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What is the real meaning of Diwali? Just a token celebrating of good over evil with the lamps and festivities, or the illuminating of the darkness of the mind and compassionate action?
It’s been a few weeks now since all the festivities and life slowly gets back into the routine that it is so accustomed to by now. After an overdose of fried foods, desserts and mithai (sweets), a detox session seems inevitable. Diwali is among the biggest festival celebrated in India and by Indians all over the world. It’s a festival of lights associated with varied significance across India. But predominantly, it represents the emergence of light over darkness. Essentially good over evil. I love Diwali and everything it symbolizes. But as I lit the lamps in my home this year, for the first time I took a moment to actually reflect on the significance of the day. And what struck me made the festive mood a little bitter sweet. Are we really in a position today to celebrate the victory of good over evil? Is the light truly strong enough to vanquish the darkness?
Before the celebrations start, there is the cleaning. And this is a very big affair back home. The floor of the house is washed and mopped. Cupboards are cleaned and rearranged. Bookshelves are dusted. Even the dreaded storage closet gets a makeover. The belief is that on Diwali, the Hindu God of luck and wealth (Goddess Lakshmi) visits the houses and one must keep it spotless and decorated to welcome her. That is what the scriptures, our parents, and grandparents have taught us. But it must mean more!
Maybe it’s our minds that we need to clean. And not just once a year. What is the point of an immaculate house if our minds are adulterated and filled with filth? Sparkling floors and walls are meaningless if we look down on those less privileged and hold a grudge against those doing better than us. Isn’t it time to let go of the old beliefs and ideologies that we have stuck to for years and understand the world and its people of today? Maybe it’s the cobwebs of our minds that needs a clean sweep.
Let me share this with you, to illustrate my point. I spent Diwali morning at my son’s preschool class. We got dressed up, decorated diyas (lamps) and I told them a simple story. A story of a beloved prince (Ram) who was banished from the kingdom by his father. He lived in the forest with his wife (Sita) and brother (Lakshman) for 14 years. When the exile was over, the people of the kingdom were so excited that their much-loved prince was returning and lit many lamps to help guide their way back home. To the people, the return of the prince signified the return of good and hope.
As I looked at the several pairs of eyes staring at me, I had a vague sense that not a whole lot of what I had said was registered. Until one 3 year old boy said, “So will the prince now fight all the bad guys and save the world?” I loved his innocence and the simplicity with which he viewed the world. With so many ‘bad guys’ in the form of terror attacks, poverty, corruption, rape and more, can it be that easy to save the world? If only one super being with special powers could beam down onto the earth and set all the wrongs right.
Like every year, I will continue to light lamps and celebrate. But it holds a new meaning to me now. A reaffirmation of hope not just as told in the Hindu mythologies, but hope that together we can make a change. A hope that I can make a difference be it through my words, my actions, my children. And perhaps if every corner of the world is lit with compassion and a helping hand, we will truly have conquered the dark.
Cover image via Shutterstock
Tharini Pande lives with her husband and two children in Connecticut, USA. She left behind
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