|| Aum Sri Ramakrishna Sharanam||
Aum Namo Narayanaya
Sometimes it elicits much disbelief to understand that in this ultra technical and literate age, symbols continue to exert much influence in our daily lives. From bathroom signage to cautionary signs behind road haulers; pretty much every building to social media - man still finds this ancient art of communication relevant. Indeed a picture can say in a glance what would normally take a few words to say. It is the depth that symbols carry which found favour with our ancient saints and seers in communicating profound and explicit truths of this universe. Hindu Dharma even in the face of criticism, invasion and onslaught from other religions continued to thrive and grow by unpacking the timeless wisdom contained in these symbols.
One such symbol of Hindu Dharma which is central to the idea of God and also utilised everyday in some form to help a devotee connect with the divine light (so much so that the very first word mentioned in the Vedas - the authority of Hindu Dharma that's over 5000 years old) is AGNI (Fire God). History in general will account chronologically how fire has been a key component in the evolution of man from the cave to Silicon Valley. This light and fire which escalated to the pedestal of divine simply brings to the fore the insight and intuition of these great saints about the truths of the Universe. Today we cannot imagine a world without the sun, fire and light - hence we find with great humility our Hindu brethren since time immemorial have bowed at the crack of dawn to the effulgent, luminous Surya Narayana as the preceptor of life on earth.
As Maharaj so succinctly pointed out that during Navarathri, some quarters of India celebrate the slaying of Ravana while others celebrate the slaying of Mahishasura. However the locus of these celebrations remain the triumph of good over evil. We experience a similar trend with the global celebration of Diwali, unquestionably the biggest Hindu celebration to date. Various regions in India place emphasis on various events that occurred in that time namely: "the return of Lord Rama from exile" and "the slaying of Narakasura by Lord Krishna”. In other regions the auspicious Sri Luxmi pooja is performed - all ultimately celebrating the divine influence of light over darkness. If one continues with a base understanding to perpetuate the literal ritualistic aspect of this mass phenomenon of Diwali, then little or no spiritual benefit can be extracted for the sustenance of our journey to liberation.
Imagine someone living in an area with sub-zero temperatures. Of what benefit will it be to that person to be seated in a room away from the fire place. Apart from light of the fire, he will not be able to extract the heat to warm his body. In the same manner, a mere celebration of Diwali without any spiritual foundations shall provide unsustainable enjoyment only and will result in an entropy of these beautiful and colourful traditions.
Within each and every one of us is the light (spark) of the Divine known as the atman. However many people walk around the earth like zombies without the slightest expression of the pure divinity that they are. We simply utilise the prana (oxygen) to keep the body alive, which is like the fire place which is far away from the cold person. We have thus allowed the layers of ego, lust, greed, hatred, anger, falsehood and all other adharmic tendencies that we have, to cloud us.
The following symbolic traditions of Diwali illustrate what we need to do to allow the Divine Shakti from within to radiate and manifest to the world. The oil bath is the cleansing of the physical being. The new clothes represent our intention to remove all our old qualities and traits for new, sublime ones. Sitting for hawan and pooja are for the purification of the mind and inner being. The sacred chanting and singing must dilute all that has inhibited our divine manifestation.
The lighting of the first dhiya (lamp) from the main lamp is symbolic of the Shakti or power of the Divine. We must understand that it is not the light that lights the dhiya but the energy (heat) which causes the wick to burn. As we burn one dhiya from another, we must understand that the Lord is the doer of everything (heat) and we are His instruments (light). Swami Vivekananda said: "That Brahman is the sum total of all beings manifest and not". Therefore, to truly experience the power of God, we must ensure that all of humanity (dhiyas) can come together; all of the same quality of flame and will thus be able to collectively radiate with great intensity the light and energy of God. Therefore, the celebration is called Deepavali (row of lights), which is an orderly arrangement of the dhiyas to ensure maximum luminosity which ultimately reflects our journey from dvaita to advaita (from many to one) - all becoming one jyothi (light) which is Brahman.
The firework which has become synonymous with the celebrations is an expansive expression of the shakti within. Just as the wick of the fire canon is lit from the dhiya and eventually explodes into the sky into a magnificent array of colours and designs for the delight of all; our shakti and divinity must be utilised to the delight and service of humanity. When our dhiyas have become strong and still in the turbulence of the world, we must endeavour to light up the lives of others through selfless seva because Swamiji has proclaimed that liberation is only available through the emancipation of humanity from the shackles of bondage.
May this Diwali bring upon us a burning desire to radiate the divinity within us by practicing spiritual sadhanas, and enagaging in devotional service. Let every dhiya we light illumine every dark tendency within us. As Master said: "A single spark in an instant dispels a room that has been dark for a million years". Let us then meditate on this illumined self: Bhargo Devasya Dhimahi Dhyo Yo nah Prachodayat, so that it will guide and inspire us in the right direction - the direction of truth, fearlessness, compassion, love, right conduct and non violence.
Let us all journey from darkness to light, is my sincere prayer.
Happy Diwali to all.
PS: As we celebrate let us spare a thought for all who are sick, and our dear animal friends. Let us also feel some compassion towards our South African students writing Matric exams. Let us be considerate when using fireworks and engaging in loud outdoor activities.
With love and prayers always