The Spiritual Significance of Deepawali
Every year, in either September or October the festival of Diwali is celebrated throughout the Hindu world.
Although it is probably the most important day in the Hindu calendar, it is also the one festival in the year which, more than any other, transcends religious affiliation at a very fundamental level and it is all to do with the theme of lights.
New clothes, presents, delicious sweets, colourful decorations, roaring fireworks, traditional dances and a visit from your auntie- these are all pretty common experiences for Diwali! They all add to the joyous nature of the festival- and it is a truly “happy” festival, which is one reason it is loved by so many.
“Deepawali” the original Sanskrit word- literally means “row of lights” and it is this image that dominates the conclusion of the story that is most associated with Diwali, the return of Lord Rama to his kingdom, after 14 years of exile. As he returned to reclaim his throne, after having defeated the evil demon Ravan, he was greeted by a sea of candle-lights which lit up the entire kingdom. The actual story of Lord Rama’s banishment and his defeat of Ravan is called the “Ramayana” and it can take up to five days to tell – but here is a very truncated version of it :
Lord Rama was banished from the kingdom by his reluctant father, the King Dashrath. The king was bound by a promise he had made to Rama’s step-mother to give her anything she asked, whatever it may be. The step-mother (Kaikei), who wanted her own son (Bharat) to become king, askes that Rama be banished.
Lord Rama instantly accepts what his father has asked him to do and without any bitterness he leaves the kingdom with his wife, Sita. His other brother, Laxman, also decides to join him. They retreat to live out their time in a forest far away. Then one day, while Rama and Laxman are out hunting, the demon Ravan kidnaps Sita and takes her to his island kingdom across the ocean. Rama had drawn a circle around the place where they lived and told Sita that as long as she stayed within that boundary, she would not be harmed by animals or the other dangers that lurked in the jungle. But Ravan came disguised as a poor man begging for food and coaxed Sita to come out of the safety line. As soon as she did, he revealed his true form and took her away.
When Rama and Laxman return, they search everywhere for her but cannot find her. As they venture deeper into the jungle, they encounter Hanuman – the king of the monkeys. Hanuman is wonderstruck by Lord Rama and is able to find out that Sita is being held by Ravan. Hanuman pledges the might of his monkey army to help Rama battle Ravan and rescue Sita. A great battle then ensues and eventually the powerful Ravan and his army are defeated.
As news of the epic victory reaches his homeland, Rama is welcomed back as the conquering hero and rightful heir to the throne.
Now there is a lot more detail to that story, but the real beauty of Diwali is understanding the spiritual significance of it. Hanuman is remembered as the greatest devotee and is example of the type of trust and faith we should have in God. The circle that Rama drew for Sita is used as an analogy of living within the parameters of a Godly life. If we do this, then God will protect us, if we break away from them then we are on our own!
The epic battle of good (Rama) versus evil (Ravan) is another great theme of Hindu scriptures. So what is the good and evil that is being talked about? There is not physical demon called Ravan today- but there is no physical demon called Ravan today- but there is plenty of evidence of what he represented : anger, fear, greed, hatred. The greatest battle that we face in our lives today is not with other people., but with banishing these feelings and emotions from our own thought and actions.
Easier said then done right? Well, it just so happens that the story of Diwali gives a method with which to do this.
The image of light holds a very deep meaning in many faiths. It is the symbol of the image of God and also the image of one’s true identity- the spirit or the soul. Just as the sea of lights guided Rama back to his kingdom, so too we have the ability to walk towards the ultimate light- that of God’s through following a spiritual path of self-discovery.
Raya Yoga- which means “union with God” is one ancient technique which still as a very modern relevance. It is a form of meditation which focuses the attention of the mind on one’s true identity as a light, a point of spiritual energy and eternal existence- the soul. It resides within the forehead – which is why the tilak or red dot that is often applied there is so symbolic.
The light – the soul – is the core of our being. One of the greatest spiritual truths mentioned in the Gita is the understanding that every human soul consists of several original qualities – like the genetic make-up of the soul. They are: peace, purity, love happiness and wisdom. Just by turning my awareness within and releasing these original qualities, I will be able to experience them. That is what gives us the power of Hanuman, the wisdom of Krishna or the courage of Rama.
Through this process of meditating on the original self, we are able to withdraw from our problems, our fears and all the things that pull our thinking- just as Rama was able to withdraw from his kingdom without any sorrow or lingering attachment to it.
Raja Yoga is not about breaking all my connections with other people and everything else in this world – it is about understanding that I don’t have to be controlled by them. This provides the freedom to build strong and positive relationship with everyone welcome into contact with while at the same time leaving us unaffected by the stresses and strains that can come to challenge us-just as Ravan challenged Rama, and we all know who that contest!
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