October 25-29, 2019
Diwali is one of the most beautiful and joyous times in the Indian calendar, filled with love and rejoicing. Although its origins lie in India, it is a time of new beginnings, a festival of light, abundance, fulfillment and a celebration of good over evil, wisdom over ignorance, which can be enjoyed by everyone, everywhere. The word Diwali means “row of lights”, so it is commonly known as the Festival of Lights.
For Indians, Diwali (sometimes called Deepavali) marks a time for clearing out the old to make room for the new, a time for assessing strengths and weaknesses. Homes and offices are thoroughly cleaned but it is also a time for inner reflection and cleansing. Diwali is when we should all look into our own hearts and minds and ask, “What cleaning needs to be done here?” Just as we sweep out the dark corners of our homes, we too should be made spotless and a dwelling place fit for the Divine. This is a time to let go of old grudges, angers and judgments, making room for compassion, forgiveness and love.
Mythologically, Diwali commemorates the victorious return of Lord Rama (the archetypal ideal human and an incarnation of Vishnu), his wife Sita and his brother Lakshman, from a 14-year-long exile. With the help of Lord Hanuman, the Divine monkey (who represents the energies of discipline, selfless devotion and a perfect karma yogi), Rama had rescued his wife Sita and destroyed the demon-king Ravana. Rama returns to his kingdom of Ayodhya (a city in Northern India). In joyous celebration of the return of their king and his family, the people of Ayodhya illuminated the entire city with lamps. (The full story of Rama’s life and exploits is depicted in the Indian epic, the Ramayana). Thus Diwali celebrates the victory of Light over darkness.
Lakshmi and Ganesh
Diwali is also a time for celebrating Shree Lakshmi Devi and Lord Ganesh. Lakshmi is the goddess of abundance, purity, grace and beauty. It is said that on the night of Diwali, Lakshmi enters every home showering abundance and wealth. Lakshmi embodies all the qualities which make life full and rich and, at this time, is asked to lavish her blessings of prosperity on all aspects of our lives. She is asked to take us from poverty consciousness to wealth consciousness, the wealth to preserve and sustain life. We request her to endow us with the glow of Truth that shines from our eyes and the bright sparkle of love that blooms in our hearts. We ask to be blessed with the spiritual success that leads to enlightenment. Many people consider honoring Lakshmi as the most important part of Diwali.
In another myth, Lakshmi was very sad because she had no children. She went to her friend the Goddess Parvati, Shiva’s wife, who had two sons. Lakshmi asked Parvati if she would give her one of the sons so she could receive the Grace of Motherhood. Lakshmi promised to keep the son close to her heart and shower her all love on him. She said that all the servants of heaven would serve him day and night. In her great compassion, Parvati gave Lord Ganesh to Lakshmi as her adopted son. Lakshmi was delighted and said, “From today onwards I will give my all accomplishments, luxury and prosperity to my son Ganesh.
No Indian celebration is deemed complete without invoking the energy of Ganesh. Ganesha is considered the remover of all obstacles. Hence, he is honored first to get rid of any obstacles that might hinder our growth.
During the festival of Diwali, it is customary to decorate one’s home with lights. This represents the light to dispel the darkness of ignorance. A home filled with light is a home where fear, anger and pain are dispelled, replaced by a home where love, peace and beauty will be honored to enter. It is also a time for introspection, to contemplate and dispel our own darkness and any personal demons. Ultimately though, the light of Diwali represents the light that shines from within our own hearts, our own Divine radiance that can be shared, bringing a brightness to illumine the world, during the coming year.
Although mostly celebrated on one main day, Diwali is actually five days long, with each day having a different meaning and focus. The five-day celebration is observed every year in early autumn after the conclusion of the summer harvest and coincides with the new moon, the darkest night of the Hindu month Kartika (falling between our mid- October and mid-November). The festivities begin two days before this and extend two days after. In the lead-up to Diwali, people prepare by cleaning, renovating, and decorating their homes and workplaces.
The five days of Diwali
The first day is dedicated to celebrating wealth. People traditionally buy gold and new kitchen utensils on this day. Homes are cleaned and readied to welcome Lakshmi, the goddess of prosperity. Mythology also marks this as the day the Goddess Lakshmi was born or rose up from the churning of the cosmic ocean of milk. It is a day when people also get together to play games.
The second day is sometimes called Choti or Little Diwali. On this day, Rangoli, beautiful patterns made using colorful powders and flowers, are created in doorways and courtyards of homes to welcome the gods and bring good luck. Lord Krishna and the Goddess Kali are believed to have destroyed the demon Narakasura and freed 16,000 captive princesses on this day and effigies of demons are sometimes burned in celebration.
The third day is the main day of celebration. Another myth says that this is the night when Lakshmi and Vishnu were married. On this day, we also remember Ganesh, who symbolizes ethical beginnings and the remover of obstacles. Small, brightly painted images of Lakshmi and Ganesh are sold in the markets to be honored during this day. While Lakshmi represents the Vishnu lineage, Ganesh represents the Shiva lineage. Honoring them both means we activate these archetypal energies within our own selves. In the oldest part of the Ashram to which I belong, the Shree Satuwa Baba Ashram in Varanasi, there is a small shrine dedicated to Sri Lakshmi which is only opened once a year, on the night of Diwali. A special puja ceremony is performed with many oil lamps, which are then placed all over the Ashram.
During the day it is customary for the younger members in a family visit their elders, such as grandparents and other senior members of the community. Temples, homes, shops and office buildings are brightly illuminated with small clay oil lamps or candles. People dress in their finest clothes, women wear saris and gold jewelry. At dusk, families gather in their homes to perform ceremonies to invite the blessings of Lakshmi and Ganesh. Afterwards people light fireworks, and enjoy family feasts, where sweets and gifts are shared.
On the fourth day, merchants open fresh accounts for the new year, and offer prayers for success.
The fifth and last day is dedicated to celebrating sisters. Brothers and sisters get together and share food, to honor the bond between them.
Celebrating Diwali in your home
We can choose to celebrate all the festival days and prepare our homes and ourselves to receive the blessings of Diwali or, like many people, we can focus on celebrating the main day.
Light is a metaphor for knowledge and consciousness. Lighting an external lamp is a reflection of lighting the eternal Light within each one of us. Diwali is a time to let go of attachments to the worldly things that no longer serve us and transmute them into the Light of Pure Consciousness. When we feed this Light with Love and Devotion any darkness in our lives will be quickly dispelled, bringing peace, harmony and joy. During this time, we also express gratitude for all the gifts our spiritual practices have already brought us. Be grateful for your teachers and loved ones. Diwali is a time for expressing Truth and forgiveness so that the Divine flame of your Spirit, your inner Divinity, shines forth.
If you have pictures or images of Lakshmi and Ganesh, light a small candle or oil lamp in front of them, perhaps some incense. Offer any blessings or intentions of your own choosing. Activate your own energies of abundance and transformation by chanting or listening to Lakshmi and Ganesh mantras. If you choose, then light other candles from this first light to place safely around and/or in front of your home. Spreading light in this way is representative of the lamp of your heart radiating Pure Light to the world. Sit and meditate silently for a few minutes. Be aware or imagine the Divine Light permeating all your chakras and your whole Being. Imagine that Light as a halo surrounding the whole planet, as you rest in Pure Consciousness.
Then enjoy the celebration. Unlike many other Indian festivals, Diwali is a time for feasting rather than fasting!
You can use any Ganesh or Lakshmi mantras you enjoy or here are two simple ones
OM GAM GANAPATAYAI NAMAHA
OM SHRIM MAHALAKSHMIYAI NAMAHA
In 2019 the five days of Diwali begin on October 25th however, the main day is October 27th. For later years, please search the Internet for Diwali.
Wishing you all the blessing of Diwali.