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22 October, 2008

DIVALI OR DIPAVALI – A Festival of Lights


INDIA is a land of festivals. Divali is the festival of lights, a festival of the Hindus traced back to ancient times. It is the most gorgeous festival celebrated all over the country.

‘Divali’ is derived from “Dipalavali” meaning ‘a cluster of lights’. The celebration of Divali is marked by illumination everywhere. Rows of rows of small earthernware lamps are seen in every home. Divali is also known for fireworks which go on practically the whole night. In every house the children, even elders, light fire crackers. That night sounds like a battle-field everywhere.

Every next morning before sunrise, every member of the family takes the holy bath and wears new clothes. From the poorest to the richest Indian, wearing new clothes is an established ritual. Thereafter all of them visit relatives and friends where gifts are exchanged and sweets consumed with much gaiety.

Divali, or more correctly Dipavali, is a joyous celebration of the death of the Titan of hell, Narakasura at the hands of Lord Krsna. Narakasura, known as the son of the earth, was all-powerful. He was an intolerable menace to the gods, sages and all men of piety. He looted and plundered not only the earth by heaven as well. He carried away 16,000 fair daughters of the gods and imprisoned them in his harem. The gods led by Indra approached Lord Krsna and supplicated the Lord to destroy the demon. Krsna readily greed. He fought a fierce battle. After destroying thousands of demons Krsna slew Narakasura. Thereafter, he rescued the imprisoned damsels and at their earnest prayers took them as his wives.

This festival, like other festivals and rituals, explains the inner personality of man and his ignorance and ego to attainment of his supreme nature of God-realisation. The darkness of the night represents man’s total ignorance of his Self, ignorance of his Godhood. In that darkness reigns the desire-ridden ego which destroys peace and brings about sorrow and misery in the bosom of man. The 16,000 damsels represents the desires that arise in an egoistic man. Desires dwell in ignorance under the control of ego. All these desires cannot find fulfillment in this limited world. They remain frustrated. Thus man is driven to a state of sorrow and suffering by his own negative tendencies.

To pull himself out of this state man has to employ his positive tendencies to direct his attention to the higher Self. Every man has within him both positive and negative tendencies. They have been represented in almost all religions as gods and demons respectively. The gods’ approach of Krsna for help signifies man’s positive tendencies reaching for the Self. When man turns introvert and seeks the inner Self his negative tendencies get destroyed one by one. His desires get annihilated. This is represented by the fireworks on the night of Divali. The battle with ego, the fight with the negative tendencies, the destruction of the desires goes on the whole night, that is as long as ignorance lasts. With the rising of the sun all darkness is dispelled, all ignorance removed, all desires destroyed. Ego, the Narakasura, is killed. Man is transformed to his original Godhead.

The bath at the dawn of Divali indicates the cleansing of the egoborn, egocentric desires. The new clothes signify the newly acquired Godhood. That transformation brings about gaiety, joy, bliss represented by eating sweets and merry-making. The visiting of relatives and friends the next morning carries this new vision, the vision of Divinity, the vision of the Supreme Self in one and all.

Collected from the Book of “The Symbolism of Hindu Gods and Rituals” by Swamy A.Parthasarathy.

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