Lamps and light define Bharath’s households, not just its cultural traditions and religious festivals. Lighting a wicker, at least twice a day, is a daily routine, be it a humble hut or a huge palace. Deepavali, the festival of lights, is the highlight of this ageless, deeply ingrained practise whence a simple chore turns into a grand celebration.
There are many histories and stories associated with Deepavali. The most popular and accepted one however is Narakasura’s slaying by Lord Krishna with able aid from consort Satyabama. A populace tormented by a vile demon is liberated leading to peace, prosperity and progress. This is the familiar and much favoured theme of the triumph of good over evil. That’s on the worldly plane.
This episode is also metaphorically interpreted as an exhortation to exorcise the devils that lurk in the dark caves of one’s mind. Here the focus shifts to individual’s soul evolution and elevation with mental peace, experiential enrichment and spiritual progress as rewards. Such a self-realised soul attains the highest goal of salvation. Deepavali thus lays out a lucid, layered description of ‘light’: A bright material life, inner enlightenment and final merger into the Lord’s luminosity.
The flip side is, by Hindu logic, this process has to go through the karmic cycles of birth and death.That renders the ultimate light a rather elusive stuff. A seeker’s prerequisite for this pursuit is a complete obsession with and conviction about the goal of salvation (or moksha), things that a so-called rational and particularly modern scientific and material mind can’t even comprehend. Even those with an academic awareness of it cannot muster the will or rise above the pulls of temptations and doubt. That light, at present sights, is out of bounds unless the Supreme One supplies the grace. So spare some space between sponsored Deepavali shows to seek out His support.
In comparison, inner light is fairly friendly. You can tap it like an on/off switch or it too may come in uninvited. A few knocks and lumps on mind and body while on the bumpy road of life are enough to power the bulbs of simple realisations. Of course, some burn bright and some remain just that: bulbs. But everyone feels the utter futility and fragility of so many mundane, material things that were once deemed matters of life or death. Still this friend could fail you or be made to. Mind has the unique capacity to plunge into darkness by blacking out this light. So, on Deepavali, resolve to be in touch with the Lord always so that He keeps the torch afire, despite your best efforts to snuff it out.
Our slide from the ‘high’ lights brings us down to familiar territory — the lighted spectrum we engage with through our senses. The sights, smells, sounds and signs, the tastes and touch, the splendour and spirit that we associate with Deepavali are unmatched by any other festivity. A monsoon affair here, still the crackling thunder is accompanied by the thunderous crackers. Crowded shops, clouds of smoke, clothes by the tons, caches of sweets and cascades of soulful wishes are standard fare. Deepavali is a herald of happiness via material prosperity and lamps are lighted largely towards this end: To invoke and invite primarily Goddess Lakshmi, who has a packed diary, besides an inexhaustible treasury. A semblance of the original spirit is seen only when some stray prayers get squeezed into sundry programs.
At the temporal level, the lights are evenly matched by dark realities. The beauty of the festival, the bounty of the rich, the gaiety of the middle classes, all seem vulgar and ugly in a country teeming with poor and underfed. Their tunnel is long with nary a light. Pollution, child labour and safety have become major concerns. The cracker industry, which has taken a hit thanks to the above, now faces a new threat from illegal, cheap and more toxic Chinese imports. The red dragon that intrudes our snowy slopes up North also looms over Sivakasi in South. With the consumerist pitted against the conservationist, commerce overtaking culture and many other such contrasts and controversies, it is probably time the good Lord, who is surely watching over his wondrous handiwork, condescends to descend to shed light on Deepavali itself!
Meanwhile, let’s get on with the festival as we know it, with whatever ‘light’ we can muster.
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