On Saturday, Hindus celebrate Deepavali – the festival of lights. For the past couple of weeks households have been busy cleaning house and preparing Deepavali foodstuff such as the murukku, sittu urundae and nei urundae.
The annual festival falls on the day before the dark moon or ammavaasai in the month of Aipasi (between mid-October and mid-November).
The word Deepavali means “row of lights” and is an indication of the central theme of Deepavali. Celebrants light up their houses with clay lamps called agal vilakku or diyas at night.
What is the significance of this? Light plays an important role in our lives. In fact, we would be dead if not for the light of the sun.
When we enter a dark room alone, we feel uneasy; we may even be scared, especially if it is a new place. But the moment we switch on the light, the sense of fear vanishes and we feel safe. Light dispels darkness. Light signifies hope. Light marks joy.
Dispelling the darkness withinDeepavali is a reminder to man to dispel the darkness within him and in society; it reminds the celebrant to bring light to everyone.
In cleaning the house and discarding unwanted stuff before Deepavali, the celebrant is reminded of the need to always maintain cleanliness and to get rid of whatever is stopping his or her progress in life. He is to keep his house clean and his body and mind clean, too. This means, getting rid of unhealthy habits and attitudes.
The greatest darkness, according to Hinduism, is ignorance and in lighting the lamps, the celebrant is reminded to get rid of his or her ignorance. It serves to remind everyone that they must constantly learn and improve themselves not just for career improvement but also for enhancing their relationships with people and the environment.
The womenfolk draw the kolam in front of the house or at the entrance, usually a day before Deepavali. Traditionally, they use rice flour or grains of rice. Why rice? Because it can become food for birds, ants and other insects. Thus, the celebrant learns to beautify his or her home while also caring for other beings. It serves to plant the seed of giving and a love of nature.
Everyone gets up before dawn for the ritual bath. The reason for this is to remind the celebrant to get up early every day, which means he or she has to go to bed early. The idea behind this is that the person will have adequate sleep and get up with a spring in his or her feet.
The wearing of new clothes is a reminder that one should change for the better in thought, word and deed. New clothes must go with a new, positive attitude in line with the lights of Deepavali.
Light up your lifeLight is associated with warmth, love and illumination. In lighting the Deepavali lamps, in celebrating Deepavali, the person is reminded to always light up his or her life and to bring light into the lives of others.
We have to wake up from the darkness of ignorance and pursue knowledge, wisdom and skills – both secular and spiritual.
Very importantly, Deepavali reminds celebrants to get rid of the darkness of ego, which is the cause of many problems in our relationships at home, at work and in society.
The essence of Deepavali is well expressed in the Upanishadic prayer:
Asato ma sat gamaya,
Tamaso ma jyotir gamaya,
Mrityor ma amritam gamaya.
It means: Lead us from the unreal to the real; from darkness to light; from death to immortality.
Deepavali is a silent call to the celebrant to become a lamp – a lamp that lights up his or her own life and also of those around. Are you ready to become a Deepavali lamp?
Happy Deepavali to those who are celebrating the festival of lights. May the light of the Almighty bless you and your family always. And may you become a Deepavali light.
Kathirasenar is a veteran editor and columnist with an interest in culture.
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