The festival of Diwali has always fascinated me from my childhood. Diwali or Deepavali, which is also known as the festival of lights is made up of two Sanskrit word ‘Deep’ (meaning Lamp) and ‘Avali’ (meaning Continuous Line). So the literal translation of the word Deepavali is a continuous line of lamps. Later, as the centuries passed by this festival popularly became known as Diwali.
This Indian festival of lights is celebrated across the world primarily to commemorate the homecoming of Prince Ram, after he was exiled for fourteen years into the wilderness, owing to a political conspiracy by his stepmother – Queen Kaikeyi. While still in exile, Prince Ram fought a decisive war with Ravana, the mighty king of an island named Lanka. He defeated Ravana and later returned to his kingdom of Ayodhya as a victor. Due to this war, many people in India also consider Diwali as the festival celebrating the victory of good over evil. Prince Ram took one entire day to travel from Lanka (modern day Sri Lanka, located to the south of India) to Ayodhya (located in North India), hence people of South India celebrate Diwali a day before the same festival is celebrated in north India. Further, more than the defeat of King Ravana, the subjects of the kingdom of Ayodhya wanted to remember this day as a day of the return of their beloved prince to his homeland. Hence, they made it special by lighting the paths of Ayodhya with oil lamps. This trend of lighting lamps during the Diwali day has continued till date.
The festival of Diwali is also celebrated in Jainism, a sub-sect of Hinduism. On this auspicious day, Vardhamāna Mahavir, the Twenty Fourth and the last Tirthankara in Jainism attained eternal bliss or Nirvana on this very day of Diwali. Hence, this festival has also attained importance among the Jains of India.
Sikhism, another sub-sect of Hinduism, which was founded by Guru Nanak Dev during the 15th Century AD also celebrates this auspicious day in their own way. Bandi Chhor Divas or the Day of Liberation is a Sikh festival, which coincides with the Diwali day. The Sikhs across the world celebrates this day as the release of their Sixth Guru, Guru Hargobind Ji from a prison in Gwalior.
India is a land of festivals and Diwali, undoubtedly is the most important festival of this billion nation. However, most people forget to focus or conveniently ignore an important facet of this festival of light. Diwali, the festival of light falls on a new moon day (Amavasya). New Moon Day or Amavasya is considered as sentimentally bad by most Indians, who avoid executing important work / decision on this day. Many even go to the extent of associating the so called dark forces with the day of Amavasya.
This behaviour of a billion nation has puzzled me always: we disassociate important aspects of lives from Amavasya and yet celebrate the most important festival of our nation on a dark new moon day.
This festival has also raised certain uncomfortable questions in my mind.
Why did Lord Ram choose to enter his homeland (Ayodhya) on such an ‘inauspicious’ day? He had spent 14 long years away from his home and then why didn’t he spend just one more day away from Ayodhya; in order to avoid the coinciding of his homecoming with the dark Amavasya.
Why did Vardhamāna Mahavir choose the ‘unholy’ day of Amavasya to attain Nirvana? He too could have waited for one more day or could have consulted astrologers for choosing the day of attaining eternal peace.
Why did Guru Hargobind Ji choose to leave prison on this very dark day? He could have easily extended his stay in the Gwalior prison by a day and could have avoided the ‘dark forces’ of Amavasya from ‘polluting’ his path.
I got the answers to these questions when I attained adolescence…
Neither any day is auspicious or inauspicious on its own nor does it bring good luck or bad luck to us. Concepts of auspiciousness or inauspiciousness in our lives are solely confined to our attitude. The real darkness does not lie in the dark night of a new moon day and the real light does not lie in the lamps or fire crackers of Diwali. They both dwell (sometimes simultaneously) in our minds.
So, on this diwali day let us abandon the age old blind-beliefs like the inauspiciousness of Amavasya and let us embrace the optimism of rationality that is epitomized by the Diwali Lamps.
To my better half… Happy Birthday Kshma!