greek God. Sunday is believed to have been made the day of worship for Christians because Emperor Constantine of Rome (AD 306–337) wanted to superimpose Christianity over Mithraism with minimum changes in worship rituals.

The Koran says, “Allah is the Guardian of the believers — He brings them out of darkness and into light. As for the disbelievers, their guardians are false gods who lead them out of light and into darkness. It is they who will be the residents of the Fire. They will be there forever.” {Chapter (2) sūrat l-baqarah (The Cow) Verse (2:257)}

Enlightenment is a central concept of Buddhism. The word “Bodhi“, a Sanskrit and Pali word that means “awakening,” is often translated as “enlightenment.” For the devout Buddhist, enlightenment means finding the truth about life and achieving Nirvana which releases him or her from the endless cycle of rebirth.

This year, as we celebrate Diwali, let us re-dedicate our lives to continuing our journey from darkness to light. Let us consciously reject the powers of darkness that seek to envelop us and take us back to the void where life began.

***

One Response to “Thoughts on the eve of Diwali – October 2019”

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  1. Diwali – Manjula's Mysore - October 28, 2019

    […] a good friend Ajit has provided a great introduction here […]

    I corrected “Amit” to “Ajit”

    AJIT MANI

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